Local technology entrepreneur and founder of Convergence Partners Andile Ngcaba has relocated to Silicon Valley to build a start-up focused on network function virtualisation and 5G technologies, he has told TechCentral in an interview.
Ngcaba intends spending 18 months in Silicon Valley — he is based in Mountain View, the suburb where Google has its headquarters — before returning to South Africa. He has invested in a start-up, but declines to provide more details until the business is ready for commercial launch.
A previous director-general in the department of communications under the Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki administrations, Ngcaba was until recently chairman of Dimension Data Middle East & Africa. He has invested in a wide range of technology businesses, including Seacom, FibreCo and Comsol Wireless Solutions, through his investment vehicle, Convergence Partners.
Speaking to TechCentral at the FTTX Council Africa conference in Cape Town last week, Ngcaba said 5G will be unlike any mobile communication technology before it. It will be about building a “platform as a service”, in the same way the IT is now delivered as a service in the cloud computing paradigm, and it will be underpinned by ubiquitous fibre broadband infrastructure, he said.
“People in IT understand compute as a service perfectly well,” Ngcaba said. “The network is going to be like that… At the logic layer, telecoms will sit in the cloud… A lot of things related to the provisioning of the network can be in the cloud, in a cluster somewhere. We, in the telecoms industry, need to shift and accept that.”
In the future, he said, consumers and businesses will buy connectivity in the same way their buy cloud-based IT services today. “You will buy connectivity from Amazon in the same way that you buy compute power.”
Unless infrastructure operators can reinvent themselves as providers of such services, as “platform” operators, they will become “dumb pipes”, he added. “Operators today have two products: voice and data. In the new environment, they will offer a bouquet of services.”
Some operators will resist the transition because “they still enjoy revenues from the old model”.
“They will resist the model, but the reality is it is going to happen. If you see yourself as a network operator with only two products to sell, you are living in ancient times.
“The digital innovation is going to come from platforms. This is what we are saying to people who own bulk infrastructure: guys, convert your businesses to become platforms. But because they are still enjoying that legacy profit and revenue, it’s very difficult for them transform.”
Ultimately, the telecoms world could come to resemble the IT world, where there are only a handful of giant platform players.
“Public clouds will the ones that will be successful. Private cloud will diminish. There will be three or four public cloud providers that all of us will use for storage and compute power, and for virtualising some of our networks, including domestic networks in South Africa.”
In this model, consumers will buy the access and services they need from a central platform provider. “It’s a direction the operators cannot stop.”
NFV and SD-WAN
“At the access level, you can virtualise everything, you can have appliances that are virtualised… It all becomes virtual, it becomes software in the cloud.
“You can have a cloud platform providing that sort of service to one or two or three operators. The question is what the future network operator will look like. We want to become that network of the future as quickly as possible. The network that is first to virtualise, to put in those virtual appliances, the first to do the ‘software-isation’ of the network, will win.”
Ngcaba said the South African government must move quickly to create the environment for the deployment of 5G networks. “South Africa has to be among the first 20 or 30 countries to allow this platform to be rolled out. The government must prepare for 5G.” — © 2017 NewsCentral Media