Last week, I took some time to tune into the Dell Technologies Telecom Transformation Event.

It boasted a stellar set of operators (SK Telecom, Vodafone Group and Dish Network), alongside Dell executives, all talking about how operators are planning to transform their networks and, of course, how Dell was helping them.

To the extent Dell has been selling into operators for years, it wasn’t really a coming out party for the company in the telecom vertical. But, it did signify a major new push into the space. And it promised to answer some questions around Dell’s telecoms strategy following solid mentions of 5G and edge at Dell Technologies World in May.

Beyond merely watching the event on my PC, I was honoured to be a small part of it, if only because the topics addressed align with so much of what GSMA Intelligence is focused on. This also means I’ve gotten plenty of exposure to the content and have had plenty of time to think about the big picture messages.

Mobile World Live reporter Yanitsa Boyadzhieva did a great job of recapping the important news and announcements from the event.

From a big picture message perspective, while far from exhaustive, here’s a view from the host’s position.

  • Networks are broad and complex. Across the event, Dell and its customers repeated a number of familiar network transformation notes. Cloud-native. Software-defined. Open. Data-centric. While some might call them buzzwords, the fact is these are the network features and capabilities operators are looking for and the terms in which they speak. More importantly, though, Dell talked about products and services, along with features: servers supporting edge, core, and open RAN use cases; full-stack solutions and references (including professional services) pulling together infrastructure and partnered functions; and pre-integrated hardware offerings and zero-touch provisioning. Of course, this all plays to Dell’s own commercial offerings. But as a context-setting exercise, it was a solid reminder that building a modern telecom network is difficult, and that Dell gets it.
  • Defining the edge. Dell execs spoke at length about the edge networking opportunity, but trying to pin down an exact definition of the network edge has been a long-term conundrum. We know the apps and use cases which benefit from edge computing. Where, exactly, the edge exists is another issue. Admittedly, it’s also a somewhat unfair question. The edge will live in multiple locations, spanning from user devices to just outside the carrier core. Operators, however, have given us a view into how/where they plan to deploy edge solutions. This was reflected in SK Telecom comments about deployment in the public cloud (close to the user), its own cloud (close to the user), and at the enterprise premises. Picking apart edge networking (including storage and compute) at the customer premise, it bears an uncanny resemblance to classic enterprise server and storage solutions, hosting operator apps. The role for Dell, then, is easy to see.
  • Operator versus enterprise transformation. The intro video for Dell’s event managed to do two things with incredible efficiency. The first was to very directly set out the network transformation themes I highlighted earlier. Most of the key messages we would hear about flashed across the screen at some point: transform operations, modernise networks, efficiency at scale, 5G, edge. The second thing it did was slightly more subtle, depicting enterprise environments across a wide array of verticals including ports, healthcare, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, automotive and warehousing stood in stark contrast to showing-off consumer use cases. While not a unique positioning, reminding us enterprise digital transformation represents the key opportunity/motivator for operators helps to signal Dell understands operators while still playing to its own strengths.
  • Operator versus partner marketing. Integration has long been acknowledged as a critical challenge in network transformation, particularly where the core value proposition of technologies including open RAN and edge is the participation of multiple suppliers. This was reflected in Dell’s discussion of its services capabilities and in the launch of its Open Telecom Ecosystem Lab, a testing environment and co-innovation space for multi-vendor network configurations. But none of this really matters without partners. This explains Dell’s focus on building solutions with companies including Affirmed Networks, Microsoft, Nokia, CommScope, Red Hat and Mavenir. But, where operators will need a broad set of network configurations and assets (their networks are broad and complex), Dell will need more partners. The message, then, was just as much about Dell marketing itself to operators as it was Dell marketing itself to partners, including promises of joint innovation, tech validation, and co-selling.

If it seems like there was a lot to digest in this event, I should note this barely scratches the surface of an event which also included product launches, deep dives into operator strategy and the coolest new system, Metalweaver, which sounds like a hard rock band, Covid-19 (coronavirus) and open RAN as recurring themes.

There was virtually something for everyone in the 50 minute event.

When re-watching, I was struck by the nearly-frantic nature of the host. It seemed as if they were trying to fit 15 minutes of content into a handful of three-minute slots. (yeah, I’m talking about myself). But it’s also clear this pacing and energy very much set the tone for the rest of the event. With so much to cover, Dell’s Telecom Transformation Event truly was a whirlwind. This means it’s the type of event that needs to be watched more than once to be fully digested. It also means it is incumbent on Dell to follow up, reminding people of its focus and innovations to let it all sink in.

Let’s end, then, by returning to the title question. Can Dell Technologies transform the telecom industry?

By all accounts, it is already doing just that. Going forward, however, we will need to hear more from Dell on the telecom front to turn the question of can into one of how, and for the company to fully execute on its assets in support of the mobile industry’s success.

– Peter Jarich – head of GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.

Watch the event on-demand here.