“I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob.”

If you don’t recognise the quote above, stop reading this blog and go rent Office Space (immediately). It celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. It’s still relevant. And, afterwards, you’ll have a better chance of understanding many office-related jokes. If the quote is familiar, you know it’s about the difference between being absent from something (for example, missing an important meeting) and the sense of regret that comes from going without something (missing your friends).

The reason for this lesson on pop culture and semantics? The Facebook-led Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP) is holding its TIP Summit 2019 this week. And, for the first time in a few years, I’ll be missing it in both senses of the word.

Just over three years old, TIP is a Facebook-led consortium focused on the development of open source telecom networking technologies. Think a 500-plus member organisation, with groups focused on things like OpenRAN, vRAN, open optical networking and edge application development. Think more than 75 operator members, with a board of directors which includes BT, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica, and Vodafone Group (along with Intel, Nokia and Facebook). Think a set of so-called Ecosystem Acceleration Centres hosted by operators aimed at producing, “breakthrough technologies that reimagine telecom infrastructure.” You get the idea, right?

Against this backdrop, it should be clear why missing out on TIP’s annual summit is regrettable for anyone who cares about the future of telecom networks. In case it’s not, let’s spend a little time digging into why I’ll be missing it.

  • Operators get the value of “open”. If TIP is all about enabling telecom infrastructure solutions based on open technologies, the number of operator members provides a clear indication of how important they think these technologies are. Our own survey data makes the same point: less than 20 per cent of all operators think it’s not important to integrate open networking technologies into their networks. But if the interest in open technologies is a given, operator announcements and commitments coming out of the Summit will provide an indication of how serious they are in executing on those interests.
  • Operators want supplier diversity. Remember that survey I just mentioned? It also highlights that, alongside the introduction of “open” network technologies, operators care about introducing new suppliers into their networks. The introduction of 5G only accelerates this: more than half of operators think they’ll leverage 5G builds to engage new network suppliers (see chart, above, click to enlarge). TIP clearly reflects this dynamic, with plenty of smaller infrastructure vendors taking part in the hopes of building their own credibility and momentum with operators. The Summit, in turn, provides another signal of how successful they’ve been (or, alternatively, where they’ve found success).
  • Open + vendor diversity equals supply chain. Concerns about supply chains have dominated network discussions for the past year or so. But there are a lot of different things captured in that two word term. The security of any given product in the supply chain is one of those things, for sure. But so is the reliance on a small set of suppliers along with the ability to introduce new suppliers in a relatively seamless manner. That means the topics at the heart of the TIP Summit align with one of today’s most important telecom networks dynamics. Enough said?
  • Open + vendor diversity does not equal easy. That last question was rhetorical. Simply acknowledging that we could address supply chain concerns by embracing new suppliers and open networking technologies doesn’t actually do anything to secure the supply chain. Talk is not action and executing on these priorities isn’t easy. The number one obstacle on both fronts based on our global operator survey? Security concerns. A close second? Integration issues. If this year’s TIP Summit wants to move these spaces forward, it will need to have something to say on both fronts.
  • Making money versus doing good. From the outset, Facebook positioned TIP as an effort to help make networks more affordable to drive access to the internet and connect the unconnected. It’s a noble goal. Vendors, however, have an interest in seeing the efforts extend more broadly, tapping into the capex budgets of larger operators. It’s a clear tension and the news out of TIP this week will be a key signal of where vendors are focusing.

While I won’t be in Amsterdam for this year’s TIP Summit, a number of my analysts will be, braving the rain and cold (I wouldn’t say I’ll be missing that). As we look to understand operator priorities and progress on the network infrastructure front, research like our upcoming Network Transformation survey is critically important. But, so too are the efforts out of groups like TIP.

– 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.