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Why does software-defined everything matter?


on 22 February 2017

This article was last updated 4 years ago.

Does anybody still think of a phone as a way of just making calls?

According to Informate Mi less than 10% of the time you spend on a phone is spent giving calls. That’s because phones have evolved from single function device to malleable pocket computers whose entire purpose is defined by the apps that they run. In reality, a smartphone is a software-defined device. What’s much less commonly known is that the world of telco is also becoming software-defined.

‘Software-defined everything’ represents a step change in the telco industry. The entire industry is moving away from a mode of organising and thinking about their network and services as a bunch of boxes with fixed functions to thinking about it as stacks of interacting software.

Look at some of the key themes at MWC this year…. 5G for example. Many people see it as just another iteration in the 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G where what matters is the additional bandwidth for the end user. But behind the scenes a drastic redesign of the telco mobile network is underway where fixed function networking equipment laid out in a static / predefined architecture is being replaced by mini-data centres of generic servers whose function is responsive to the needs of the network. 5G is really about the software-defined telco network.

Another key theme is IoT (Internet of Things). Many believe M2M (the ancestor of IoT) has been part of MWC since times immemorial, so why make a fuss about it all of a sudden? Once again the answer is software. M2M was simple with unidirectional exchanges of data, reflecting the simple nature of the software being run on M2M devices – images were sent down to a digital signage box and telemetry data was sent from an industrial gateway to a monitoring server. But today things are very different. The software run by all these devices has evolved drastically which has changed the very simple nature of these exchanges. For example, as well as displaying advertisements, a digital signage screen might be count the people that pass it or act as a wifi hotspot. IoT is reall about software-defined smart devices.

Autonomous cars, another big theme this year, is yet another example of the software-defined nature of things to come. In car maps was followed by telemetry data coming from cars which was then complemented by in-car hot-spots and infotainment. Today, complex self driving or navigation support systems offer a level of artificial intelligence never seen before in vehicles.

If you’re in Barcelona next week for MWC2017 drop by our booth at Hall P3 – 3K31 to learn how we see Ubuntu at the centre of our software-defined future.

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