TelcoDR chief sees ‘seismic shift’ on public cloud at MWC

Danielle Royston
“I think there’s been a little bit of a seismic shift that happened in the telco industry this week," TelcoDR founder Danielle Royston told Fierce. (Danielle Royston)

Will it or won’t it work? That was the question hovering in the air after TelcoDR founder Danielle Royston announced in March she was buying Ericsson’s abandoned booth space at Mobile World Congress (MWC) and installing a shrine to the public cloud. Many believed talking cloud at a major mobile event was a gamble. But three days into the conference, the verdict is in: “What I’ve heard is we saved MWC,” Royston told Fierce.

Royston characterized the TelcoDR stand as the “buzz of the show” with people “in the booth all the time,” which is saying something at an event expecting less than half the usual number of attendees due to ongoing Covid-related restrictions. “I have GSMA members that are coming by that want to understand how is this a topic that they missed,” she said. “I think some of the older school people sort of didn’t really understand that this was a movement that’s been brewing for a few years.”

“Obviously I didn’t see the Ericsson cancellation coming, but when that happened it opened up a big door for me to make it the year of the public cloud,” Royston continued. “I think there’s been a little bit of a seismic shift that happened in the telco industry this week.” Indeed, almost as though she conjured it, AT&T announced it will move its 5G network to run on Microsoft's Azure cloud shortly after Fierce's discussion with Royston. 

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The executive said conversations at the show have run the gamut, spanning discussions with newcomers about data privacy and security as well as more advanced dialogues with early adopters about “how do we assemble these Lego blocks very quickly and start to get the feature velocity that the public cloud can give you.”

Starting from scratch

While MWC has jumpstarted the discourse around the public cloud, Royston said there’s still a long way to go. She said many telco vendors still think of the cloud as “a place to run an application, not a way to design an application.” But rather than trying to make the same workload work across multiple clouds, Royston said companies should leverage the unique characteristics and features of each public cloud to serve different applications.

“It’s not just a matter of where does this workload run, because it’s actually pretty easy to say we run in the public cloud,” she explained. “It’s a different thing to say we’ve completely rewritten our entire application that is coded against the AWS tech stack and uses the services of the AWS tech stack.”

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She added she believes “we need to completely rewrite all the software of the telco industry,” arguing much of it is old and based on outdated assumptions about voice and data usage, manual versus AI operation and how often new services would be added.

“It’s just a whole new way of thinking and writing and designing applications,” she said. “Don’t take your Model T and try to stuff it into a Tesla. That doesn’t make sense.”

Royston said discussions about which public cloud providers have the best services and tools is an advanced topic and admitted it will likely take “years” before most are at that level. For now, she said the goal is to build enough knowledge among newcomers to “heard the cattle to the middle”.

“It is early…but it’s a pretty obvious call that this is going to happen,” she said of public cloud adoption. “It’s not if, it’s when.”