The Whiteboard

Next G: From Virtualization to Sustainability and the Role of the Open Grid

I recently attended Mobile World Congress (MWC) Barcelona, where 25,000 people gathered in person (less than the pre-pandemic’s usual attendance of about 100,000 but still reminiscent of “old times”) to discuss the future of telecommunications (telco), edge, networking, and more. It was great to hear about all the exciting developments in this space!

It was clear from MWC that the industry is still in the midst of a massive 5G rollout, while also gearing up for the next G (6G). As the buildout of 5G infrastructure progresses, projections show that the information and communications technology (ICT) industry has the potential to grow to 20% of global electricity consumption. For this reason, as the industry continues this evolution, it is critical to keep sustainability front and center.

Enterprise IT has shown that virtualization is great for sustainability. It represents a significant opportunity for telco, as well. While the industry has made important progress in virtualizing the mobile packet core, the big opportunity for carbon savings is even greater at the edge, e.g. in the RAN (Radio Access Network) space — especially for 5G and beyond.

There is, of course, more innovation happening in the telco world. A great example is Open RAN — evolving the RAN toward well-defined components and open interfaces for multi-vendor plug-and-play across these components. The RAN has been going through a transformation from being a physical appliance to a virtual appliance and is now evolving into an open and flexible architecture, which enables much broader innovation. These open architectures allow for new and differentiated industry participants to enter the market more seamlessly.

I believe there is a broader opportunity to take what VMware has done with the RAN and expand it to the whole compute communications grid. The grid will enable multi-layer optimizations (across compute and communications) that — if deployed efficiently and intelligently — can achieve optimized E2E energy efficiency, which would enhance sustainability.

VMware’s commitment to digital equity, enhancing innovation, and sustainability led us to co-found the Open Grid Alliance (OGA), a consortium of 30+ companies committed to bringing industry-standard technologies from the datacenter and cloud worlds to the telco industry. It will enable a common architectural approach and enhanced agility through greater modularity. While these changes are in their formative stages, I believe they will have a profound effect on the telco and cloud industries.

Data networks are the backbone of our modern economy. That’s why ICT leaders like VMware must not only minimize our own emissions but also create products that allow customers to reduce their carbon footprints, as well. This is how we can break the energy curve — together. The time to act is now, as 6G roadmaps are being shaped.

At the MWC, we announced our partnership with two German universities for Automating Life, which is how we are chalking our path to 6G guided by a belief system grounded in sustainability, equity, and trust. These academic grants will facilitate research and discovery — in concert with the Digital Equity Grid Innovation (TETRA) initiative. VMware will continue to expand these efforts with similar grants and partnerships across the globe.

Of course, telco is not the only area in which we prioritize ESG. I encourage you to read more about how customer-centric innovation is key to our overall ESG vision, as well as our 2021 ESG Report. For some other blog posts about VMware’s research and innovation efforts to pave a sustainable path to 6G, please see “The Path Toward Sustainable 6G,” and “The Open Grid Alliance: to 6G and Beyond.”

Best,

Kit

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