Over recent years, the marketplace for WAN services has been in continuous flux, moving from a near-universal dependence on MPLS to a market offering a range of solutions which still includes MPLS, but where there are now many other options, with SDx top of many organisations’ agendas.

However, as TNC has been saying for some time, the debate over adoption of SDx doesn’t grasp the full paradigm shift that software-based networks will allow.

Therefore, in this white paper we attempt to look forwards 3-5 years and consider what your next network might look like, and to consider the key concepts that will shape the WAN of the Future.

Future Headlines

Today’s typical discussion around WAN strategy is often captured by concepts such as “MPLS vs. Internet”, or increasingly “SDWAN vs. MPLS”. In TNC’s opinion, these debates fail to capture the real opportunities of today’s WANs, and will fall ever shorter in the future.

Put simply, all future network options will be based on some form of software-defined architecture, with the upstream focus moving from the underlying transport to and within that core infrastructure, and increasingly focusing on the services offered within and across that core. In other words, less about how you move packets from A to B, and more about what you can do with those packets within an increasingly smart core network.

With this vision in mind, TNC sees three key considerations for the network of the future:

  • WAN edge vs. core network capabilities
  • Network automation and orchestration
  • Vendor federation and service portability

WAN Edge vs.
Core Network Capabilities

Current generation WANs remain largely static solutions that are planned, procured, deployed, and then largely left “as is” for most of their operational life. However, this static environment is at odds with the nature of many organisations’ application environments, which are trending towards greater dynamism. The challenge is that so many elements that make up current networks are simply not built for agility:

  • Most of the intelligence is at the edge with limited visibility of end-to-end network performance
  • Most infrastructure elements are dimensioned for current requirements with little headroom for growth
  • Telco change management processes are slow and clunky
  • Commercial models typically charge for change, reinforcing the message of “leave well alone”

TNC sees an ever-growing demand for greater agility and flexibility, and customers who are prepared to circumvent telcos if they won’t deliver. For example, TNC sees customers moving from traditional telcos to smaller, often newer operators that they perceive as more flexible. TNC also sees customers cutting the role of telcos in network provision, by in-sourcing some elements of service management, or using non-telco players to deliver these services.

Given this climate, it is inconceivable that networks won’t become more flexible and agile – any telco who hopes to survive the next 3-5 years will have no choice but to get on board.

Key to delivering greater flexibility is to provision more flexible access services, leveraging higher bandwidth Ethernet services, as well as taking advantage of new technologies such as 5G. However, the other key is to develop more flexible, programmable central infrastructures. TNC sees a number of telcos developing exactly these types of platforms which offer the ability to quickly turn up services within the core network to deliver new functionality, deal with peaks in demand, support new applications etc.

Whilst delivering these programmable infrastructures creates complex technical challenges, it is often forgotten that the telcos also face considerable commercial and operational challenges. These challenges include profound questions such as how to charge for these new services, can billing systems be made agile enough to deal with constant change, do contracts still include minimum site or revenue commitments, what SLAs can be offered in such a dynamic environment, and a number of other questions.

TNC’s summary is that the demand for this new approach is clear, and the telcos desire to meet that demand is also clear. However, the journey from demand to supply is extremely complex and will not be quickly completed.

Network Automation and

TNC sees demand for network change, flex and agility to be quickly increasing, but many organisations find that using traditional service and change management models to facilitate this greater level of change would be unfeasible. Partly this is because of the cost of change, partly the amount of human processing time, and also the challenge of managing the complexity.

However, as networks become more software based, and more functions move to virtualised instances, there are increasing opportunities to move to a far more automated operating model. Such an approach promises considerable benefit both to the costs and speed of being able to deliver agility to a network environment, although this approach is also not without its challenges.

Let’s start with the obvious obstacles – most organisations still operate traditional infrastructures so they have to make the move to more software-based architectures before they can start to reap the rewards of increased orchestration. Then there is the challenge that these approaches are very new, using toolsets that are pretty bleeding edge, and most organisations lack the people or skills to even trial let alone launch into a production environment.

Having said that, twas ever thus for all transformative technologies, and the direction of travel for networks is clear –automation is a big part of the future.

Vendor Federation and
Service Portability

So far we have focused on how the network of the future could look and have noted some of the challenges organisations may have in making the transition. However, we haven’t yet tackled the biggest challenge of all – at the present time there is very little federation or interoperability between all the various components flying into the market to deliver SDx, NFV, automation and orchestration. Right now, that makes executing some of these future strategies extremely challenging for most, if not all organisations.

As noted above, there is little doubt that the network of the future is software-based, and will leverage the inherent flexibility of software to deliver agility using automated systems. TNC would suggest it is also highly likely that the network of the future will include connectivity from multiple service providers. For many end-user organisations this will be inevitable as connectivity becomes more commoditised, particularly in a multinational environment.

In this circumstance, agile, programmable networks will only be possible if organisations can control all elements of their infrastructure from common platforms that can truly deliver solutions and change across all elements of the network stack.

Of course, reaching this interoperable nirvana will not be easy. Not only are many elements of the technologies in their infancy, but the “iTunes Paradox” is almost certainly at play – in the same way that the record companies bitterly regretted allowing Apple to build the dominant digital music platform, everyone in the network industry is desperately hoping their solution will become the platform, and not a bit-part player in someone else’s stack. For these reasons, platform federation and open interoperability is simultaneously in everyone’s interest because it will hasten the future state everyone desires, whilst also being a huge danger because it could relegate some solutions to the scrap heap.


These are truly exciting times in the network industry, as we make the leap from relatively dumb, largely static networks to smart, agile, programmable infrastructures which will enable organisations to deliver their wider IT and business strategies.

The foundations of this change are starting to become clear:

  • Connectivity will become increasingly commoditised
  • Networks will become smarter, software-based services
  • Core networks will deliver ever richer services and applications

However, the challenges to achieving this step change are considerable. For network service providers this includes some incredibly fundamental questions about how they make money, how they deliver services, and where they are positioned in the network market of the future?

For end-user organisations the questions are also complex – how do we back the right technologies, how do we pick the right partners, how do we bridge the skills gap from traditional to next gen solutions?

Given the scale of these challenges, this leap will take some years to make. But it is a leap we must make if we are to deliver network infrastructures fit to support the IT and business strategies of the future.

Of course, that then begs the question – “which approach is right for my organisation?”

Here at The Network Collective, we help over 250 organisations make the right technology choices, pick the right supplier partners and deliver the best possible commercial, technical, operational and contractual results. If future WAN strategy is rising up your agenda, please get in contact – we’d love to talk with you.


Other than matters relating to The Network Collective, this research is based on current public information that we consider reliable. Opinions expressed may change without notice and may differ from views set out in other documents created by The Network Collective. The above information is provided for informational purposes only and without any obligation, whether contractual or otherwise. No warranty or representation is made as to the correctness, completeness and accuracy of the information given or the assessments made.

This research does not constitute a personal recommendation or take into account the particular investment objectives, financial situations, or needs of individual clients. Clients should consider whether any advice or recommendation in this research is suitable for their particular circumstances and, if appropriate, seek professional advice.

No part of this material may be (i) copied, photocopied or duplicated in any form by any means or (ii) redistributed without the prior written consent of The Network Collective Limited © 2022

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