17th January 2022

Vodafone TaaS: A Telecommunications Paradigm Shift

Brian McDaid
Principal Network Engineer

My background isn’t in business, it’s in software and technology, and I aspire to stay focused on this area for as long as I can. That said, I’ve long found myself in the business sphere, working as a technology leader for all manner of organisations, from big tech companies to small start-ups.

I enjoy leading from the front, and get excited by big ideas that others feel are impossible. So when I was given the opportunity to lead Vodafone’s TaaS project, I took it with both hands.

Over the course of 11 months my team and I have transformed TaaS from a few slides in a strategy deck to a functional platform that’s about to go live, delivered by an engineering community with a head count in the hundreds.

But what is TaaS, and why am I – and Vodafone – so excited by it? I’m glad you asked.

TaaS: A transformative telecommunications technology

TaaS stands for ‘Telco-as-a-service’, a concept that changes the way in which telecommunications are delivered. For Vodafone, TaaS is a cloud-native platform aimed at enabling our software development community to transform us from a traditional telecommunications company to a tech communications company.

By 2025 Vodafone plans to have 50% of its global workforce actively involved in software development. It plans to massively accelerate its public cloud adoption and transform its on-premise technology to private cloud. The upshot is that there will be a massive demand for cloud native development, test and production ecosystems. These ecosystems have historically taken customers months to engineer, but with the self-service auto-provisioning – the heart of TaaS – we plan to turn months into minutes.

The focus for my team and I isn’t on the end user. Our customer is instead the software developer, as the development experience forms the core of the TaaS concept.

Allowing software developers to auto-provision complex ecosystems of cloud infrastructure, cloud services and DevSecOps pipelines to form a simple self-service portal, to have this pre-integrated, pre-tested and security pre-approved, and to deliver all this in minutes, allows our software developers to deliver value instantly and effectively. Long lead times for infrastructure and environments could become a thing of the past.

Speaking as a former Java developer, TaaS essentially does away with the major frustrations I used to experience. It’s a completely new – and far better – way of working.

How TaaS will change Vodafone’s technical approach

Such a fundamental change to our company will demand a change of approach on multiple fronts.

There will need to be a fundamental change in our approach to architecture. The concept behind TaaS is to develop stable, flexible, pre-approved architecture patterns and then auto-provision these using a self-service portal. ‘Pre-approved’ encompasses a wealth of security and privacy considerations, which will inevitably drive us towards using standardised architectures that embody best practices. We therefore need to invest in architecting reusable platforms, rather than the individual applications running on these platforms.

In terms of hosting, Vodafone are looking to move away from on-premise virtualization and in two new directions:

  • Replace on-premise virtualisation with private cloud platforms.
  • Develop any new cloud applications in secure virtual private clouds running on public cloud providers such as AWS, Azure and GCP.

These new cloud applications will be assembled from reusable TaaS-hosted APIs and microservices that conform to the new Vodafone Open Digital Architecture (V-ODA) standard. The standard allows different Vodafone teams to build different cloud application components and share them via common TaaS repositories.

Should all telecommunications companies move to TaaS?

While TaaS is the direction in which Vodafone is heading, should other telecommunication companies follow suit? To my mind, this is a question that more than just telcos should be asking themselves.

The need to innovate and transform isn’t limited to telecommunications companies. Any major enterprise that wants to stay relevant needs to transform. Emerging digital products and services delivered on platforms like TaaS are rapidly becoming imperative for industry leaders like Vodafone – as important, if not more important, than an enterprise’s traditional operating assets.

I think we need to reframe the question above as an opportunity rather than an obligation. Should an enterprise look to bring new digital products and services to market quickly, which generate new revenues, and maximise the ROI of traditional operating assets?

The answer to that question is undoubtedly yes. And in TaaS, Vodafone has seen a means to achieve just that.