Nokia is looking to secure a first-mover advantage in the telco software-as-a-service (SaaS) market, aiming to get out in front of rising demand in what it sees as a roughly $3.1 billion addressable market. Though the telecom industry has been slower than others to adopt SaaS, Nokia’s SVP of SaaS Business Operations Mark Bunn told Fierce he expects that to change over the coming years and said the vendor is working furiously to smooth the transition for them.

As interest in SaaS ramps, Bunn said Nokia is looking to set itself apart from the competition with multi-cloud capabilities, which he called the “secret sauce” behind its technology.

“We have an abstraction layer, so we will abstract the SaaS services themselves from the underlying cloud technology,” he explained. “That abstraction layer is going to support multiple clouds…with the ability to extend. So we will just take that blueprint for how we would approach one cloud and we could apply it to any cloud that we decide we want to offer the service on in the future.”

While the underlying cloud infrastructure likely won’t matter to most customers, Bunn said Nokia is conscious some service providers have spending commitments in place with certain hyperscalers. So, it has been working with “all the hyperscalers” to confirm that those telcos could consume Nokia’s SaaS services and get credit for those spending agreements. He added it’s also working with the hyperscalers to ensure it understands and adapts to their underlying technology as it changes.

VMware has similarly made a move to focus on SaaS and multi-cloud capabilities.

Nokia has been setting up its SaaS push for a while now. It brought Bunn onboard from Oracle in late July 2021, appointing him to a newly created role to spearhead its SaaS campaign and putting him in charge of its business model, operational and commercial strategy.

In November, the vendor announced the first of its SaaS products for service providers, making the Nokia Data Marketplace available via a SaaS framework and announcing plans to do the same with its Anomaly Detection and Cybersecurity Dome offering in early 2022. The company plans to unveil additional products this year. Bunn said it will expand the capabilities in its existing families of SaaS offerings and will also likely focus on analytics tools.

Bunn described the leap to true SaaS as “the next logical step” beyond the cloud-native and managed services operators consume today. He said he personally envisions the transition for service providers stretching over a five-year period, but noted there are signs that timeline could be condensed.

“I’m getting a lot of requests, a lot of input from potential customers, from the market that suggests the demand for 5G network functions as a true software-as-a-service model may be growing faster than we had initially anticipated,” Bunn said.

He added Nokia is targeting fixed and mobile providers alike and has seen interest across the globe. “As far as the [provider] tiers, if you asked me 12 months ago I would have said it probably starts with tier 2s and tier 3s, that’s where the demand is going to come. And I still believe to some extent that’ll be true, but even since I’ve been at Nokia I’ve had discussions with tier 1s about how to offer things like the network itself as a service. So that’s what’s giving me some confidence here we’re going to see this software-as-a-service move much faster.”

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