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Tech Architects: Illuminating the Crucial Role of System Architects in Telecom Networks

Jacques Oosthuizen – Chief Systems Architect at Adapt IT Telecoms

By Katucia Moussongo

System Architecture is a crucial component of Telecommunication operations. From designing to building a system, it leverages intricate technological advancements and sophisticated equipment to help MNOs and other Telecom providers, connect individuals within a specific region. Indeed, System Architects are the ‘People Behind Technology’ who bring life to all Techs, transforming ideas into tangible interconnected realities. In this interview, meet Jacques Oosthuizen, Chief Systems Architect at Adapt IT Telecoms.

Jacques Oosthuizen – Chief Systems Architect at Adapt IT Telecoms

By Katucia Moussongo

“I feel very fortunate to be involved in all of this innovation, having the opportunity to change people’s lives”

Tell us about your journey in the TECH & Telecommunication sector and what you are passionate about?

I have worked as a Software Developer for quite a while now, though not necessarily in the Telecommunications sector. I joined the industry in 1988 and I even think I worked in the TECH industry before most people were born. I used to be part of a company called Business Connection (BCX), formerly known as Complex Africa at the time. They held a position to collaborate with the MTN account, where I stayed for 6 to 9 months before joining another division. There, I was involved in the processing of billing information as well as on a message bus called TIBCO. 

Later, I transferred to the Vodacom account as a Software Developer, where I became a team leader. That’s where my Telecommunications journey really started. Most of these companies at that time, were still in their early stage, and it was literally the beginning of a lot of innovations. We were developing several new technologies, such as the Voter Model, the Customer or User Repository, the 3G Network Authentication and much more. It was a nice and very interesting experience. I worked at BCX for Vodacom till August 2007. And I am glad to say that some of the systems we developed for that MNO are still in use today, even though others have been replaced with new ones. 

The same year, I started a company called Conor Information Technologies with a colleague of mine. We offered a wide range of technologies and developed a considerable client base, including Vodacom South Africa, Lesotho, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Telkom.

We implemented multiple projects, but the one we are very proud of is Vodacom USSD 111; I was the one who carried out the initial implementation because there were only two people in the company. That technology is still running today. This system is core to Vodacom and is handling billions of transactions per month. We also implemented a Diameter Stack, which Vodacom still uses for VoWifi.

We grew that business and sustained it until the end of 2018, when it was acquired by Adapt IT Group.

One of the things I’m passionate about is high-performance, large, scalable systems. That’s where Telecommunication comes to life. Most of the solutions we have developed for our clients are large systems that require scaling. I am very passionate about building and designing systems that handle large numbers of transactions.

What does System Architecture entail in the Telecommunications Industry and how is it used to bring value to customers?

In the Telecommunications industry, System Architecture refers to the high-level design and structure of the network as well as the information systems employed on the cellular or non-cellular network. However, there are crucial components that are often examined when looking at a telecommunications network, such as the network’s infrastructure, which we never did. it was provided for us, as well as the software and hardware platforms that comprise a particular architecture. Our main emphasis is on software architecture, which involves building software components and a support system, in which you provide systems to support your desired architecture.

A lot of elements in the architectural space bring value to the customer, but I will highlight a few of them, for instance:

Security. It is an essential feature. If the service you provide is open to the public or freely available to anyone, it must be secure. 

 The Protocols and Standards. The Telecommunications sector is filled with standards. I mean, there are a lot of defined protocols to follow when building or designing a system. 

The Scalability and The Flexibility. That’s where my passion lies. Typically, the question is, “How scalable and flexible can we make this system?” “How do we maximise our time and generate revenue?”. The term flexibility refers to the ease of making changes to the system in the future with minimal effort. At Conor IT, we developed a system known as the DIP environment, which is a Dynamic Integration Platform built on scalability and flexibility. These elements make it easy to add functionality to existing systems without having to redesign them.

Redundancy and Reliability. This is a critical component of a software stack’s overall architecture. You want a redundant system especially in the Telecoms business. You don’t want a system that goes down at all because it will cost you money and reduce your customers’ face value. You need a reliable system, and to be reliable, you must ensure that it has been tested. 

Another point is the Interoperability. Systems must be able to exchange and interpret data without any complications. 

Lastly, Cost-Efficiency is essential because we strive to be cost-effective, not only for ourselves but also for our customers. And the way to do that is to develop a system that can be reused.

With Telecommunication systems constantly evolving, what is the impact of Digital Transformation on System Architecture, in your view?

The first thing on the list is the trend of transitioning to an IP-based network. Traditionally, the Telecommunications industry didn’t use IP-based networks internally in their systems. They all used SS7 (Signaling System 7) and other networking protocols. Now, they’re all moving to this IP-based network, which includes TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) and UDP (User Datagram Protocol)-based network architectures, making them far more flexible and accessible to resources.

The second item is Virtualisation, which replaces physical hardware boxes. It offers clear benefits, such as cost savings, scalability, and the ability to spin up new virtual environments when the load becomes too high.

The next big innovation is the Cloud Environment or Cloud Computing. Adapt IT released the Data Manager Platform on AWS (Amazon Web service). We are expanding this to all our clients to improve our Data Management Platform.

The other technology to consider is IoT (Internet of Things). Everything is connected these days. And it is having a significant impact on networks, especially in our system architecture. 

I can mention Advanced Analytics and Big Data. Certain MNOs now monitor your usage patterns and network consumption. Then they are able to recommend a data bundle or a different product to you. This is also where Analytics and AI come into play in terms of analysing data and identifying trends among people, then building better systems to meet the needs and desires of customers.

Big data allows you to plan future capacity and identify where your market is going so that you can plan and prepare for the future of all networks. 

Similarly, Digital Transformation has impacted the entire architecture space with elements such as Agility and Rapid Deployment. Agility is a feature you must expect from the system you design. When a system is updated, it should not take hours to restart or pick up the changes.

Additionally, Open Standards and Interoperability. There are multiple standards for system interoperability at the open API level. There are many of them which you should consider while designing systems. 

What role do you see Artificial Intelligence playing in the future of System Architecture, particularly in this industry, and how are you preparing for this shift?

Artificial Intelligence is both very interesting and quite scary at the same time. We don’t know if we will end up in a ‘Terminator’ scene, where the machine takes us all down. One of the things is the entire autonomous system and operations. Autonomous systems encompass both self-driving cars and systems that operate independently. 

AI can add value by creating a more intelligent environment where it’s not dependent on human interaction but instead makes decisions based on external factors planned by humans. For example, when there is a high demand, USSD can run prediction models to see what’s going on, spin up more services, allocate extra memory to a machine, and so on. 

In terms of intelligent network management, it can help to optimise traffic and change routing based on bottlenecks and congestion on your network. Artificial intelligence has the potential to significantly improve tasks that need humans to spend their entire day staring at a screen.

We will use something like Artificial Intelligence to help us monitor systems, yield them, and fix them so that they stay efficient and up to date.
One of the other things AI will do for us is help us reinforce security and threat detection. There is a lot of development happening in that area. Using software with an AI algorithm will enable real-time software updates and security monitoring.

What other emerging technologies do you believe will have the most significant impact on Systems Architecture in the next five years?

One of the most important aspects will be the use of 5G technology. The widespread deployment of the 5G network will include architecture because, with the bandwidth on a mobile network and massive device connectivity, we can connect far more devices on the networks, which will drive architectures to support new services. 

In addition, Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology. Blockchain technology has the potential to offer a secure and decentralised method of managing transactions and data. The software design will be significantly impacted by it.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Many businesses, including Apple, Meta, and Amazon, are putting great effort into this. People will use augmented and virtual reality extensively to change their world. It is fascinating.

Quantum Computing is another fascinating technology. As you may have read or heard about Quantum Computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI) requires a lot of processing power. It is an innovative approach to computing and one of the things we will need to be aware of, as it will fundamentally alter the way computing is done
Finally, Biometric Security. There will be a lot of developments in that field. As we have stated, security is a top priority for us. Better security is required as electronics and software become more powerful. This biometric security syndication, such as facial recognition or palm reading, will become a vast playing field.

Do you consider yourself as “People Behind Technology”? Why?

Yeah, 100%. I am one of the “People Behind the Technology.” I mean, there are technologies that we are using or that people are using at this stage, that I designed myself. Some of the physical lines of code I wrote are still running on the network. I feel very fortunate to be involved in all of this innovation, have the opportunity to change people’s lives and be behind the technology.

What advice would you give to aspiring Systems Architects looking to build successful careers in the field?

People who want to become System Architects need to start at the bottom. You must become a developer and write software to understand how software works. You can only become a good software architect by knowing how to write software. Following the path is essential because it will help you understand what it is all about and how it works.

Furthermore, study how systems operate and practise. This field is constantly evolving. To succeed in this industry, you must be learning something new every day. And you should enjoy it else, you are in the wrong field. Learn how compilers, networks, and other technologies interact. This is the only way to become a sound systems architect.

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