Communications service providers' (CSP) success in the 5G era will be defined by their ability to launch and operationalize new digital services for a fraction of their operating cost and to enable the digital transformation of enterprises. However, the existing telecoms operational model is not fit for purpose for the 5G era; business processes such as network design and planning, network roll-out and provisioning, assurance, operations and maintenance are highly disjointed and often require manual interventions and manual inter-departmental handovers, resulting in high opex and limited service agility.
Network automation is critical to enable digital transformation of other industries
Key stakeholders in the telecoms industry agree that 5G enterprise use cases will have a much higher economic impact than the traditional consumer use cases. Indeed, the general consensus is that 4G was for humans and 5G is for machines. This has important implications for CSPs and a range of stakeholders in various industries, as well as regulatory bodies, public service providers and government agencies. In addition to using 5G to offer multi-gigabit enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) mobility services, CSPs are also launching new consumer use cases such as fixed-wireless access (FWA) for home broadband, which uses 5G NR for the last mile instead of fibre or copper.
The diverse nature of the use cases, the requirements for service dynamicity and low latency and the need to support new business models is forcing the telecoms industry to consider new architectural and operational approaches for 5G networks. The introduction of virtualization to support network slicing and edge clouds will make 5G networks significantly more complex than those of previous generations.
Network automation not only allows CSPs to tackle these complexities at the network resource level, but also enables service automation (that is, the automation of the creation, provisioning and O&M of new enterprise services). The ability to automate both the network and services will enable CSPs to rapidly launch and support next-generation use cases at scale, thereby providing the foundation for the digital transformation of enterprises and whole industries.
ML/AI technology is critical to achieve network automation in 5G networks at scale
Established automation approaches such as business process automation and workflow automation, as well as more-recent techniques such as robotic process automation, are limited in how they can be applied to network automation. Most of these approaches rely on predefined policies and rules that cannot be scaled for highly complex 5G networks. Instead, ML/AI-based automations are the key to automating 5G networks.
By applying a more joined-up approach to the RAN design, deployment and O&M processes, and by empowering these processes with ML/AI-based automation techniques, CSPs can significantly reduce opex, increase service agility and enable vertical industry use cases.
An open hierarchical platform approach to network automation enables domain-level autonomy and accelerates innovation< br/> CSPs' networks consist of many networking domains, such as the RAN, fixed transport for backhaul, edge cloud and the 5G core. The solution architecture must be carefully considered in order to deploy end-to-end network automation that spans all of these networking domains. A common architectural approach being considered by the
- Hierarchical domain-based automation. Each of the networking domains is automated through a domain-level orchestrator to enable domain-level abstraction, closed-loop automation, local decision making and autonomy. The domain orchestrators are then integrated into an end-to-end multi-domain service orchestrator in a higher layer for service automation.
- Automation platform. The domain orchestrators expose open northbound APIs in order to easily integrate with the service orchestrator and other adjunct systems within CSP operations. Furthermore, the service orchestrator also provides northbound open APIs that expose the automation platform for agile service instantiation.
Together, these two characteristics encourage seamless collaboration between CSP departments, partners and customers, and increase the pace of innovation so that services can be delivered more quickly. For CSPs and their suppliers, partner ecosystems will become an important adjunct capability that will be able to bolster operations and further accelerate innovation and service agility. A CSP can harness the power of a larger community of experts, "crowd-source" innovations and quickly adopt the most relevant applications by opening up its network automation platform to its trusted network of business partners and vendors. Multinational group CSPs can explore opportunities to cascade their applications across their operating companies for rapid adoption. Where relevant, CSPs can also monetize their applications by selling them on to their enterprise customers or offering the applications for free to earn goodwill.
5G provides CSPs with a once in a generation opportunity to transform their business; it will also, enable the digital transformation of whole industries and enterprises and change our societies forever. The combination of low latency, high bandwidths and ultra-reliability enables changes in the way that businesses, devices and consumers operate. Compared to previous generations of mobile technologies, the scale and complexity of 5G networks is enormous, and they can support a greater number and diversity of uses case. However, CSPs cannot achieve the full benefits of 5G using the existing operational model that relies heavily on manual processes, especially for network roll-out and O&M, and results in high opex and limited service agility.
Network automation is the key to achieving sustainable opex economics and increased service agility in 5G network, even while supporting increased network complexity. For example, the automation of network roll-outs and operations can deliver significant opex savings while preparing CSPs to rapidly launch and automatically provision new digital services for enterprise customers. CSPs must embrace ML/AI technologies to empower network automation processes and should move to an open network automation platform that enables innovation across an ecosystem of partners and vendors as well as internal CSP departments.
This content is sponsored by Huawei.