Network Automation and 5G: Challenges and Opportunities
The promise of 5G can only be realized if technological demands are met too. For telcos, this is an opportunity to enhance customer experience, bolstering existing revenue streams and tapping into new ones. But operators need to embrace more complex networks based on higher bandwidth and lower latency for an ever-expanding Internet of Things if they are to succeed. This means automation, for which 5G should be seen as a gateway.
The symbiosis between 5G and network automation
Telcos should be looking at opportunities to automate processes continuously and iteratively during 5G rollout, with each new step building on the last. In this way, operators can avoid dramatic investments and network overhauls by implementing precisely focused adjustments to automation algorithms that constantly improve the network and enhance customer experience. With 5G, such a strategy is possible to implement in a way that doesn’t impact on the network overall, so any changes can be introduced quickly and simply, to be retained if they deliver the expected results and rewound if they don’t.
Getting the balance right is essential. On one hand, automation is an opportunity for operators to design machine-driven strategies that address their business goals; on the other it’s a means to deliver on-demand services tailored to the needs of each individual customer. Balance is also key in 5G rollout from the perspective of infrastructure; operators need tools for automation that can operate on virtual or physical networks – and more likely on hybrid architectures that combine the two.
Automation for successful 5G rollout
Radio access network (RAN) planning focused on fully-automated delivery of on-demand services is a basic requirement for successful 5G rollout. This begins with human input for knowledge definition, after which machine learning can take over. From there, vendor-specific network function configuration may be carried out automatically with the help of templates. A degree of human input may be required in some cases, but only to the extent that the network has enough information to implement configurations automatically when it next recognizes a given set of parameters.
In terms of automated on-demand service delivery, the successful 5G rollout will employ model-driven architecture with abstraction layers, in which an orchestrator plays a key role. This is particularly important for multi-domain networks, as the abstracted view restricts network visibility to authorized parties and enhances scalability of each network slice, while the orchestrator translates the customer service side into technical requirements – so matters such as delivering on SLA, self-healing and scaling are taken care of automatically.
But none of this can proceed without virtual network functions (VNF) and software-defined networking (SDN), both of which are essential for successful 5G rollout. VNF separates network functions from physical devices, allowing effective network slicing, while SDN constantly alters the network as these functions are re-allocated.
The arrival of 5G has certainly disrupted the telco landscape, and places high demands on operators. With the right tools, the right mindset, and an iterative approach to carefully planned and sharply focused automation processes, these demands can be met and new, lucrative opportunities will open up.