Automation has been a target for network operators for many years now, and the growing complexity and fluidity of networks – as the industry adopts ever-increasing levels of virtualization – only increases the urgency of this. From optimizing network RoI, to accelerating network and service roll-outs, and monetizing advanced new revenue streams, automation today is critical to business success.
But what of automating the whole network lifecycle? Network Lifecycle Automation (NLA) can enable advanced automation use cases within and across each phase of the network lifecycle by leveraging modern technology advancements, such as AI/ML; open and cloud-native architectures; and a maturing landscape of orchestration frameworks and capabilities.
The right NLA solution comes pre-integrated with a growing catalogue of use cases designed to deliver desirable business outcomes and enable completely new cross-lifecycle processes; it’s not just about existing processes running more smoothly and efficiently.
In keeping with the de-siloing ethos of network lifecycle automation, these use cases span various phases of the lifecycle.
Earlier this year, we kicked off a new series of blog posts on this theme, the first being an introductory piece entitled 5 reasons why network lifecycle automation is important for 5G, which gave a preview of five of the many commercial and technical arguments for NLA.
In Part 2 we expanded on the theme of how ‘smart CAPEX’ in an NLA environment empowers you to invest CAPEX of your RAN accurately for ROI.
In Part 3 of this series, we explore:
- What a use case actually is in the context of NLA;
- A non-exhaustive selection of use cases from an expanding set; and
- The part that cloud-native systems play in supporting these use cases.
What is a use case?
A use case is specific way in which an area of NLA software can be used as part of a network operator’s activities.
It can be ongoing, as with service assurance. It can be for one-off activities, albeit ones with a long project life, like the initial planning phase for a network. Or it can be somewhere in between, with activities that crop up periodically.
Crucially, a use case, in this context, is always associated with a business outcome – and, if done right, a better outcome, whether in terms of cost, efficiency, reliability or monetization.
Another commonality is that, backed up my mountains of data and algorithms to process them, NLA tools allow users to analyze numerous technical and commercial ‘what if’ scenarios. This means they can address a variety of planning questions and make the right decisions on each specific situation, faster.
We won’t cover every use case – and we couldn’t; the list is growing – but let’s have a look at some examples for a fuller flavor.
Sample use cases
Voice 360⁰ for wireline and enterprises
Let’s start with one of the most pressing use cases.
Demand for fixed voice services has grown exponentially in recent months, and service reliability is increasingly a factor that influences loyalty and churn. At the same time, voice services are driven by increasingly virtualized underlying infrastructure and network functions. Operators today have a greater opportunity to shift the focus of the buyer decision from price to reliability of core services, if they can manage the complexity of hybrid and virtualized service delivery and demonstrate consistently differentiated, superior performance of these services.
Operators that establish actionable insight into perceived experience, in the form of service-specific KPIs such as mean opinion score (MOS), correlating this with the full spectrum of device, transport, access and infrastructure, can establish the visibility and control needed to achieve meaningful quality of service (QoS) differentiation in the market.
This is where NLA comes in, as it helps you deliver differentiated, reliable, high quality fixed voice services for the consumer and enterprise verticals, which increasingly rely on voice performance to sustain remote working scenarios.
This use case is all about improving network and service reliability by identifying and resolving complex root-causes.
With the right set-up, cross-functional RCA and geo-spatial analytics enables NOC/SOC teams to perform in-depth end-to-end investigations to uncover under-performing network elements and correlate RF conditions to service performance and quality that span multiple domains, from the same system.
SD-WAN roll-out assurance
Using NLA for SD-WAN roll-out assurance has two sets of benefits.
For enterprises, it’s a case of accelerating the adoption of SD-WAN with the confidence that deviations in service performance are identified and resolved before impacting business continuity.
For operators, you can efficiently govern complex multi-vendor SLAs and quickly identify opportunities to optimize network configuration and operations to maximize the cost advantages for their enterprise customers.
Active assurance, slice lifecycle management and Smart CAPEX, whether for network roll-outs or densification and expansion
The list goes on and on, and will continue to grow as NLA becomes the norm. These last two items are two of the most important use cases, but we won’t dwell on them here as we wrote about Smart CAPEX earlier in this series.
How the cloud holds things together
Recently, we published a white paper, 7 critical building blocks of true cloud-native customer experience assurance.
A chapter entitled Why cloud-native by design matters applies equally to Network Lifecycle Automation. In it, we explain that, in the context of customer experience assurance, whether you’re scaling up for new services or scaling down after peaks in demand, the longstanding approach of just putting more probe-based appliances into the network is no longer feasible or fit for purpose. Instead, a fully cloud-native, by design, approach is needed to deliver the flexibility, scalability, reach and cost-efficiency much needed in the competitive and technological context faced by operators today.
But advanced network lifecycle automation technologies don’t have to equal higher cost: a cloud-based virtualized architecture means that network resources may be spun up and spun down on-demand.
The virtualization of network functions, with some processes moving to the edge of the network to be as near to the user as possible, means these functions can be deployed in different domains and in different clouds depending on the services that are being supported.
Let’s take the example of customer experience monitoring and assurance. A distributed architecture must be mirrored in how the service and experience is assured. It should not be a case of ‘how many probes have you got?’ but rather ‘how many subscribers and end-points are you assuring?’
Similarly, the data generated by the user plane from high bandwidth and low latency services such as HD video, gaming, or some industrial applications means that collecting all the user data at the edge and then passing it back to the core for processing is neither effective nor efficient. In these scenarios, more of the processing workload must be done closer to the end user. It is more expensive, for example, to bring that user plane traffic from the edge back into a centralized location for processing than it would be to process the traffic first and then send that to the central correlation engine.
The true value of all NLA use cases
We’d conclude with these observations on the value of the growing set of NLA use cases:
- CSPs don’t need more complication, they need less, and the right NLA solution is tailored for different stakeholders.
- CSPs need to learn from best practices, and Infovista already serves more than 370 5G customers.
- The value of the vendor is in the IP, not the technology itself, which is software anyone could build. Infovista is an NLA innovator but that’s because we’ve been in the planning, testing and assurance business for decades, and invented drive-testing.
- We see use case creation as a huge, multifaceted innovation process, involving all our customers equally.
Look out for Part 4 in our series, which we’ll publish sometime in the New Year.
In the meantime, take a look at our report, Network Lifecycle Automation: the telecoms industry view, along with our brochure, Network Lifecycle Automation: Accelerate monetization while reducing costs, without compromising on quality.