Wireless decisionmakers thought 2021 would be the year that network lifecycle automation (NLA) would become a real possibility, not just a critical business objective, for service providers.
This was our observation this spring when we published a report entitled Network Lifecycle Automation: the telecoms industry view, which shows that increased automation, very much a journey that is already underway today, has become the Number One priority for the industry. As we approach 2022 and rollouts of 5G around the world hot up, buy-in from the field is only increasing.
The 10-part questionnaire on which the report was based considered many facets of planning, deploying, testing and operating networks, looking at respondents’ underlying pain-points, investment plans and existing set-ups, which we discuss in a blog post from March.
In this follow-up series of blog posts, we dig deeper into the reasons why Network Lifecycle Automation is so important in the 5G era.
- How can I scale out more lucrative advanced connectivity services?
- I need to leverage the fluidity and manage the complexity of virtualized networks but how?
- What tools will allow me to open up and link together otherwise siloed data?
- I’m nervous relying solely on vendors during this period of upheaval and technology innovation – what should I do?
These, and many more, are the questions that, as an operator, you might be asking yourself as 5G moves from discussion to reality. But how can we turn the abstract benefits of NLA into specifics?
There are, of course, dozens of very solid commercial and technical reasons why network lifecycle automation is important for 5G, hundreds, perhaps, if you examine them at a granular level; we’ve picked five that we consider the most compelling for this blog post, the first in a series of six.
Here we present an overview of these five; in later instalments we’ll dig deeper into each in turn.
Where better than to start than with the money?
1. NLA empowers you to invest CAPEX of your RAN accurately for RoI
Networks change over time.
User requirements and service offerings change. Landscapes and buildings change. Technology changes. But CAPEX is all about long-term investment, meaning that you must plan and make predictions for the best shot of a good return. How, though?
Helping you to make the best investments early on and adjust them over time according to ever-increasing collections of data, Smart CAPEX allocation and automation of your RAN, typical of NLA solutions, reduces uncertainty and applies predicted business outcomes, not only TCO, to the end-to-end network and service roll-out and management process, from the greenfield design and network deployment phase, all the way through to the operational stage – and optimized monetization.
Providing a classic feedback loop driven by advanced ML/AI, it allows operators to plan using predictions that are tested in the real world, with ML enabling algorithms to deliver better returns over time within each operator’s unique local and regional market context.
It means you can move to a high-precision approach to investment, which is so important with 5G, with features like small cell densification, expansion and configuration, and as you start adopting higher spectrum frequency bands, even moving into mmWave.
‘What if’ scenarios, sophisticated simulations, better time-to-market analysis, revenue heatmaps: as part of an NLA framework, these Smart CAPEX systems offer such benefits so that you can assess the different levels of investment needed over time, whether for building new infrastructure or maintaining the existing 4G infrastructure that will prove so important during these early days of 5G. You can then apportion costs accordingly, based on needs and likely revenue.
Your objectives will vary depending on your operational phases, from financial planning and RoI predictions, through to dynamic modelling of revenue and investment potential.
But whatever they are, Smart CAPEX allocation and automation provides the enablers for financial success.
2. NLA reduces OPEX by enabling greater levels of automation than before
Which brings us to the success that NLA can bring for OPEX management.
When we think of 5G, we think of innovation. But the reality is that 5G roll-outs, at least in the early years, are typically dependent on your existing 4G infrastructure, making the challenge yet more complex, and potentially costly.
With NLA, you can significantly reduce OPEX. Increasing the automation of the elements of infrastructure on which 5G relies can eliminate up to 70% of manual processes, leaving you free to prioritize innovation by focusing on operating and monetizing new, advanced 5G services.
But it’s not all about labour costs; NLA also brings consistency and repeatability in your processes and response to incidents.
Whether it’s ‘what if’ scenarios for network planning, using machine learning-based prediction modeling by combining testing and planning data, or simply automating repetitive daily tasks, NLA brings down costs, making profitable services at scale.
3. NLA creates agility, innovation and greater independence by fostering a healthy ecosystem
NLA provides the governance tools you need as a CSP to introduce and benchmark new equipment vendors, fostering a more competitive vendor landscape.
With the emergence of new technologies like Open RAN, it’s important to establish multi-vendor ecosystems in order to capitalize on the competitive dynamics that a larger vendor ecosystem can provide. Individually, vendors each provide a valuable service. If you rely on equipment vendors to report on the performance of their equipment, the clear misalignment of incentives means it’s harder to objectively benchmark your operations and pinpoint areas that need to be improved.
A truly independent, dedicated NLA system is required, one that can onboard, monitor and benchmark the performance of any network equipment, regardless of the vendor, giving you the visibility and control to make rapid and accurate assessments, and decisions as to the blend of vendors that will foster the healthiest competitive dynamic alongside the best possible performance outcomes for your customers.
4. NLA enables the monetization of advanced 5G services through network slicing
With many of the capabilities required to manage the end-to-end 5G network lifecycle available from an independent software vendor within a single portfolio, NLA can bring the prospect of efficient, automated network slicing at scale, closer to reality. Such cross-phase architecture and integration is essential for the speed and scale of 5G.
Network slicing has been shown to work in the lab environment, and even arguably in live networks in a very crude sense, with spectrum bands, for example, being dedicated for specific services such as fixed-wireless access.
But managing network slices at scale and cost-effectively is a different matter.
It is imperative to be able to proactively monitor and predict network slice resource demands, orchestrate resource allocations with the minimum possible ‘buffer’, and handle trade-off scenarios, where certain services and customers must be prioritized over others, based on business factors as diverse as churn, utilization, and SLA penalties.
This is only possible with end-to-end, real-time automation; an open, cloud-native and extensible architecture; and accurate, AI/ML-driven prediction based on a complete view of the network, its subscribers, the services delivered across it and the user devices connected to it.
Network lifecycle automation delivers this as real-time solution in a financially feasible manner, all under one roof – ISVs needn’t work together when adopting this model.
All of this means it’s possible for 5G to deliver guaranteed SLAs in ways not previously feasible.
5. NLA comes pre-integrated with a growing catalogue of use cases designed to deliver desirable business outcomes
Infovista’s NLA use cases enable completely new processes that are cross-lifecycle; 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. SD-WAN roll-out assurance, Experience Assurance, Voice 360⁰ for wireline and enterprises, 5G slice lifecycle management: these are three of the use cases that Infovista NLA supports, and we’ll go into these in detail later.
But we’ll end by taking a very quick look at one use case, just to give a flavour of future discussions:
RCA across RAN and core
This use case centers on improving network and service reliability by identifying and resolving complex root causes that span multiple domains, from the same system.
We haven’t thus far discussed root cause analysis, which is a big part of NLA. But, along with so many other topics that we’ve omitted or glossed over, we need to leave something for the rest of the series.
So, to round off, I’d summarize that what unites all of the use cases that we discuss here and will discuss later is that – and with advanced apologies for a bit of self-promotion! – they address these truths:
- 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.
Changing times, changing solutions
You’ve probably reached the conclusion that NLA and 5G go hand-in-hand.
You’ll no doubt have observed that your customers are fundamentally changing; that they’re changing the ways in which they use your network’s connectivity, and that new verticals are opening up, becoming vital revenue streams.
This means network utilization is no longer predictable in the same way, but at the same time delivering reliable service availability and performance is more important than ever.
NLA is a vital tool in managing this.
While replacing legacy tools with NLA might seem risky, NLA is both integrated and modular, so there’s a stepwise approach that you can follow to move from point A to point B at a much lower risk than you might realize.
Later blog posts in this series will expand on these themes and provide more context. Look out for Part 2, which we’ll publish in the next couple of weeks.
In the meantime, take a look at our report, Network Lifecycle Automation: the telecoms industry view, along with our new brochure, Network Lifecycle Automation: Accelerate monetization while reducing costs, without compromising on quality.