Communications service providers (CSPs) are continuing to invest aggressively in 5G network rollouts and, with ever narrowing profit margins, are finding that they must better optimize planning, deployment, and operations to meet ambitious return on investment (ROI) expectations. Many CSPs are looking for ways to drive greater ROI from their network investments while reconciling the conundrum of accelerating deployments, maximizing revenue, and optimizing the customer experience potential of every 5G site. That’s why, according to a global survey conducted by TM Forum, CSPs are considering Network Lifecycle Automation (NLA) as a way of achieving these goals, turning to NLA for a new, systematic approach to realizing multi-phase and multi-silo automation use cases.
What is Network Lifecycle Automation?
Network Lifecycle Automation (NLA) is the automation of tasks from across different phases in the 5G network lifecycle into end-to-end use cases, to achieve a given business outcome, from a common platform. NLA enables CSPs to increase productivity and performance at a lower cost, improve collaboration across activities, increase agility, reduce risk and data redundancy, and improve operations oversight.
Read the full TM Forum report, Network Lifecycle Automation: can CSPs optimize 5G investment?, and learn more about optimizing network ROI.
What are the common challenges CSPs face in 5G network deployments?
The number of technology systems CSPs use to conduct their business keeps growing. They are forced to manage massive volumes of data generated by business, technology, processes, and product performance which can create a noisy environment that is difficult to manage, navigate and improve from end-to-end.
The truth is that most CSPs are still in the throes of deploying their 5G network infrastructure, particularly when it comes to 5G standalone (5G SA) core networks which many say will deliver the real returns on investment as opposed to the current diverse mix of generation network infrastructure. As they evaluate the performance of the first phase, their assessments are generally positive, but below expectations.
The survey results paint a stark picture:
- 58% of the CSPs surveyed by TM Forum say they could have deployed their network assets faster
- 87% say they could have been deployed more efficiently
- 80% say the benefits have taken too long to realize or have not come to fruition due to business, technical and commercial barriers
Strip this right back, and the most immediate issue for some CSPs is that 5G deployments are just too slow, too expensive or have been detrimental to customer experience. These are fundamental business risks that can impact revenue targets, customer-related goals, and financial commitments. A delayed 5G market entry not only has potential competitive ramifications but could also result in significant budget sheet implications for CSPs.
These risks also conflict with the key benefits CSPs want to derive from closed-loop automation, such as accelerating time to market for new networks (18%); improving customer experience (45%); optimizing CAPEX efficiency (20%); reducing OPEX (12%); and enabling SLA-backed revenue streams (4%).
CSPs want to improve how rapidly and cost effectively they can roll out 5G assets while maximizing the coverage and revenue opportunities they can achieve from each site.
How can CSPs prioritize and optimize 5G investments to maximize their returns?
Against this backdrop, TM Forum asked CSPs about their top operations priorities to maximize their investments in 5G and accelerate rollouts. The answer is that to overcome the internal barriers they face to closed-loop automation, there is a long list of operations they need to address.
But dig into the data, and it becomes clear that between a quarter and one third of CSP respondents share many of the same operations priorities, including going cloud-native; removing systems’ silos; developing a mature 5G specification; reducing time to deliver network services; and removing process silos.
Ultimately, then, the goals of many CSPs have common characteristics – they point to a recognized need for greater automation across different teams and functions in their organization, and this can result in a better aligned and more efficient organization that leverages a cloud-native technology stack, including for 5G networks.
If CSPs want to advance the way they deploy 5G networks, in the same way 5G networks are advancing how the CSPs design and deliver services, there are some key factors they must consider:
- Reducing the reliance on network vendors and system integrators – TM Forum data shows that a majority of CSPs feel they could move faster and be more efficient if they did not lean so heavily on third parties to drive their time to market and operations improvements.
- Integrating network planning and operations – These two functions can be a good place for CSPs to begin down the road to closed-loop automation while reaping some early rewards.
- Influencing standards – Standards for Network Lifecycle Automation and related domains remain open for collaboration and can be influenced to suit CSP needs
- Using the TM Forum specifications as guides – The TM Forum Open Digital Architecture (ODA) and AI Closed Loop Automation Management specifications can be used to develop standard ways to achieve predictable, measurable, positive outcomes repeatedly, particularly in complex projects like automating operations with closed loops.
- Respect the complexity – It is important for CSPs not to underestimate the complexities involved in NLA and other forms of closed-loop automation. Striking the right partnerships could be key to successful implementation.
Among the CSP community there is a common understanding of the blueprint for Network Lifecycle Automation, and its importance for maximizing ROI from 5G investments. Establishing a common platform for automating between planning, deployment and operations systems’ is the most cited priority for beginning to unblock the potential of maximizing of 5G ROI.
Put simply, if the question is how can CSPs prioritize and optimize their 5G network investments for maximum return, the clear answer – according to the TM Forum’s survey of nearly 100 CSPs around the world – is through Network Lifecycle Automation.
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