This is why 5G networks need a new operational approach

Network operations are changing from reactive to predictive in a 5G reality. But this shift isn’t just about switching from one capability to the other. It requires an end-to-end transformation of how networks are managed, in which data is key. Find out how data is defining the future operating model for CSPs and what opportunities it brings with it.

5G networks need a new operational approach

Program Vice President, Infrastructure Services, IDC

Program Vice President, Infrastructure Services, IDC

Why predictive networks?

Digital transformation. It’s happening everywhere, and across all industries. For the telecom industry, the explosion of connected devices and the battle to stay relevant is flying in the face of today’s networks operations, which are still predominantly event, or incident driven – in other words, reactive. However, the rollout of 5G is spurring on this digital transformation, which is badly needed across global networks.

Today, there are three main challenges that communications service providers (CSPs) need to tackle:

  1. The rise of customer experience: CSPs are increasingly supporting a diverse user base with specific requirements and expectations for connectivity. In fact, in a recent survey (Telecom Managed Services) 43% percent of CSPs indicated that customer services were the top factor for using managed services to address the operational challenges they are experiencing today. This is driving a shift to a "customer-centric" operations approach that is much more focused on delivering superior customer experience.
  2. Cost efficiency: Today’s network infrastructure is not designed for the ever-increasing connectivity demands. Mobile traffic is expected to increase by 321 percent between 2019 and 2025. Alongside the roll out of 5G and IoT, which holds the promise of driving new use cases that will support enterprise digital transformation initiatives, CSPs are facing higher OPEX and CAPEX costs to keep up with this demand.
  3. Stagnant revenue growth: Telecom service revenues continue to show flat, to declining trend on a worldwide basis. Between 2014 and 2018 the industry has experienced a 4 percent decline in global telecom revenue. The more mature parts of CSPs’ business are declining at a faster rate than growth in new business initiatives. As a result, we’re seeing more CSPs partner with media and tech companies to ship in new value streams into the business.

As 5G rolls out and allows operators to enter new industries with different business models, SLAs, KPIs and data sets, this complexity will only gain depth.

Modelling a new approach to network operations through advanced technologies

Customer experience is a key source of differentiation. But pivoting to a service-centric model isn’t just about providing  smooth network performance. It encompasses the implementation of a more complete data-driven approach to operations.

5G will enable revenue growth, alongside opportunities and use cases connected to Industry 4.0, the development of new industries – from remote healthcare, autonomous vehicles, and smart manufacturing – as well as the growth of new IoT and 5G-based enterprises which have never been possible before.

However, these opportunities bring such technological complexity that humans alone are simply not capable of handling the amount of incoming data that is needed to run networks efficiently and effectively.  Which is why AI, machine learning and automation are key technologies in network operations. It’s also why 65 percent of CSPs IDC surveyed, indicated that managed services will play a significant role in their transformation and their overall strategy. Why? Because the new model for managed services offers an end-to-end view, and data-driven operating model that reflects networks of the future.

5G - unpacking the value of data

You may have heard the expression that data is the new oil, and to a certain extent it’s true. But what’s also key is not just the oil itself, but how you use it. For  telecom operators, the ability to mine the vast amount of data traversing the network will unlock value and drive monetization of customer content as opportunities to optimize the network, improve network operational efficiency, and improve customer experience. However, collecting huge amounts of data (or 'big data’)will mean nothing without having advanced analytics running alongside it to provide network operations teams the actional insight they need to respond to network related issues in a more  proactive and predictive manner.

The combination of AI-based analytics, machine learning, and automation allow CSPs to become much more flexible in their decision making and planning. The use of big data analytics in the 5G planning phase is extremely important and is the first step to converting strategies into cost-effective deployments that meet capacity, coverage and service quality concerns. This allows operators to manage the network lifecycle evolution in a very different way, by designing, whilst at the same time optimizing the network on the same big data set. In turn, this enables the network to change and evolve at an amazing pace – to meet changing user traffic patterns and  growth.

The creation of network slices further highlights the need for analytics, machine learning and automation in the network planning, design and optimization phase of 5G deployment. Network slicing allows CSPs to create versions of the network that individual customers can use, for example, for their specific network setup – be it video streaming, automotive needs or for critical industry applications. Designing networks to handle the unique requirements of network slicing, while also supporting the enormous and continuous traffic growth with 5G will require an acceleration of the plan, design and optimization cycles, and the ability to enable networks to predict and prevent disruptions in real-time with no impact to customers.

By processing massive data sets using AI and machine learning, CSPs gain a high-resolution image of the network, and the insights that accompany this image allow them to pivot and adapt the network to meet the growing demands of customers and enterprises. The result is improved reliability, security, and importantly, the customer experience. This data-driven approach is key to a trusted operating model that will better position CSPs to meet the future needs of their customers.

Today however, many CSPs lack the resources or skills needed to fully utilize the advanced technologies available to truly transform their network operations. That’s why we’re increasingly seeing CSPs partner with tech companies. CSPs are realizing the value of collaboration with trusted advisors to increase the value in their revenue streams. A secure partner with knowledge, experience, and the ability to leverage data together with CSPs is something we’re seeing more of as 5G is rolled out.

Collaboration is key

We’re moving from a world where our industry manages technology to a world where it delivers experiences. If CSPs are to keep up, they’ll also need to develop new skills and ways of working to become a true digital service provider.

There’s often a fear that technology will make today’s jobs redundant. I disagree. With predictive processes in place, human ingenuity and creativity  – something that technology lacks – can be used elsewhere in the business. Focus can be shifted to advance other areas of interest and further customer experience for users and services.

For 5G to really have its intended and long-term impact, we will need a different approach to operations. Access to data is simply not enough. CSPs will need to adapt into a data-driven organization – combining a new skills approach with a collaborative operating model to fully prepare for the connectivity demands of tomorrow.

Discover more

Learn more about how to improve customer experience in telecom.

Read our report, Supercharging customer experience through AI and automation.

Read our blog post on AI-enabled network operations in telecom.

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