How to ensure 5G will pay off from day one (Reader Forum)

After all the time and money that goes into deploying a new 5G network, network operators need to know that their investment will pay off quickly. Once the network has been deployed and turned up, the prospect of ‘rip and replace’ to add features or capabilities that were missed in planning would be much too costly and time-consuming.

While it may not be possible to predict every application, integration and service functionality needed in the future, operators can improve their chances of success with strategic planning. Following are a few key factors to consider during planning and preparation stages to build in the necessary capabilities for a profitable, future-ready 5G+ network from the start.

Plan for success

In order to build out tomorrow’s successful network, network operators need to carefully plan how they will create, manage and support new 5G+ services from the start. At the core of this preparation are the critical foundations of automation, orchestration and assurance.

Today’s networks are rapidly converging and growing as new 5G use cases and deployment models are layered on legacy infrastructure. This increasing densification is further compounded by additional access points needed to accommodate new subscriber services, as well as proliferating internet of things (IoT) devices. This complexity not only hinders network scalability, but also impacts service delivery, performance and customer experience.

To deal with this complexity, network operators need nearly limitless flexibility to repeatedly configure and reconfigure underlying network infrastructure and applications based on traffic needs, while handling various requirements for performance and latency. As a result, the exponentially complex nature of operating a 5G network with multiple slices, countless endpoints and a wide range of service level agreements (SLAs) can quickly exceed manual capabilities.

Amplify automation

With the increasing size and complexity of integrated 5G networks, network operators can no longer effectively handle network management tasks such as capacity scaling, maintenance, upgrading, provisioning and slicing without automation. Automated network management and service-aware load balancing provide the intelligence required to drive context-aware traffic across the service mesh, thereby supporting different customer types and SLAs without disrupting traffic flow.

Early planning and preparation should include a framework for how to integrate automation and real-time actionable business intelligence, even as network engineers are thinking through the requirements of critical infrastructure plans. By designing business processes for automation from the start, the subsequent introduction of new and revised product offerings and partner services can be much faster and simpler.

Generally, automation refers to specific network tasks; as opposed to orchestration, which involves creating a dynamic process or workflow for multiple automated tasks, sometimes across disparate systems. Network automation tasks can be orchestrated to run automatically when incorporated into process workflows. Setting the stage for automation early on also enables network management that can support DevOps and continuous integration/ continuous delivery (CI/CD) of services as 5G networks are rolled out.

While manual processes will naturally decrease as automation increases, human engagement actually becomes more critical. That’s because greater automation allows network managers to shift focus to high-value tasks. The resulting potential benefits for the business include greater service reliability due to reduced risk of human error and greater operational consistency; reliable compliance with consistently delivered network services; and a smooth path to orchestration to enable disaggregated layers of data, resources and controls to work together as one.

As the pace of 5G adoption continues to escalate, today’s network needs ever-increasing automation to meet demand. Yet, automation cannot exist in a vacuum — it needs to be informed by technologies such as machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI) and adaptive algorithms that use predictive models to modify instructions with each completed task. This virtuous cycle of automation creates the intelligence that tomorrow’s network requires.

Orchestrate intelligence

While automation sparks intelligence, orchestration is the force that helps power and maintain intelligent, self-healing networks. End-to-end network orchestration provides a service layer that runs on top of highly abstracted infrastructure, informing lifecycle management of the dependent components of that infrastructure.

By instantiating and managing automated workflows and tasks like dynamic provisioning, incident management, database management and microservices, orchestration enables networks to detect errors, roll back changes and return systems to normal states. For example, orchestration can leverage built-in health checks to detect and terminate unhealthy events, or reveal when there is insufficient room to run old and new services simultaneously, and trigger a process to provision more compute and capacity space from the cloud.

Orchestration is key to better network planning and preparation, particularly in the case of multivendor networks. By streamlining, optimizing and standardizing sophisticated, automated workflows, multivendor orchestration enables operations to reliably distribute images for deployment, upgrades and terminations, and onboard new vendors. With the proper levels of abstractions and flexibility, multivendor orchestration also aids in the layering of network components, helping network teams plan for the retiring of legacy technology.

The ability to orchestrate hyper-scalable and slice-based service delivery and management allows network operators to improve monetization of their 5G+ network. By layering basic AI/ML to enable greater automation, valuable information such as data mining and location services can be gathered and monetized. Moreover, orchestration also help reduce the operational costs incurred to support new subscriber services.

Build in assurance

The job of operating a highly complex and distributed network is made possible with the help of automation, while orchestration enables management of the disparate and automated activities. However, in order to leverage the 5G promise of lower latency, increased capacity and expanded spectrum, automated service assurance is required to verify that the architecture is delivering the service level and value as promised.

Yet, automated assurance is much more than just monitoring and reporting. Service assurance and analytics tools can be used to create a reliable performance–management feedback loop.

As loads vary across integrated and interoperable network segments, performance can be impacted. While orchestration scales the system up or down to match the workload, assurance identifies issues and alerts the orchestrator to spin up virtual infrastructure, containers or network slices to support demand. This allows network operators to deliver the utmost quality of experience by providing services outside existing coverage, or as backup or secondary services.

Efficient service delivery and management comes from adherence to intent-based network design, deployment and implementation, validated by orchestration workflows and assurance. Quality testing and service validation can be further enhanced with the use of intent-based application programming interfaces (APIs) between domains that can identify specific service types and their associated SLAs. This intent-based management directly impacts the network’s profitability.

Redefining network success

Given the complex and hyper-connected nature of today’s 5G networks, having the foundational abilities to automate, orchestrate and manage — before you go-live — has never been more important to realizing sustainable customer value.

From the RAN to the edge, core and cloud, network success needs to reflect the degree to which the entire ecosystem can support end-to-end service delivery seamlessly across all network segments. Because ultimately, reliable and repeatable service delivery from day one is the network metric that matters most to the long-term success and profitability of the network.

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