by Sally Bament, Vice President, Cloud & Service Provider Marketing, Juniper Networks
5G is poised to make an enormous impact on the global economy, and organizations that can successfully exploit its speed, bandwidth and ultra-low latency have an opportunity to lead their market by delivering new and innovative services. In addition to the highly advertised enhancements of mobile telecommunications for consumers, 5G will be an important play in numerous other vertical markets, all of which represent attractive business opportunities.
For example, handling the volume of data generated by IoT sensors in logistics applications – transportation, warehousing, retail distribution and the like – will require bandwidth that only 5G can provide. 5G speed and low latency will take robotics (and productivity) to new levels on the factory floor. In homes, 5G will elevate immersive gaming and enable virtual reality. These are just a few examples of a market that is projected to reach $1,271 billion by 2025.
To participate in this growth, companies will need to evolve the way they plan, deploy, architect and optimize their transport networks, and this will involve a much higher degree of automation than now exists. Currently, 75% of networking activities[i] are manual, and 85% of CSPs[ii] still use manual or semi-manual processes to manage their network service lifecycle. Handling the increased scale and complexity of a 5G network with this level of manual intervention will not be sustainable. Fortunately, sophisticated, field-proven automation solutions are available to support the transition to 5G from initial deployment to long-term operation.
Eliminate Manual Tasks
Both the familiar mobile consumer services and emerging enterprises rely on edge computing to process the massive amounts of data more efficiently and cost-effectively. Such architectures can involve onboarding hundreds or even thousands of geographically dispersed mini data centers, including those incorporated within cell sites.
It’s hard to imagine deploying those modern distributed architectures manually with onsite engineers, but it’s viable with automation. The process begins with a template that can easily be replicated wherever a new point of presence is required. Templates enable a much faster turn-up process, plus a level of consistency throughout the network that translates into higher reliability and speed. One Tier 1 network provider’s manual cell-site activation process had more than 50 manual steps that took a minimum of 26 hours to set up. By switching to an automated process, the company reduced the activation time to two hours.
While reducing or eliminating manual tasks is often cited as the primary benefit of automation, it is by no means the only one. Automation also plays a vital role in onboarding devices and customers quickly, maintaining optimal network performance, maximizing utilization, accelerating problem identification, automation remediation, improving security and meeting service-level agreements (SLAs).
Measure what matters
Making automation work demands first and foremost a new attitude towards network quality data. In simple terms, instead of focusing on the health of the various elements involved in the end-to-end service delivery chain, operators need to measure what matters most: service quality and end user experience. This can now be achieved easily with active assurance which leverage virtual agents sending synthetic transactions directly on the data plane. Am I delivering the service quality characteristics purchased by my customers? If not, where are the performance degradations in the service delivery chain and what should I do to fix the problem? In a 5G network these are very complex questions, as different slices may need to support diverse services, each with specific requirements, such as an IoT application with a large number of low-throughput devices vs. an MBB where there are fewer devices, but each is transmitting or receiving high bandwidth content. With active assurance continually measuring real service quality, automated systems can make adjustments to routing and bandwidth requirements to optimize performance in real time with no need for human intervention.
The ultimate goal of any network is to deliver the best possible experience for the user. To do so in a highly complex 5G deployment, automation is no longer a “nice to have” capability. It’s a “must have.” For example, automation can play an important role in the identification and remediation of incidents that affect the user experience. Currently, 60% of network problems are not discovered by NetOps, but by others, notably the users themselves. This is not acceptable, and underlines the fact that manually responding to every incident is no longer a viable option.
Deploy automation one use case at a time
Although the need for automation is well understood, implementing it is still seen as a daunting task by many organizations. According to a survey conducted by Heavy Reading, 40% of CSPs believe that using a generic automation framework is the first barrier to adopting automation in their transport networks. This is not a necessary first step. The best approach to automation is to apply it to one business problem at a time. Working through a single implementation to a successful conclusion will provide lessons that will help future implementations go smoothly, and will also generate enthusiasm and build momentum for automation within the organization. SaaS-based automation for device onboarding is one good place to start.
Ultimately, the value of automation is that it enables operators to build intent-based networks. By shifting the focus towards “what to do” as opposed to “how to do it,” intent-based networking increases agility and lets operators respond more rapidly to business needs.
In summary, the arrival of 5G opens up a whole new realm of business opportunities, but success demands new ways of looking at network management.
[i] Gartner®, Market Guide for Network Automation Tools, Andrew Lerner, Ted Corbet, February 22, 2022
[ii] Omdia, Survey of 92 Communication Service Providers, September 2020