Few systems are as complex as today’s service provider networks. That’s due to years of layering technologies on technologies and relying on different suppliers for different processes, all to deliver voice and data services managed by different business units.
Because of that complexity, network services have had to stay relatively simple — basically restricted to providing a few services driven from the network, with limited innovation.
Complexity has also made service providers slow to respond to change. When over-the-top (OTT) content players came on the scene, service providers didn’t have the agility to claim the right piece of this new value chain: they just opened the gates for the OTTs to pass through.
As 5G is going to bring even more complexity — service providers are wondering how they’ll manage when it does.
5G will make services richer – and more complex
5G isn’t really the fifth generation of an existing technology. It’s the first generation of something new. Unlike 3G and 4G, which are defined by how they handle the two dimensions of capacity and distance, 5G is, in the words of Nokia Bell Labs, “a nine-dimensional innovation fabric”, with three dimensions in each of three domains: capacity, reliability and latency.
Those extra dimensions of 5G will open up vast new opportunities for service providers to offer more value to customers — especially enterprises — by supporting their business goals of cost control, increased productivity and the like. But if operational systems are already strained, how will they manage massively diversified 5G services expected to deliver sub-millisecond latency and five-nines reliability?
The answer is that operations have to become simpler in response. That will demand a fundamental change in capabilities and orientation so that operational systems can actively evaluate situations and take the right actions automatically, fulfilling the intent of the service versus executing actions and commands.
Network operations need to become intent-driven
Today, application programming interfaces (APIs) tell the business what the network can (and can’t) do. With 5G, that must flip around so that the business can tell the network what it needs to deliver. We call this an “intent-driven” approach.
Imagine a factory that wants to connect all its systems to support artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled robotic production. Its business intent is to create a smart, machine-based manufacturing environment. That spawns a service intent on the part of the provider to allocate a slice of the 5G network with certain performance characteristics. And that service intent creates a network intent to guarantee specific levels of capacity, reliability and latency. This network intent must be managed across domains, with each domain fulfilling its own piece of it.
The different intents turn the capabilities of the network into something meaningful for consumption by enterprises and consumers. They also make network services highly dynamic, which is why automation and AI will be critical to 5G service provider operations.
The Nokia Future X architecture: Built for the future of operations
Managing a network driven by business intents will require a two-layer operational architecture with a clear split between services and the network. This is becoming an accepted principle thanks to the work of ETSI’s Zero-touch network & Service Management (ZSM) committee — and is embedded in the Nokia Future X architecture.
Nokia Future X supports the intent-driven approach along with end-to-end management of digital services and network slices. By providing the bridge between the network and services, it doesn’t just pave the way forward for the network: it’s the foundation for future operations as well.
There’s no question the migration of operations to the 5G era has to be structured and incremental. 4G is a robust technology that will be in play for at least another decade. Evolving to an intent-driven approach while adapting the operations layer to 5G — and maintaining business continuity — will take time. During the transition, the operations layer will need to manage both 4G and 5G. But as it does, it will pave the way for service providers to start delivering unprecedented value to customers by taking advantage of the multi-dimensional potential of 5G.
In our next blog in the Future of Operations series, we’ll look at the human side of the future of operations and what service providers need to think about to evolve not only their technology but also their culture.
You can also watch my interviews on the Future of Operations website for more insights on the major trends affecting service providers as they enter the 5G era.
Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks or @nokia using #FutureOfOperations #Telcos #Operations.