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Four ways CSPs can adapt operations to Covid-19 realities

Family working from home

The lockdowns and stay-at-home orders of the COVID-19 pandemic have brought rapid, profound changes to the ways people and businesses use telecommunications networks. Mobile device usage outdoors is way down, especially in cities’ commercial areas. Wi-Fi and fixed broadband usage are way up. Even voice calls are seeing something of a renaissance.

In just a few weeks, communications service providers (CSPs) have seen a year’s worth of anticipated network traffic growth — and now the whole world is counting on them to keep that traffic moving flawlessly.

So what can CSPs do to keep pace and alleviate the pressure on their networks and operations? In the near term, they should be putting in place software-based solutions that use artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and automation to achieve four key goals:

1. Secure the network and its data

Cybercriminals see the “new normal” of COVID-19 as an opportunity to be exploited. Some are even going so far as to make fake versions of interactive outbreak dashboards (copying legitimate tools, like this one from Johns Hopkins University) to infect users with data-stealing malware. Because the current patterns of network traffic aren’t like anything we’ve ever seen before, it’s harder than ever to pick out anomalies and suspicious behavior.

AI, machine learning and automation are really the only effective tools for keeping up with cyberthreats in this kind of environment. They can pick out abnormal user traffic and device behaviors faster and identify malicious attacks earlier than a person possibly could, then automatically prioritize the most appropriate responses. Comprehensive security orchestration, analytics and response (SOAR) tools can enable this — ideally with strong capabilities for identity and access management, which has become especially important with more workers logging into corporate servers from their home computers.

2. Maintain operational continuity

With connectivity so essential to people’s work and lives right now, network outages or service degradations won’t be tolerated. Again, AI and automation can lend a huge hand on this front by enabling self-organizing networks (SONs) that can automatically identify and resolve issues as they occur.

In a mobile network, the self-healing and self-optimization enabled by a SON might involve automatically resetting a sleeping cell or adjusting coverage across neighboring cells when a particular cell gets overloaded with traffic. That makes SON an incredibly powerful tool, especially with CSP networks under increased public scrutiny and operations teams potentially struggling with fewer engineers. Additional software functionality can be easily unlocked to help CSP operations across multiple vendors and radio technologies, from 2G all the way to 5G.

COVID-19 has also opened the eyes of businesses in every sector to the value of business continuity planning. While many CSPs already have mature, robust contingency plans, it may still be a good idea for them to review the impact the pandemic has had on their people, processes and technologies.

3. Adapt to new traffic patterns

In addition to seeing a dramatic increase in traffic on both fixed and mobile networks, CSPs are also dealing with changing patterns of usage, with traffic hotspots moving from commercial centers to the suburbs. Intelligent software can help CSPs increase “network programmability” — that is, their ability to adapt their networks dynamically to unprecedented traffic volumes and patterns. For example, every radio cell has a unique “geofingerprint” based on its frequency, configuration settings, antenna angle, the effect of nearby trees and buildings on signal strength, subscriber distribution, and so on. As traffic patterns change, machine learning can be used to remotely and automatically adjust antenna tilt, power settings and other parameters while keeping that geofingerprint in mind.

Machine learning can identify bottlenecks in access or transport networks, and then balance traffic for better overall data speeds. It’s basically the same principle as a well-designed motorway: with drivers spread out across all the available lanes, traffic flows better and faster than when everyone’s jammed up single-file.

4. Assure quality for key applications

With so many people using the same few select apps and services — video conferencing, streaming video services, online gaming platforms — the quality of experience is bound to suffer. Video traffic, for instance, is especially sensitive to network congestion or delays.

With predictive analytics, CSPs can gain a better view of how applications and services are performing and then optimize service quality and the customer experience. Truly holistic dashboards can give a complete, near real-time view of the customer experience, including how it compares for different subscribers across geographic locations, usage times, device types and apps. When troubleshooting is called for, it can be automated by having machine learning algorithms compile a library of “signatures” (known network issues) and recommendations (suggested fixes).

Responding to the COVID-19 challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed our society, with far-reaching impacts on work, education and entertainment. With telecommunications networks more important to everyday life than ever before, CSPs need to ensure they can protect the health of these essential utilities.

To do that, they’ll need to implement innovative new solutions and capabilities into their networks. Fortunately, cloud- and software-based approaches can be quickly and remotely deployed and scaled, with pricing linked to actual usage and outcomes. And the investments CSPs make today in automation and intelligence will provide more than just short-term benefits — they’ll be essential to successful network operations in the long run as we evolve toward the 5G era.

Visit our Operational challenges of Covid19 website to find out more.

Further reading:

Whitepaper: Overcoming the operational challenges of Covid19

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks or @nokia using #5G #cloud #DevOps #ICT #innovation 

Andrew Burrell

About Andrew Burrell

Andy is responsible for Nokia’s Digital Operations’ marketing.  After more than 25 years in the telecoms industry he remains fascinated by the possibilities of technology, in particular the potential of 5G and Artificial Intelligence to transform networks, operations and business.  He loves to use his various devices to keep up with social media, news, and above all, the football results. Finally realizing that the phone call from Arsenal FC was never going to come, he has given up playing and now prefers to watch his kids chase their own dreams from the side of the pitch.  Tweet me @andyburrell or connect via http://linkedin.com/in/andrewburrell

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