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Going beyond chocolate and vanilla services: What quality means to 5G operations?

For communications service providers (CSPs) facing saturated consumer markets, 5G brings incredible opportunities for growth in the largely untapped enterprise space. But that opportunity also comes with new operational challenges.

Compared to today’s “chocolate and vanilla” voice and data offerings, enterprises will want a veritable ice cream shop’s worth of options: the 5G equivalent of butter pecan caramel topped with popping candy and chocolate flake, served in a red cone. They’ll be willing to pay more for it, but they’ll also expect to receive exactly what they ordered, every single time.

And that means the traditional “best effort” approach to quality assurance won’t suffice.

Redefining quality

Up to now, service quality and network health have been treated as the same thing. If your key performance indicators (KPIs) for average network performance such as call set-up success rates, dropped calls, average throughput and the like are being met, service quality must be good, right?

Maybe. But maybe not. What those KPIs don’t tell you is if an individual customer is having a better or worse experience than another. In the enterprise context specifically, you need to be sure that the network is meeting your customers’ business needs.

Enterprises want guarantees, not promises

If a smart harbor or eSports stadium is going to stake its business on 5G, the service they receive better deliver the promised combination of reliability, speed and low latency. Unlike consumers, enterprises won’t tolerate up-and-down “best effort” performance. They will expect strict service level agreements (SLAs) that guarantee quality. Those SLAs will likely include financial penalties if you can’t deliver, so the stakes are much higher than the possibility of just losing out on the revenue that comes from a consumer subscription.

5G diagram

Quality will mean different things to different customers

The other new quality challenge with 5G is that there’s no longer going to be a single network-wide target to hit. Because one of the advantages of 5G is that the network can be sliced into any number of customer-dedicated, purpose-driven segments, each segment will have its own unique quality markers.

So how might these varying quality requirements affect your 5G operations?

Imagine a smart harbor with tens of thousands of IoT sensors monitoring water pollution, the status of water gates and the movements of millions of shipping containers. Multiple private and public agencies will likely be on the site, operating many different industrial and control systems. In such a complex, dynamically changing environment, CSP operations teams need the agility to stay on top of requests for new services from harbor tenants, which may require new slices to be quickly provisioned or modifications to be made to existing ones.

The harbor authority might also expect to have near-real-time visibility on how well the network is meeting its reliability requirements at any given time. A web-based dashboard could provide this — but would certainly put even more pressure and scrutiny on the operations team to keep up its end of the bargain.

A completely different scenario would be an eSports stadium requiring ultra-low latency (single-digit milliseconds) as well as high data speeds to handle augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) gaming, which will consume 100 to 1,000 times more network capacity than traditional videogames. There may also be multiple network slices involved: one for “VIP” gamers and one for “basic” gamers, each configured for different levels of latency, throughput, capacity, device volumes and so on.

Any CSP supporting this kind of service will need the systems and processes in place to keep an eye on the quality of experience for specific groups of subscribers and specific gaming applications. With the exact requirements likely changing from one tournament or event to the next, the operations team also has to be always ready to handle all-new demands.

How to give your customers exactly what they ordered

If all that sounds daunting, don’t panic. Quality can be tracked and assured across all slices, no matter how they’re being used, which means your enterprise customers can have any combination of flavors and toppings they like (to bring back our ice cream analogy).

What’s required is an end-to-end approach to operations that designs quality thresholds and assurances into 5G services from the very start rather than as an afterthought. That approach is necessarily operational, embedding quality in the day-to-day functioning of the network and services. It also demands artificial intelligence and automation to keep up with 5G’s exponentially greater complexity, enabling the network to almost manage itself — and freeing you to reap the full potential of the enterprise opportunity.

Additional resources: 

Find out more on our Operations in 5G - Improve quality webpage.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks or @nokia using #telcos #Operations

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

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