How to get to the 5G promised land: What agility means to 5G operations
Communications service providers (CSPs) have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realize an emerging trillion-dollar market by rolling out new digital services based on 5G connectivity. There’s just one catch: no CSP can fully predict today the use cases, network services or business models that will be successful tomorrow, or how market and customer requirements will evolve over time.
In that context, the key to capturing a share of the 5G market and reaching the “promised land” of skyrocketing revenues is operational agility: the capability to quickly respond to and cope with the unplanned and unexpected. Achieving a greater degree of operational agility first requires a higher level of operational maturity.
Why operational maturity matters
Today’s consumer-focused network services tend to be connectivity-driven and fairly static. This suits many CSPs just fine because change can be disruptive. But that won’t be the case in the 5G era. CSPs will have to manage hundreds of enterprise-focused services that have value far beyond bulk connectivity alone. All of those services will need to be created, customized, delivered and assured dynamically, frequently and on a massive scale.
Consider a port or harbor with multiple private and public agencies and many different industrial control systems on site. A CSP could dedicate 5G slices and sub-slices to construction, maintenance, traffic steering, environmental monitoring, logistics, crane operations and many other use cases across the port — and to the individual companies based there.
The only way to handle that diversity and complexity is by becoming more operationally mature — streamlining and automating operational processes in a way that they can cover a vast range of different tasks, even those that are unexpected or need to be completed on short notice. Otherwise, operational agility (or lack of it) becomes the major bottleneck for business and revenue growth.
The four stages of operational agility
There’s a strong correlation between operational agility and revenue in 5G: up to 72 percent of 5G revenue growth depends on CSPs’ ability to transform their operational and business support systems.
That transformation can’t happen overnight. On the journey to fully agile operations, there are four distinct stages that CSPs need to reach. Each is associated with a different level of 5G revenue — and marks a different point along the path from providing consumer connectivity to the full range of services for industry and enterprises.
The first stage is manual operations. Here, the 5G service portfolio is limited to few “plain” enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) services. Enterprise-focused services with committed service-level agreements (SLAs) may be possible, but only on a very limited scale (and at very high cost) because everything on the operations side is done manually.
The second stage is autonomous operations. In this case, CSPs will have implemented automated, closed-loop processes that allow them to offer a wider range of more complex — and therefore higher-value — services.
Automation alone isn’t enough, however. The third stage, cognitive operations, transitions from rigid rules-based automation to processes based on self-learning using artificial intelligence and machine learning. This embedded intelligence supports even more adaptive and dynamic enterprise use cases, as well as a higher number of individual network slices with tighter SLAs.
The final stage, called platform or ecosystem operations, adds one last element to the mix: the ability to rapidly package new vertical industry services. By leveraging a broader design and development ecosystem (comprising both internal and external technical capabilities and business functions), CSPs can quickly and easily onboard all the necessary service elements (e.g., applications, slices). Rather than being designed and configured from scratch every time, new services can be spun up and deployed at very high speed.
How to “grow up” your operations
Our 5G Maturity Index study showed that most CSPs are still in the early days of operational transformation. In a survey of 50 CSPs worldwide, we found that none have implemented zero-touch automation for their business or network processes, and only 14 percent have platforms for launching new services in less than eight weeks. The overwhelming majority of CSPs surveyed (84%) remain at the lowest end of the maturity spectrum.
This will shift as CSPs begin to implement disruptive, transformative changes in their processes, tools and people. Entire operational processes will need to be redesigned (versus undergoing minor efficiency-enhancing iterations that simply improve repetitive tasks), built on closed loops, network- and service-level analytics, and automated policy-based actions. The right tools can support those efforts by introducing more automation and intelligence. And at the organizational level, people will need to be trained on those tools, learn new skills and perform entirely different tasks.
All of this is in line with the DevOps approach that is well established in other domains. It’s a mindset of continuous improvement, where changes are made more frequently but with less impact on operational systems. As a result, new features and services can be introduced faster, tailored to the unique needs and requirements of each enterprise customer.
While no single piece of software can be plugged in to get to the promised land of operational agility, starting a process of incremental evolution today, across all aspects of their operations, will give CSPs a crucial head start — and a competitive advantage down the road.
Find out more on our Operations in 5G – Increase agility webpage.
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