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What will it take to assure the quality of 5G services?

This is the third in a series of blogs on CSPs’ future mode of operations. More to come!

Customer expectations of service performance are going to be higher in the 5G era than they’ve ever been. That’s going to require service providers to design assurance into their offerings right from the start rather than as an afterthought.

To do that, they’ll need new tools and approaches to integrate their internal IT, operations, customer care and other groups in a scalable, automated way. They’ll also have to break down the silos of traditionally separate business and operational processes to bring together service creation, delivery and assurance in a single, seamlessly integrated process framework.

More opportunities, more complexity

One of the main reasons customer expectations are changing is that, for many service providers, the customers themselves are changing. Going beyond just providing connectivity to homes and businesses, 5G will open up previously untapped opportunities across a broad range of enterprise industry verticals. In the 5G era, service providers won’t just sell to these enterprises: they’ll co-create network-based services with them. That includes allocating network “slices” (virtualized portions of the network) that enterprises can use to integrate 5G capabilities into the digital services they sell to their own corporate or consumer customers.

Any enterprise that builds its services on top of a 5G slice is going to want a stringent service-level agreement (SLA) to guarantee performance — and the ability to customize 5G services to their needs. Service providers can’t easily provide that today due to their siloed, fragmented operations, where no single group has end-to-end control over an entire service.

If meeting SLAs is hard today, it’s only going to get more difficult with increasing virtualization and ever-growing volumes of data to process. Very soon, it will not be possible for humans to manually control critical functions like network scaling and healing. SLA enforcement will require those functions to be automated from the get-go — a shift from human-intensive to machine-intensive operations that will demand smarter prediction mechanisms powered by machine learning and AI.

How can assurance be designed in?

Imagine an eSports videogame event held in a major city, with players across multiple locations connecting for a single-day tournament. The gaming company running the event needs a 5G slice for VIPs and another one for “basic” gamers. Each of these would be configured for different levels of latency, throughput, capacity that are captured in SLAs with the service provider.

Instead of passively and reactively monitoring the slices after they’re deployed to see if they’re meeting the agreed-upon thresholds, the service provider can define performance parameters and assurance policies for each slice at the outset — designing them into the service itself.

The policies can then be tracked with data collected from across the network, service, sales/marketing and customer care departments. AI and machine learning will help make priority decisions about which automated actions need to be taken to prevent or respond to SLA violations, ideally before any problems are even experienced by the gamers. By automatically fixing issues — adjusting routing settings or dynamically deploying more resources, for example — network operations become “zero touch”, requiring no manual intervention for a wide range of assurance actions.

Assuring next-generation consumer services

While enterprise opportunities are likely to be a main focus for many service providers, consumer subscriptions will remain important, especially with new technologies in play such as fixed wireless access (FWA). An integrated approach will be critical here, too.

With FWA, two traditionally distinct business units (mobile and fixed) have to come together to deliver a single service. Only by breaking down the silos between them can service providers get a more complete, end-to-end view of every aspect of the FWA service. From there, they can apply AI-powered analytics to eliminate capacity bottlenecks with automated service scaling and resolve problems quickly through the automated triggering of healing actions.

Completing the operational round trip

By combining service creation, delivery and assurance in a seamlessly integrated “operational round trip”, service providers can streamline virtually every aspect of their operations. Not only will they get greater visibility into and prioritization of tasks that deliver value to enterprise partners, but they’ll also be able to use automation more comprehensively to maintain network and service performance, whether for an eSports event, FWA or any other 5G use case.

At Nokia, we understand the automation that’s possible — and required — for 5G. As the #1 vendor in the world for automated assurance solutions (according to the 2018 Analysys Mason market share report), we also know the real upshot of assurance is a better experience for the end customer. In the next blog in this series, we’ll take a closer look at how service providers can improve that experience at every stage of the customer journey through the use of intent-based automations.

Additional resources: 

Find out more on Future of Operations microsite and don’t miss our Future of Operations video series where we are exploring further how to connect the business with the network.

For more information around our assurance offering visit our Service Assurance Center webpage.

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

Renata Silva

About Renata Silva

Renata leads the Service Assurance Center portfolio of products of Nokia Software. She is located in the Nokia office in Lisbon, Portugal along with a team of some of the best minds in the industry focused on Network and Service Assurance. Renata is passionate about the need to incorporate Service Assurance together with traditional Service Fulfillment and Analytics to create the new automated operations environment that will make service providers successful in the 5G era.

Renata spent her early career working in the service provider environment which gives her a great appreciation and understanding of the challenges that must be addressed from their perspective.

She escapes the city whenever possible for a walk on Portugal’s beautiful beaches or a family program with her three children.

Tweet us at @nokianetworks

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