The mobile industry’s preparations for the launch of 5G services is proving to be a key driver for operations transformation, as operators seek to streamline and renew processes to cope with the various challenges posed by the next-generation technology.
Operators and industry experts gathered at Huawei’s Operations Transformation Forum 2018 event in Munich all touched on the impact that work to deploy 5G is having on the mobile sector as a whole, with some also giving specific examples of how they are reshaping their businesses ahead of the first launches – which will pick up pace over the next two years.
Laxmi Akkaraju, chief strategy officer at industry association GSMA, explained operators need access to the new products and services 5G will enable to combat plateauing revenues in current voice and data services – but achieving this presents its own set of challenges.
“In the new era that’s approaching, our immediate challenge is to build a better value capture mechanism for the next ten years than we have been able to do in the last ten years,” she said, explaining such transformation is essential for operators to tap a mobile industry which the Association forecast will “contribute $4.6 trillion by 2022 to the global GDP”.
This is not some far off process: 5G is happening here and now, she said, pointing to the completion of 121 trials by operators in 61 countries, and commitments by 74 operators in 47 countries to launch the technology in the next few years.
With Huawei having cited a figure of 18 months for transformation projects to really start to deliver, this means that by the time transformation efforts started now take hold, 5G will be a reality. As Bill Tang, president of global technical services for the vendor, said: “We cannot wait for the perfect structure, the perfect technology: we need to act quickly.”
And Fotis Karonis, 5G executive sponsor at BT Group, was bullish about the potential of the technology. “By unleashing the standards of 5G, and really believing and creating that openness where people can build applications around these fantastic networks, we’ll absolutely unleash revenue, value and a fantastic customer experience,” he said.
While 5G is a major driver of this expected growth, The GSMA’s strategy chief noted artificial intelligence (AI) will play a crucial role in enabling operators and the industry to make sense of the vast amount of data which 5G will generate: some 250 exabytes per month by 2021, according to GSMA forecasts.
AI “will be instrumental in developing products and services for new revenue streams; it will enable more efficient business operations and help to improve performance. AI is going to help us handle the new load that 5G is going to generate on our networks and help us to reduce costs,” she said.
With 5G networks set to be significantly more complex and able to support a vast range of services, from data-intensive applications such as virtual reality to massive IoT deployments, 5G will change the way that services are developed and networks managed. And with the adoption of virtualisation and cloud technologies alongside 5G, networks will look very different to how they have in the past.
At Operations Transformation Forum 2018, Richard Wong, marketing director of SDN/NFV Integration Services at Huawei, unveiled the company’s TelcoCraft Service Crafting Center, which is designed to enable operators to adopt a new model for service creation and operation.
He said: “We’ve heard a lot about the latest technologies, like NFV, SDN, 5G, and cloud, that can bring a lot of new digital services to the market, and to customers. And that requires a lot of changes in the network, where it has to be flexible to accommodate a lot of services running on top of that. The current way of building services cannot cope – we need to transform the way how services are created.”
Launching Huawei’s Robust Network Service network management technology, Fred Zhao, general manager of the company’s Customer Support Services Domain, highlighted the need for operators to achieve “zero touch” operation and maintenance ahead of the launch of 5G.
Noting there are still challenges running existing 2G, 3G and 4G networks, he said that “if we cannot solve these challenges as soon as possible, and use digitisation to move human resources from traditional maintenance to 5G, it will be a big burden”.
While the shift to 5G will undoubtedly create challenges for operators, it was noted they are actually old hands when it comes to transforming their operations to prepare for a new generation of mobile technology, having worked through the introduction of previous generations and the challenges they posed.
Roberto Kung, SVP of quality operations at Orange, said 2G was a challenge because it was an entirely new digital technology, while with 3G the shift was introducing IP into the mobile network. In the 4G era, the focus shifted to integrating technologies including VoLTE and VoWi-Fi.
“There is a need to transform operations. [Operators] must be able to operate cloud; must be able to be fast; must be able to automate; must be able to design automation”. Such factors have an impact on the operator’s “skills, process and tooling”, he noted, referring to 5G as a “big beast” which operators must control.
Some operators are further along the path to 5G than others. Kwang woo Lim, research fellow at South Korean operator LG Uplus, said advanced government planning has boosted the company’s preparations for 5G rollout. During the planning phase “we introduced 5G network, wireless network service planning strategy and 5G migration scenario, and 5G transport network,” he said.
And, of course, some operators are already leading the way with their digital transformations – work which will ease the way to the introduction of 5G.
KS Luk, AVP of OSS development, wireless engineering at HKT, said that the operator had forged a dedicated team from its existing network planning staff tasked with handling the integration of new technologies including network infrastructure. “They have built a strong foundation” Luk said, adding the new team is tasked with operating both the old and new networks to ensure continuity of service processes and alignment on the objectives.
HKT was one of several operators which highlighted partnerships with Huawei as being key to their preparations for 5G and associated digital transformation. Karonis noted BT had a long-established relationship with the vendor dating back to 2010, when the pair jointly worked on its 4G preparations and launch.
For all the work being done by operators, there is one area beyond their control which will impact availability: regulation.
Matthias Kurth, executive chairman of Cable Europe and a former president of German regulator Bundesnetzagentur, urged regulators to steer clear of any involvement in the process of standardising 5G. Instead, they should focus on ensuring there is sufficient spectrum available to enable the industry to press ahead with deployments, and offer clear rules which will enable operators to justify the vast investments required to develop and commercialise the technology.
The way to provide operators and their backers with some certainty is to “be early with handing out spectrum”, because this allows operators to plan for the future. Technology innovation is “crucial, not only for mobile markets, but for all of our industry,” Kurth noted.Subscribe to our daily newsletter Back