PARTNER CONTENT: Middle East and Africa operator Zain Group has been a pioneer in embracing digital transformation and now has bold ambitions to build an autonomous network level 4 by 2025 powered by intelligence.
In an interview with Mobile World Live at MWC22 Barcelona, Mr Mohammed Al Marshed, Networks Director at Zain, explained the rationale behind the operator’s innovative approach.
“In 2015, Zain decided to move from being a mobile operator to a digital player. We made a decision that if we continue being a mobile operator we were not going to survive. That’s why we decided to be a digital player. We had a clear vision and strategy how we were going to enter the digital transformation journey. We had to create this strategy across all of our opcos [operating companies].”
A fundamental ingredient in this digital transformation is the use of intelligent technology. “That’s why, since 2015, until now, we have created a crystal clear roadmap for each opco for how we are going to implement AI in our networks,” explained Al Marshed.
With networks across seven markets – Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan and Sudan – Al Marshed noted that each opco has different needs and requirements and therefore has its own individual roadmap for intelligence.
While the roadmap may be different for each of Zain’s network markets, the strategy for implementing intelligence is the same. The operator considered whether it should integrate intelligence into just its radio networks, or perhaps the core network, or just the BSS. But Al Marshed was convinced a piecemeal approach is not the way forward.
“We believed it should be end to end, from the access network to the BSS. You cannot have it in one piece, it’s a chain that you have to implement.”
Driving the move to intelligence-powered autonomous networks is the myriad of operational benefits enabled in the long-run.
“We believed that implementing artificial intelligence would improve efficiency. A zero-touch network will improve the quality. It will also remove human intervention and human errors… Plus this is something really good for us: OPEX savings, because you reduce the time of outages, the number of people, etc.”
Indeed, this is backed up by the results of GSMA Intelligence’s Artificial Intelligence and Energy Efficiency Survey 2021 which found that most network professionals (78%) expect intelligence-driven solutions to be an extremely or very important part of their network transformation strategy.
The GSMA’s Mobile Economy Report 2022 also stated that intelligence and machine learning (ML) has huge potential to improve energy efficiency in the network. As energy consumption is a key opex cost for all mobile operators, the report found there is growing optimism among operators about the opportunity to improve energy efficiency through intelligence-driven network management solutions. For example, the inaugural standard release of 3GPP 5G-Advanced specifications is expected to boost network efficiency and effectiveness by leveraging intelligence and ML to improve power efficiency.
According to the Mobile Economy report, two thirds of operators expect energy savings of over 10% from intelligence over the next two years.
Level 4 networks explained
Achieving Zain’s ambition of building an autonomous network level 4 by 2025 will be an impressive feat for the operator.
Autonomous networks go far beyond innovating a single product and are more about innovating system architecture and business models, which requires industry players to work together to define standards and guide technology development and rollout.
Huawei has proposed five levels of Autonomous Driving Network systems for the telecom industry, with level 4 being defined as a “highly autonomous network,” accommodating more complex cross-domain environments and achieving predictive or active closed-loop management of service and customer experience-driven networks. In a level 4 autonomous network, operators can resolve network faults prior to customer complaints, reduce service outages, and ultimately, improve customer satisfaction.
The Zain exec called out Huawei and other partners as key to its intelligence-driven journey. And the intelligence work will continue: “We haven’t reached AI for the consumer and for the commercial need. We believe that we need to focus on the operational need first and maybe the next phase is the consumer and the customer.”
Al Marshed has also learnt that adopting this approach requires a cultural mindshift across Zain. “Artificial intelligence is not a technology that we buy and switch on, and it then just works. It’s a concept that we need to implement and it requires a long time to do it. It will require technology, people, processes and last, but not least, the most important thing is the decision and vision of the company to go forward in this direction.”
View the full interview with Zain’s Al Marshed here.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter Back