PARTNER CONTENT: Rollouts of 5G networks across the world picked up pace throughout 2020, with the ecosystem maturing rapidly and the outlook for the coming years looking even brighter.

IHS Markit forecasts global 5G subscribers to reach 500 million in just three years since its introduction in 2019, compared with the six years it took LTE to reach that milestone and the nine for 3G.

As of end-2020, operators in 59 countries deployed 140 commercial 5G networks, Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) figures showed.

GSMA Intelligence expects 5G to account for more than half of total mobile connections by 2025.

In China alone, the country’s three major players already deployed more than 700,000 5G base stations across 240 cites, with subscribers reaching 322 million at end-2020.

Driving automation
As operators boost their capex budgets to reap the potential benefits of non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA) 5G networks, they also face the blunt reality of rising network complexity.

With the addition of yet another G, base station site construction takes longer and requires more manpower. Analysts estimate the addition of 5G to an operator’s current portfolio can increase complexity by as much as 100-times. This stems from both the rising number of spectrum frequencies (as many as ten in some cases) and multiple modes across smartphones, home broadband devices, vehicle-related devices and 5G modules.

In addition to rising opex, maintenance efficiency drops while network complexity significantly increases.

Optimising Massive MIMO in a new network, for example, involves tens of thousands of parameter combinations. Experts cannot quickly identify the configuration that best suits each scenario, which means automation is necessary to overcome these challenges.

China-based equipment vendor Huawei launched its Autonomous Driving Network (ADN) intelligent strategy in 2019 to address the structural issues of telecoms networks through an innovative architecture, helping operators achieve a better service experience and higher operational and resource efficiency.

Huawei’s Mobile Automation Engine (MAE) is a foundational block within the ADN, designed to transition to full network autonomy and zero-touch operations.

Beyond improving efficiency, the objective behind the engine also is to support the creation of innovative services for both the consumer and enterprise sectors as well as partners across the broader ecosystem, and enable digital transformation in vertical industries. The platform can enable consistent experiences and sustainable business models or technology strategies.

Making 5G a success
MAE acts as a centralised manager, controller and analyser, functioning as a mobile network’s brain. It has a cloud-based microservice architecture that is well suited for networks of all sizes, featuring the industry’s leading network capacity management ability, enabling massive base station data to be reported for data training and policy generation. Its powerful capability means policy output can be more accurate.

The multi-layer automation framework supports operators’ digital transformation aims and their evolution to closed-loop automation and mobile autonomous networks. MAE’s openness, agile programmability and easy integration empower operators to move beyond siloed legacy element management systems. The platform is part of Huawei’s strategy of building a hierarchical automation solution by providing local autonomy for RAN, and integrating northbound APIs and scenario-based apps with the cross-domain automation platform for end-to-end network and service automation.

In addition to traditional fault, configuration, accounting, performance and security (FCAPS) processes, and network KPI and topology management, MAE offers operators on-demand applications to further increase the efficiency of the RAN, the intelligence of O&M and the agility of service provisioning. MAE’s key components are: Site Express; Radio Express; Alarm Turbo; Capacity Turbo; Power Turbo; WTTx Suite; and 5GtoB Suite.

MAE, which has been commercially deployed on many networks around the world, helps customers improve site efficiency with intelligent network O&M, as well as agile and precise service provisioning. These tools allow customers to build up network automation capabilities in the 5G era.

In the longer term, it empowers operators to build a more sustainable world by accelerating network automation.

Cutting energy usage
Mobile operators in many countries have set aggressive targets to operate more sustainable businesses in connection with the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Near the top of the list are increasing productivity and improving resource efficiency. Nowhere is this gaining more attention than at the RAN level.

To combat this surge, Huawei developed a line-up of network automation tools that not only can significantly lower operating costs by streamlining operations and eliminating manual tasks, but also can lead to huge reductions in power consumption through improved network energy efficiencies.

PowerStar, launched in 2018, features a three-level energy saving design: equipment, site and network. Power Turbo is a key MAE application focusing on network level energy savings.

Power Turbo aims to help operators meet their energy saving goals without compromising network performance and user experience. It enables energy savings by using intelligent predictive capabilities to automatically wake up and power-down base stations; making use of renewable energy sources for on-grid and off-grid sites; and managing multi-band, multi-frequency networks to maximise energy efficiency.

Huawei said operators deployed its energy saving features across more than 200,000 sites to reduce energy consumption by 100 million kWh a year.

Streamlining rollouts
The company’s WTTx Suite is a supporting system for fixed wireless access (FWA) service provision. It offers trusted service provisioning checks, user experience evaluation, network-level throughput analysing and scaling guidance.

The suite, which supports pre-evaluation of service provisioning, is able to visualise network capacity and coverage to provide precise service provisioning suggestions based on user location, the available CPE and actual data package purchased.

After broadband services are provisioned, network data and terminal measurement reports are analysed to proactively manage the user experience, reduce user complaints and improve user loyalty. The WTTx Suite can be integrated with operators’ upper-layer IT systems, significantly improving the sustainable development of wireless home broadband services.

It already has been used in large-scale commercial deployments worldwide, and the automatic provisioning of wireless home broadband services has delivered added convenience during the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

The WTTX Suite has been deployed on more than 80 FWA networks in some 35 countries and already has been integrated by multiple carriers, such as Smart Cambodia.

For B2B scenarios, the diverse SLAs demanded by various industries require the entire network to be more flexible to cater to different service need.

Huawei’s 5GtoB Suite can accurately map service SLA requirements to network resources and determine RRU models and locations required for industrial network construction by using intelligent simulation models and a database of global network construction experiences. To simplify on-demand deployment, it supports online planning of service slices, generates slice configuration files based on online user-level simulation models, and automatically delivers and provisions, ensuring elastic deployment and efficient rollout of services on the production line.

The WTTx Suite and 5GtoB Suite support visualisation, prediction and prevention features, which are key to proactive device network O&M.

In the 5G era, automation is a must-have network element for all mobile operators, regardless of the number of base stations deployed or size of their subscriber base.

Automation not only speeds up deployments and provisioning, it also optimises performance using prevention and forecasting tools to ensure a consistent user experience regardless of traffic conditions. And by eliminating complex and cumbersome manual tasks, employees can focus on more advanced assignments, which can assist the entire ICT industry in achieving more sustainable development and creating additional value for customers and partners.

Network automation is increasingly becoming vital to 5G business success, as it enables sustainable and more efficient operations over the long term, which in turn reduces carbon emissions. The vision of autonomous networks is now a reality, with the industry united in understanding the widespread benefits.