Mobile operators must build in service assurance as they develop the network capability to meet new industry and market use cases.
The Benchmark Your 5G Service Assurance Strategy event, co-hosted by TMN last week, looked at operators’ motivations for introducing 5G Standalone, how to develop the capability to design new industry and market use cases, and the need for automated assurance and orchestration to support that.
Nabil Charkani, Director, Network Architecture and Automation, Orange, said that 5G Standalone could enable new capabilities, but it still requires a lot of proving out. Describing it as “at the crossroads of many immature technologies,” he said that Orange is addressing challenges that span several domains – from dealing with a multi vendor core, to understanding the business opportunities, to proving network design and end-to-end assurance from service to device. Proving out 5G Standalone also involved moving towards a zero touch, AI-driven network.
To do that, Orange takes a step by step approach to deliver slicing across the transport network, to designing static slices and then finally to dynamically instantiated slices. Service assurance is mandatory as part of that process, including the need to assure end-to-end, and to integrate assurance with automated orchestration.
It was an approach that impressed watching analysts.
Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading, told TMN, “The presentation from Nabil at Orange underlined how 5G is a process – for example, it showed how 5G standalone, and services that depend on a 5G core, such as network slicing, will be introduced in phases. This is consistent with Orange’s well communicated view that to successfully serve customers, it’s better to do 5G right than do it early for the sake of being first.”
Disruptive Analysis Founder Dean Bubley said, “I generally see Orange as the most “realistic” MNO about 5G, both in terms of timing & practical issues. They never overhype, and I thought the discussion about multi-vendor SA challenges was really insightful and informative.
Bubley also raised a challenge of his own. “I’d like to see more on the interdependency of 5G SA and the limits of NR coverage – what happens in-building, for instance? What happens where a 3rd party runs a neutral host or even DAS – can it still support slicing & how do you do service assurance across the boundary?”
Charkani said that Orange has been working in partnership with enterprise customers and developers to design services that take advantage of 5G Standalone differentiation. And that was mirrored by KPN’s Jacob Groote, EVP Innovation & Partnerships, who emphasised that 5G requires a shift in services thinking from operators. KPN is already working in partnership with key industries, he said, to deliver enhanced business value to customers. He gave several successful examples where KPN is already delivering 5G-based services to businesses. 5G Standalone, with support for slicing and virtual networks offers opportunities in mission critical communications functions.
But to succeed with 5G, Groote said operators must identify new applications based on customer values, and then work with partners on the technology needed to develop those services. Once that has been achieved, operators must have a means to automatically assure the service guarantees that they have made to business customers who are trusting critical business processes to these guarantees.
Heavy Reading’s Brown said, “Jacob Groote at KPN made the excellent point, repeatedly, that for enterprise services, rather than throwing technology at them, operators and the industry at large should work directly with customers to determine how, in practice, 5G can improve their operating processes.”
Three UK’s Jason Kabengele, Director of OSS, Transport and Infrastructure Services, outlined that service provider’s motivations for the move to 5G Standalone. A list of reasons that included reducing spend on capacity and achieving cost efficiency, but Kabengele also highlighted how Three hopes to improve the customer experience and gain the ability to deliver new revenue models.
Omdia’s James Crawshaw, Principal Analyst, said, “It was great to hear such a detailed discussion of the challenges from Three UK; things like inter-vendor issues which can lead to smartphone battery drain. But service assurance is not just about better network performance – it also helps increase capital and cost efficiency and even enable new revenue streams based on network slicing.”
With its focus on Service Assurance, the event concluded with EXFO’s Mark Hiseman, who identified the key barriers that are holding operators back from understanding network performance end-to-end.
Hiseman said that operators need to start structuring access to the data insights they really need. They also need to start thinking about how service assurance can itself be orchestrated as a network function, giving orchestrators access to real time data. That move can be a driver towards zero touch networks.
As operators evolve their 5G Standalone strategies, and hope to design services in partnership with customers, they will need to design service assurance capabilities as part of the process.
Omdia’s Crawshaw welcomed the focus of the event. He said, “It is rare to get one high quality service provider speaker on a webinar, let alone three. It is also rare to hear them talk about service assurance which is often an afterthought and not often discussed at the early stage of a new technology like 5G.”