Automation: Fueling the race to 5G

By Special Guest
Faiq Khan, President Global Networks, Infovista
  |  May 04, 2021

Disruption has always been at the heart of the telecoms industry and the ongoing race to deploy 5G is one of the most exciting transitions of the last few decades. 5G is arriving as the growth of cloud computing is unlocking a wave of innovation in areas such as artificial intelligence, connected cars and smart cities.

Unlike the rapid change between third and fourth generation networks – a gap of just 8 years – it seems that 5G may be the dominant standard until the mid-2030s due to it technical benefits and lack of a viable sixth generation alternative.

Not only does 5G bring a lot more bandwidth, but the new standard also offers new features that allow operators to better segment their networks and create new types of services that were not viable with 3G or 4G networks.  5G could be as game changing to mobile telecoms as fibre optic was to fixed networks – but the biggest benefit could be stability.

The global telecommunication industry spent $420 billion in capex during 2019, chasing an overall market worth around $1.6 trillion globally. Even with such massive spending and revenues at stake, growth was sluggish, which means operators are welcoming the potential longevity offered by 5G. Once the 5G roll out is completed, operators can refocus on the creation and delivery of profitable services – such as high-speed mobile broadband – and develop new revenue streams, like private enterprise networks.

But, the potential stability that 5G brings to the market does not mean a lack of innovation. One of the biggest areas of focus is around automation, already a hot topic in the industry, especially as a complement to more dynamic, software-led network design.

Much of the core network upgrade is still ongoing and, as operators start to deploy full-scale 5G standalone networks, there has been a marked increase in the use of automation software for advanced planning and design to speed up key tasks, such as site selection and synthetic testing, to ensure that 5G can be deployed with adequate coverage. Key innovators are beginning to invest in state-of-the-art technology that uses automation to reduce the time it will take to deploy thousands of new towers and upgrade existing sites to 5G.

When repetitive network planning and engineering processes are automated, it effectively reduces the level of effort needed while increasing speed and efficiency. This results in engineers focusing on their most important task – deploying better networks – rather than taking on routine work.

This benefits the operator in many ways:

  • Radio engineers can focus on complex tasks and what they’re good at rather than routine tasks;
  • Important but routine tasks can be fully automated, resulting in a significant increase in the timeliness of the work carried out and eliminating human errors; and
  • With streamlined processes, automated routine tasks will not increase operational costs, meaning that when the network grows, costs don’t rise proportionately.

In this age of accelerating technology, we shouldn’t underestimate the rising importance of automation for strategic planning.

Let’s review the basics.

Helping operators take the best network deployment decisions by leveraging automated and business-orientated “what if” scenario analysis is a methodology that is becoming increasingly key in rolling out any new technology like 5G more efficiently, leading to significant time and CAPEX savings.

Automation is also enabling consolidation of many operational silos within the network operations activities, such as unified performance, and fault and configuration management, as well as improvements in mobile customer experience. This leads to improved QoE and massive reductions in OPEX (News - Alert).

Another use of automation is to overcome the burden of managing existing 2G, 3G and 4G layers while building out 5G in tandem. However, for newer operators, such as Rakuten Mobile, the telecommunications arm of one of Japan’s largest ecommerce and online retailers, which is developing telecoms networks based on Open Radio Access Network (OpenRAN) technologies, automation is also helping to integrate lots of relatively new software and hardware elements into a coherent service that can scale in line with growing demand.

Although there are still many proofs of concept and trial projects finding their feet, these will be followed by a wave of a viable services that will take advantage of true end-to-end 5G networks. With the stability offered by 5G, the next decade will shake up the market in exciting new ways.

About the author: Mr. Khan is a seasoned professional with over two decades’ experience in the enterprise, IT & telecoms industry. Spending his time in Asia, Europe and Africa, living in seven different countries with diverse sales and services background, he currently leads as president global networks EAA region with an established CSP (News - Alert) mobile business, and is growing Infovista's new verticals and enterprise business in these regions. He has been nurturing the organic growth of the sales organization and managing P&Ls extensively over the past decade. A qualified engineer, Mr. Khan holds an honours degree in Electrical Engineering from the NED University of Engineering, Pakistan, and speaks four languages. Since beginning his successful career at Mobilink (News - Alert) Orascom as an RF Engineer, he has upskilled through experience and education. On this journey, he has gained a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of end-to-end mobile network architecture, planning and operations, solutions and services, while leading numerous business units to consistently achieve aggressive and successive growth targets. Having been a driving force behind the acquisition of Ascom (News - Alert) Network Testing (TEMS) by Infovista, Mr. Khan’s professional experience also includes periods with Ooreedoo, Telenor, Aircom International, and Nexus Telecom (News - Alert).

Edited by Erik Linask