Orange puts automation at the heart of telecoms’ future fortunes

Automation has been absolutely everywhere in the welter of announcements made at and around MWC writes Contributing Editor Annie Turner

ORANGE NEW CEO, Christel Heydemann, 2022/01/28, © Nicolas Gouhier

At Orange Capital Markets Day, the week before Mobile World Congress 2023 (MWC), Christel Heydemann, CEO of Orange Group, laid out her strategy after 10 months in the job. She observed that operators cannot make a sufficiently good return on investment without diversification or selling off assets, although telecoms are viewed as being of critical strategic importance.

She is hopeful a change in regulation will result from the ongoing consultation by the European Union on so-called fair-share and consolidation, but said she saw the industry’s salvation in telcos’ next-generation network, assets and expertise, stressing the importance of execution.

Managing value

Heydemann called on Michaël Trabbia, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Orange, was called upon to elaborate. He said, “Our goal as operator is to become the reference in networks agility, resilience and performance. This ambition includes software transformation, automation and AI.”

He continued, “We will measure our progress in this transformation based on the standards set by TM Forum for the level of automation in network operations. Our ambition is to move from level one or two currently, depending on the country, to level four by 2025, specifically on two key processes, the test integration deployment process, and the network monitoring and fault management process.

“To further increase network automation, we are implementing group-wide network integration factories and shared operation centres that will allow new, on-demand network services operating in Network-as-a-Service mode, thus creating new business opportunities.”

Open RAN rural sharing

During MWC, Orange had another infrastructure announcement: it has an agreement with Vodafone to build out and share Open RAN in rural parts of Europe where both have mobile networks. The first commercial sites will be deployed outside Bucharest, Romania’s capital.

Trabbia described this as “a significant milestone on the road to wide-scale open RAN adoption across Europe,” adding, “It is a major step towards agile and fully-automated networks, unleashing the potential of virtualization and AI to boost performance while driving both infrastructure and operational costs down.

“In particular, Open RAN is a great opportunity to take network sharing to a whole new dimension, with even higher operator differentiation thanks to the ability for each of the partners to tune its network more independently according to its promises towards its own customers.”

Testing of the Open RAN solution on a live network will continue throughout 2023, allowing a like-for-like comparison with legacy networks and will aim at confirming the feature and performance parity between Open RAN and traditional RAN solutions, before expanding the Open RAN sharing blueprint to other markets.

Pikeo pushes automation

Orange also disclosed findings from its Pikeo experimental network which was launched in June 2021 help the operator better understand how best to deploy cloud-oriented, open API-based, automated, disaggregated, multi-vendor 5G Standalone network. Orange said the work on Pikeo had helped it reach a “major milestone on its journey towards software and data-based, fully-automated networks.” The models developed enable Orange to run private 5G in a multi-cloud network, whether that’s on-prem Orange Telco Cloud infrastructure or using SUSE/Rancher Kubernetes distribution.

Going global with network inventory

Francis Haysom, Principal Analyst, Appledore Research

AT&T and ServiceNow announced a global telco solution during MWC, continuing the trend of operators productising their expertise and assets to sell to other operators, like Rakuten and SK Telekom, among others. The operator provided “strategic design and technical guidance” for the development of ServiceNow Telecom Network inventory, built on ServiceNow’s platform.

Hence the solution provides “a single platform that connects systems to maximize network investments, manage orders, improve customer service experiences, and enable business agility”. AT&T plans to deploy the platform soon.

Francis Haysom, Principal Analyst, Appledore Research, commented, “With Telecommunications Network Inventory, operators have an opportunity to better support end-to-end network automation and increasingly dynamic and valuable network services.”

AWS builds on telco credentials

AWS made several telco-friendly announcements ahead of MWC including Telco Network Builder intended to make deploying telcos’ functions on cloud more efficient by using common terminology and languages, including several ETSI specifications. There are no upfront commitments or fees the Builder, and customers pay only for the AWS services used to manage their network. Amdocs, Cloudify, Infosys, Mavenir and O2 Telefónica are all investigating the Builder’s possibilities.

Bas Hendrikx, Head of Cloud Centre of Excellence at O2 Telefónica said, “We are exploring AWS Telco Network Builder to enable us to leverage automation to deliver new 5G network services faster and manage our networks more efficiently”.

Google goes for network automation

Google Cloud announced its Telecom Network Automation at MWC, designed to accelerate network and edge deployments. It does this using cloud-native automation based on Kubernetes and the work done by Nephio, the open-source project that Google Cloud founded in partnership with the Linux Foundation in 2022. The hyperscaler also launched Telecom Data Fabric for migrating operators’ workloads to the cloud faster and more efficiently, plus the Telecom Subscriber Insights analytics platform.

Colt ups ante with Equinix

Colt Technology Services and Equinix have extended their partnership: businesses in Spain, Italy and Sweden now have access to Colt’s On Demand infrastructure interconnecting with Equinix Fabric. Mark Hollman, Vice President for Partner Development and Success at Colt said, “In this latest evolution of our longstanding partnership with Equinix, we’ve invested in joint API development to deliver a simplified, automated and improved customer experience across Colt On Demand and Equinix Fabric platforms.