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Strong focus on customer experience pays many dividends for dtac

In the next data-driven operations related blog DTAC’s CTO, Prathet Tankuranun, talks to Contributing Editor, Annie Turner about how smart can beat scale regarding profitability, through a focus on customer experience and the best use of all assets, including through Ericsson Managed Services.

Prathet Tankuranun is Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Total Access Communication Public Company Limited (known as dtac), which is part of the Telenor group and Thailand’s third largest mobile operator. The communication service provider (CSP) has had an interesting and challenging evolution.

It started as a concession in 1989, renting or buying the use of spectrum from other operators before it began deploying its own network. Once those original spectrum contracts ran out, it was obliged to acquire new licenses to spectrum, which did not provide the ideal amount of spectrum in all areas of operation.

Four years ago, dtac realized it had network issues, although it had good network utilization and its key performance indicators (KPIs), such as dropped call rates, gave no cause for concern. Yet it had declining Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and received direct complaints from customers. Prathet says, “Given the limited megahertz we had then, we wondered what else we could do to improve as much as we could.”

 

Power of partnership

dtac took a strategic decision to partner Ericsson Managed Services which was charged with implementing customer-centric network operations from January 2020. Ericsson now manages dtac’s network operations across the country with the Ericsson Operations Engine – an AI-powered platform that supplies, maintains and updates all the tools the operations’ team needs. The blended managed services team – which comprises the former dtac team and Ericsson personnel – ultimately reports to Prathet, who works closely with Amitava Saha, Managed Services Chief Operations Officer at Ericsson Thailand.

The operator is responsible for the network’s strategic planning and retains ownership of its assets. So, as a first step to improving customer experience and getting maximum value from assets, Prathet says, “We allocated NPSs [net promoter scores] to specific sites, to see which is good and bad, and updated the scores daily. Previously, we looked at the scores quarterly or maybe monthly and the same with complaints. Now we look at the complaints every day too.”

The galling thing was, “We found out about issues from customers, not from all the super-duper systems we’d invested in,” Prathet says. To address the issues, “We started out from fault management, to see what alarms are in the systems and which equipment was [generating] false alarms, then fixing them.” He also wanted to identify network issues that might not trigger traditional alarms.

dtac scrutinized the performance KPIs for different network aspects. Prathet says, “They are sufficient to provide OK customer interaction and a good service but to take it up another notch, we have to look further.” He wanted to see beyond the network to what its customers experience by developing more and different insights to deduce what to fix and where.

“We started with a different set of data besides the alarms or whatever is coming from the OSS and what our systems are looking at,” he says. “We have the DNA, which are fantastic tools that have got all the [information about] what is happening in the network and what customers’ experiences are. Instead of defining KPIs based on the network part, we used KPIs based on the customers’ view.

“We coined a term ‘bad experience subscribers’ or ‘bad section customers’ and used it to measure how good or bad a particular site or segment is by coming from different angles. We’re also looking into different types of customers – prepaid and postpaid, and even within prepaid we have different types of customers with different behaviors or different likings.”

 

Roaming experience

For example, many of dtac’s customers are migrants from neighboring countries who come to work in Thailand. “They often like different kinds of applications, like different chat applications, than we Thais use, and we even look into roamers,” Prathet says. Roamers coming onto dtac’s network via a number that originated in another country might have a poor experience, “but you would not see it from the network point of view because it is like a drop in the ocean,” he explains.

“But if you look into different types or categorize customers into different buckets, then you know a migrant has this issue because their behavior is different. Maybe their network of origin had issues because the pipe linking to their home network is congested, which could not be seen from data at the corrective level. Our approach allows us to see the customer’s view and pinpoint the areas for improvement.”

 

8th December. 4 to 4.45pm GMT. In this live & interactive panel visionary speakers from TDC NET, Ericsson and Omdia will explore how data, streamlined processes & automation can transform data-driven operations. Register for Free.

 

Speed is not everything

dtac also avoided being preoccupied by its network’s speed, unlike many operators. Prathet says, “Speed is not the most important thing, given the investment we would need to have that fastest network and perhaps that money could be spent elsewhere, or differently, to achieve greater satisfaction.

“For most things you do on a mobile – browsing, watching Netflix, listening to music or podcasts, doing emails – 200Mbps is the sweet spot for 95 percent to 99 percent of that stuff on small screens. That’s why we’re focusing on experience, reliability and stability. For example, when you click ‘start’ on YouTube, you notice how long it takes for the moving screen to come up. Those are the things we’re focusing on, not ‘If I have the fastest download speed then I’m the best network’.

“We are very disciplined when it comes to investment in the network. We want to make sure that every single dollar is well spent, and to maximize those dollars.” In other words, throwing intelligence rather than money at the network to get the maximum return.

Another strength is dtac asks its engineers to go into the call centers and sit with the agents to hear from customer how they experience the operator’s services and where improvements are needed. dtac staff listen to customers’ complaints and comments, then dig down into what’s behind them. This is also a powerful way to see customers as individuals rather than statistics, and how they are personally affected.

 

Smart beats scale

The three years have been tough for the telecoms industry at large due to the pandemic, with many losing revenues, most obviously roaming, while investing in capacity. Yet as Prathet says, “Compared to the other players in the market, we are doing well for the amount we’ve spent and the returns on it. The kind of additional insights that we’re gathering from the customers enable us to utilize what we have to the maximum extent.”

Hence while Thailand’s biggest operator operates on a far larger scale, dtac is on a par profitably wise, and doing better than the second largest player: smarts can still trump scale, and automation is the key. dtac started out with simpler approaches like the robotic process automation (RPA) to replace some manual tasks at the operations level.

Then to drive awareness and adoption of new ways of working, in 2021 it launched a campaign inside the company that challenged everyone, not just tech employees, to create a single robotic process to help them in their work.

The results underlined the fact that innovation can come from anywhere in an organization. An administrator responsible for making payments, such as to utilities, and emailing suppliers, “took training on how to use robotics and created fantastic, simple robots to relieve her of manual tasks. She won the competition and a small bonus,” Prathet says

 

Energy efficiency

He and his team are working on how best to deploy AI. He notes, “We are so buried in our day-to-day work, with just enough time to carry out our daily tasks…but if you spend a little bit more time on improving your skills, then maybe in future, instead of spending eight or 10 hours on email you could spend six of your eight hours doing something more interesting. That is how we are improving skills at the employees’ level.”

dtac wants to apply AI to better energy efficiency: “We’re working on that as rising energy prices are a global phenomenon. We are using AI to learn about the utilization of estates, and where there are things we could turn off or reduce the power during certain periods of the day,” Prathet explains. These measures will be introduced shortly and run by the team, which will acquire the necessary new skills such as neuron network programming, Python and so on.“

He concludes, “All these steps are in good collaboration, working alongside Amitava Saha and Ericsson Managed Services. His team members work for me – it’s not like we have a customer-supplier kind of relationship; it’s a one-team relationship with everyone working towards the betterment of our network for our customers. That is about collaboration and leveraging global skills. I think those are the contributing factors that are that are a big part in this success.”

 

Read more

Explore the Operations Data-driven transformation blog series

Blog#1: Data-driven operations: does it pay off? – Ericsson

Blog#2: TDC NET powers a world-beating network through managed services and AI

 

This article was originally published on the Ericsson website here on the 7th of December 2022.

TDC NET powers a world-beating network through managed services and AI

Michael Fränkle, Executive Vice President and CTO, TDC NET, talks to Contributing Editor, Annie Turner, as part of the Ericsson Data Driven Transformation series.

In October 2021, TDC NET outperformed operators around the world by delivering the best mobile experience in the world, based on Tutela’s Excellent Consistent Quality metric which rates networks on overall mobile experience. In our second data-driven blog post we explore how data-driven operations played a key role in helping TDC NET achieve its highest-ever network performance. We spoke to Michael Fränkle, Executive Vice President and CTO, TDC NET, about TDC NET’s operational and business changes, and ambitious plans for the future.

Michael Fränkle has held the role of Executive Vice President and CTO at TDC NET since November 2017. During this period the leading Danish communication service provider (CSP) has undergone some seismic changes. The most obvious of which was in June 2019 when the operator decided to split its business into two legally and operationally individual subsidiaries: TDC NET and Nuuday. The two companies began operating separately on the 1st of January 2022.

The idea behind this decoupling was to allow each subsidiary to excel in their respective areas. This has resulted in TDC NET focusing on the provision of digital infrastructure, especially fiber and 5G, to service providers on an open access basis. Whereas Nuuday is Denmark’s largest provider of connectivity, communication and entertainment services.

TDC NET’s desire to push the boundaries and unleash the power of 5G was the catalyst for the 2019 decision to expand their long-standing partnership with Ericsson, this time through a network performance-focused collaboration.

This kicked off a new chapter, with the partners agreeing to collaborate on three elements: a move to Ericsson Managed Services, the complete replacement of the RAN plane and an agreement to transform the core; meaning the mobile core plus parts of the fixed, wireline services.

We asked Fränkle: “How much is using Ericsson Managed Services a case of ‘just’ handing over responsibility?”

Fränkle smiles wryly and says: “It’s not that easy when you talk about national critical infrastructure and a NOC [network operations centre], which in Ericsson’s case is located in Bucharest, Romania. They have lots of security rules to respect and to comply with, but also there’s the cultural barrier – how we tackle things, especially when the heat is on and things reach a crunch point when we are running an incident.”

When the closer collaboration began, Fränkle explains, “We saw we were sitting in the same boat – our goals were the Ericsson team’s goals and the Ericsson team’s goals were ours and this has continued right up to today. In the beginning, for the managed service part you have to make some adjustments – to ramble, form, norm and storm – but it went fairly well, with a mutual understanding of the objectives.

“We rapidly gained a mutual understanding of our processes, our measurements, our monitoring procedures, and things like that. This was a critical task, and a critical part of our success was the ability to sit in the same boat without rocking it.”

 

Shared objectives

As a multi-access operator, TDC NET runs fiber, coax and copper broadband networks, which contain a lot of legacy solutions. The combination of 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G mobile networks also created extra complexity during the switch out process.

“The biggest driver of all [to improve network performance] is to manage that complexity and transform our operations from an incumbent operator, with had lots of manual interventions, into a more automated, resilient set-up which is competitive for customers,” Fränkle says.

Paradoxically, the two big inhibitors to deploying automation are the very complexity Fränkle is striving to tame and handling customers and their experience.

“Operations-wise, we are looking at the entire network plane as a single domain. This is how we run it because the customer doesn’t care if an incident is in the mobile or transport network or the IP core. It’s all the same to them.”

So where did TDC NET apply automation first?

“We started on the entire Ericsson Managed Services part [so] the radio and core networks, but we are expanding the automation, scoping it to our backbone and backhaul monitoring on the fixed line side. This is our vision,” Fränkle says.

More specifically, the operator started with the Ericsson Operations Engine, a component of its Managed Services, which processes massive data sets using AI and machine learning to provide a high-resolution image of the network.

“We looked at mobile, especially when we switched on 5G, but used it also for 4G and the other mobile technologies. Our desired end state is automation covering all technologies, [both] fixed and mobile.”

 

8th December. 4 to 4.45pm GMT. In this live & interactive panel visionary speakers from TDC NET, Ericsson and Omdia will explore how data, streamlined processes & automation can transform data-driven operations. Register for Free.

Network optimization

Fränkle and his team set about optimizing the network to reduce downtime and the number of network incidents. They also focused on implementing ways to minimize their impact on customers, for example, by making the mean time to repair as short as possible.

To achieve these objectives the team focused on good analytics, good monitoring and a good incident-management process.

“Automation is the only way to avoid human error. If you have an automated plane from network elements to the NOC [network operations center], it helps improve performance significantly.”

The most significant improvement so far is reflected in the key performance indicator (KPI): service impact. Service impact measures the ratio of hours of service to the number of incidents. The results so far are impressive: over the last four years incident reports have fallen 10 percent and are at the best level they’ve been at for 25 years; when the network was a far simpler proposition.

“Clearly we are on the right track, but we’re not finished yet,” Fränkle continues. “In the last four years, we have been rated as providing the best mobile network experience in the world, a rating that was measured by drive tests. From a device point of view, crowd-sourced measurement reports have also rated TDC NET as the best provider of mobile Android experience in the world.”

As TDC NET’s customers are service providers, mobile operators, with some exclusive arrangements on mobile and fixed, and some open access arrangements, this brings major benefits to the service providers and their customers.

 

Backhaul and the backbone

Now the plan is to achieve those accolades close for backhaul and in the backbone as TDC NET still has some systems that need to adhere to the Ericsson Operations Engine.

Fränkle says. “The biggest challenge here is ensuring the systems are in that one network domain, so that the different IT and monitoring systems can talk to each other, and we can adapt to needs and have an automated plane in these systems. Some are older, some newer, but we want to bring them all into the holistic view of the Ericsson Managed Services.”

“Using the Ericsson Operations Engine is a data-driven transformation journey for us. We know it has been a success story for other operators in other countries with different priorities and as a global partner, Ericsson can help us innovate. In the last years in our partnership, we can clearly see this.”

Automating backhaul and the backbone in the fixed infrastructure is something of a different kettle of fish to what has been achieved in the mobile network.

“We are learning different dimensions; this is where we meet the software world. Coming from a big hardware manufacturing company, Ericsson is learning with us how to integrate with the software, in fast cycles.

“The idea is not only to do upgrades every half year or so, but to do them in DevOps mode. We’re working hard to get there on the SA [standalone] – to play out the full game of scale-driven automation with a single man or woman [running the] NOC is the journey we are on. We have manual processes in place and that needs to be overcome in the months, not years.”

TDC NET Operations is still running some AXE systems from Ericsson from the 80s and 90s.

“The people who run them are retiring before the machines, which is big kudos to Ericsson,” Fränkle observes. “But power technologies have improved over the last 40 years, which is why I’m saying take them down as fast and aggressively as possible, but on the revenue side, we need to watch how we migrate these customers into a meaningful future with new, replacement products.

“This is where we need the core transformation to make sure that we can capture existing customers and revenue lines with new technologies. This migration is critical because if we lose them, we will harm our business.”

 

New services

Fränkle believes that the commercial model and the time-to-market for new services is critical: “I will give you an example; we had a Tour de France in Denmark over summer, and we a local TV production gave us very short notice to ensure they could backhaul the TV stream over the 5G network. We had hours not days – our team working with Ericsson’s. This technology enables it.

“The next thing is for us to find products, and revenue generation and monetization mechanism to capture good income from it. We have shown the technology works by slicing 5G and in the right configurations. The next step is to scale it and monetize this fantastic technology.”

He acknowledges enterprises don’t fully understand the potential of 5G yet, but says, “The appetite comes with a meal. We see this now with 5G and… I’m 100 percent sure we will have a success story as we did with previous generations of mobile. The difference is you’re also changing parts of the business model. It’s not only about bigger bandwidth and a new SIM card, but about slicing and serving local providers with high reliability networks so they can address groups other than consumers in a B2C model.”

 

Read more

This article was originally published on the Ericsson website here on the 2nd of December 2022.

ETSI says network automation can improve telcos’ finances

Annie Turner, Contributing Editor, rounds up news from October and reports that while network automation market is growing fast, commercial network slices are still some way off.

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) highlighted the urgency of network automation to improve telcos’ finances at its latest plenary meeting. This was held in person at ETSI’s headquarters in Sophia Antipolis, France, in late November, with online participation.

Nurit Sprecher, Vice-chair of ETSI’s Zero Touch Network and Service Management (ZSM) group, acknowledged the road to network automation is long and challenging, adding, “We are expected to deliver and support diverse use cases with 5G, 5G-Advanced and later with 6G, with an extremely demanding range of requirements in terms of latency, throughput, reliability, coverage [and] security” and with networks that can be being dynamically configured, adapted and scaled.

The ZSM group Chair, Diego Lopez, a senior technology expert at Telefónica, stated, “being a business in which you’re not making money doesn’t make any sense,” whereas telcos will be “in the position of providing a wider and better portfolio of services, without increasing these costs” while following “the trend towards personalised services,” with greater network automation.

Network automation market growing fast

Network automation is not only expected to generate money for operators, but for vendors and others too: Coherent Market Insights has just published a report, Global Network Automation Market from 2022 to 2030. It reckons the market was valued at was valued at $14.56 billion in 2021 and predicts it will $94.58 billion by 2030 at a compound annual rate of growth of 23.4% between to 2030. It examines the variables that are affecting the market as well as which vendors are best at riding the wave.

Heavy Reading survey on network slicing

The analyst house is reporting findings from the Heavy Reading 5G Network Slicing Operator Survey by Senior Principal Analyst, Gabriel Brown. It reveals that operating complexity and cost are the key business challenges operators face as they look to commercialise slicing.

The survey asked what operators see as the critical operational challenges in network slicing. The graph shows responses split evenly between the top two, indicating early-stage technology. Assuring and reporting SLAs  at 8% suggests a technology still in development. Brown says he expects SLAs to rise up the list as commercial deployments gather pace.

Operational challenges for network slicing

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Source: Heavy Reading

How responses split down fault lines of job functions is revealing. Of those in R&D roles (16 respondents), 67% identify “cross-domain coordination, design and solutioning” as the most challenging whereas among the 26 roles in network engineering and operations, the “need to transform network operations” comes top with 50%. The top pick for the 16 respondents in management roles, “organizational and people readiness” is the biggest challenge with 50%. As Brown observes, this reflects the well-known trend of everyone thinking the challenges they face are the hardest.

Drei Austria moves towards full automation

Hutchison Drei Austria is deploying Elisa Polystar’s Automation Engine and ready-made use cases from the supplier to enable automated RAN operations. The solution supports closed loop operations for “key workflows” according to Elisa Polystar and Drei’s own automation development with a software development for new use cases.

Elisa Polystar’s use cases are highly targeted, such as for detecting sub-optimal network configurations, network roll-out and optimisation for generations of technology from 2G to 5G. Tilo Splitt, Head of Radio Network at Drei Austria, said, “We needed a solution that could span all our networks…Already, we’ve seen an improvement in KPIs”.

 

Strengthening the RAN in Libya

P.I. Works is to deploy its EXA automated network management across Libya Telecom & Technology’s (LTT) national RAN infrastructure. The intention is to improve the quality of LTT’s network coverage and reduce OpEx and CapEx.

Ahmed Eshakruni, Head of Networks & Service Quality at LTT, said, “We believe implementing such a solution, powered by AI capabilities, will reduce network OpEx considering the geographic area of Libya is vast and the cities and villages are sprawling, the network is continuously growing and more cells and technology layers are added, which will be directly proportional to the increase in complexity.”

 

New standard

To end where we began, with ETSI, which on 28 November launched a telemetry standard designed to improve automation and deliver better customer experience of optical networks. The standards body claims it provides better monitoring than established methods via automated real-time data collection, providing greater speed and scale.

Telemetry uses the push method to continuously stream data from the optical line terminal (OLT) and data of interest can be chosen from the OLT and transmitted it in a structured format to a data collection platform for monitoring, AI-based analytics and visualization. Telemetry data is more finely granular and frequent in the optical access network and so can help predict network problems and take preventive action without compromising the OLT’s performance, giving operators greater visibility and insights into the network.

ETSI’s Fifth Generation Fixed Network (F5G) Industry Specification Group, which devised the telemetry standard, is working on 10 other specifications and will soon release F5G PON (Passive Optical Networks) for industrial applications and an F5G security architecture.

Powering a new era of enterprise computing

Contributed by Charlie Foo, Vice President & General Manager, Asia Pacific Enterprise Business, NVIDIA.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is redefining enterprise computing and heralding a new era in the data center. It has become mission critical for every enterprise.

Many enterprises are already deploying NVIDIA AI in the data center, highlighting the importance of AI in today’s multi-tenant data centers, hybrid-cloud environments, and accelerated infrastructure deployments.

Powering the AI platform are NVIDIA GPUs, sophisticated chips that accelerate many aspects of AI including both training and inference. And helping securely connect GPU-powered servers to each other and to store is the Arm-based NVIDIA BlueField data processing unit (DPU), which ignites unprecedented innovation for modern data centers. The DPU is a new type of processor that offloads, accelerates and isolates a wide range of advanced networking, security services and storage. With the DPU, enterprises get a secure and accelerated infrastructure for any workload–including AI, in any environment, from cloud to data center to edge.

The DPU-accelerated computing platform reduces the processing burden on CPUs, improving application performance and server efficiency. DPUs can also accelerate encryption, protect application integrity, and provide security isolation, helping create a zero-trust security model.

Partnership with VMware

In 2020, NVIDIA and VMware started partnering on an end-to-end enterprise platform for AI as well as a new architecture for data center, cloud and edge that uses NVIDIA GPUs and VMware virtualization to support current and next-generation applications.

The result is the NVIDIA and VMware AI-Ready Enterprise Platform accelerated by NVIDIA GPUs and optimized and delivered on VMware vSphere 8. This represents a huge moment for enterprise computing and the modern data center. The platform can drive new AI-enabled applications such as recommender systems, speech and vision analytics, and natural language processing.

Last August, VMware and NVIDIA launched an additional collaboration around NVIDIA DPUs.

Watch NVIDIA’s Anissh Pandey participate in the ‘Enabling the intelligent 5G Edge’ panel at FutureNet Asia 2022

VMware vSphere on DPU

VMware vSphere 8 Plus comes with ESXi and NSX support on the NVIDIA BlueField DPU. ESXi is a hypervisor installed on the physical machine while NSX is a software-defined approach to network virtualization and security.

The latest release of the VMware solution lets users improve infrastructure performance by offloading and accelerating ESXi and NSX functions with the DPU, providing more host resources to business applications.

Certain latency- and bandwidth-sensitive workloads that previously used virtualization “pass-thru” can now run fully virtualized with similar performance in this new architecture, without losing key vSphere capabilities around VM mobility, such as vMotion and DRS.

Enterprises can depend on vSphere to manage the DPU lifecycle to reduce operational overhead.  They can also boost infrastructure security by isolating infrastructure domains on a DPU.

vSphere 8 can fit seamlessly into today’s data center architecture while enabling the future to come about.

Vinod Joseph, Technical Leader, APJ & China, VMware adds “The Network Edge is the next major evolution after the advent of the Cloud, capable of delivering more revenue services and innovative use-cases for consumers, businesses, and society in general. VMware is at the forefront of building technology partnerships with NVDIA, to drive the adoption of DPUs, and GPUs at the network edge – in order to build, & deliver newer applications and services.”

Zero-trust security

VMware vSphere 8 with BlueField DPUs is vital to bringing hybrid clouds, multi-tenant clouds and zero-trust security to enterprises.

As enterprises continue to generate and process increasing amounts of data, they need better performance and security.

Here’s where DPUs in the new infrastructure architecture accelerate performance, free up CPU cycles and provide better security.

Running the VMware vSphere 8 NSX distributed firewall on BlueField DPUs (available as tech preview in NSX 4.0) makes every node more secure at virtually every touch point. It is like having a firewall in every single computer.

Experience the solution on NVIDIA LaunchPad

NVIDIA recently announced a new data center solution with Dell Technologies that combines Dell PowerEdge servers with BlueField DPUs, NVIDIA GPUs and NVIDIA AI Enterprise software, and it is optimized for VMware vSphere 8. The potent combination brings state-of-the-art AI training, AI inference, data processing, data science and zero-trust security capabilities to enterprises.

It is something that enterprises across industries have been clamoring for. In the telecommunications sector, Japan’s NTT Communications is deploying multi-tenant services based on the platform.

Enterprises can quickly experience the power and benefits of these technologies on NVIDIA LaunchPad, a free, hands-on lab program that provides access to hardware and software for end-to-end workflows in AI, data science and more. Customers can test vSphere 8 running on Dell servers with vSphere offloads to the BlueField DPU, for example.

There’s no need to procure and stand up infrastructure to offload, accelerate and isolate vSphere on a DPU before experiencing the lab.

Those interested in trying out the VMware vSphere 8 engine with BlueField DPUs on NVIDIA LaunchPad can apply to try out the solution.

Get Started with AI and VMware Labs | NVIDIA

Data-driven Operations: does it pay off?

Ken Tan, CTO of Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB), talks to Contributing Editor, Annie Turner, as part of the Ericsson Data Driven Transformation series.

As the world is racing towards an all-connected era, powered by technologies like 5G, IoT and concepts like Industry 4.0, reliable, secure and robust connectivity are imperative. Telecom networks increasingly serve as the backbone for all digital society placing new demands on operations. In our blog post series, we will embark on 5 data-driven transformation journeys with customers and Ericsson experts to address some the tangible benefits of data-driven operations in action.

Nope, this is not going to be a biophysics blog post, but I like to think of telecom networks as a living organism that follows the natural tendency of things to get more complicated. The second law of thermodynamics states that the degree of disorder or randomness (entropy) of a closed system will never decrease. In the long run, nothing escapes this fundamental law of universe and networks aren’t the exemption. Like many other ’organisms’ in the telecom ecosystem, they need to constantly address the intensifying complexity of operations driven by the increasing volume of devices, multiple new technologies, and more diverse service requirements.

As the possibilities multiply unlocking new monetization opportunities across enterprise and consumer segments, the need for communication services providers (CSPs) to transform their operations is not even open to debate. To add people around legacy processes is not sufficient to deliver the needed volume and speed of change. A new look at data is the foundation, but CSPs are uncertain on how to go about this transformation spanning beyond data & automation into multiple other dimensions across organization, competence, processes and governance.

 

8th December. 4 to 4.45pm GMT. In this live & interactive panel visionary speakers from TDC NET, Ericsson and Omdia will explore how data, streamlined processes & automation can transform data-driven operations. Register for Free.

 

The recurrent dilemma: To outsource or not to outsource

The real challenge lies in how to get there. Experience shows that it can be tricky for long-established CSPs (and service partners) to strike a balance between the operational consistency of ongoing legacy business and developing a new mindset. Success demands a profound cultural shift within traditional organizations, requiring teams that are historically focused on precision to embrace speed and incremental development, underpinned by an agile mindset of fail fast and succeed faster.

For some, relying on a partner to operate and transform their network operations with guaranteed business outcomes is the most attractive option – considering current macro-economic trends with increasing inflation rates and rising energy prices – than doing it by themselves. When you engage in an outsourcing model predictability is high, both in terms of committed service levels and cost, over the next three to five years. Risk is also low, as an experienced partner delivers the transformation faster and carries the risk change as well as associated with initial investments. A solid partner invests in key technologies like cloud-native and artificial intelligence (AI), to stay relevant into the future while delivering today with a solid track record of field-validated results.

 

In data we trust…

The essence of the data-driven transformation of operations is the shift from the traditional network resource management model, based on a reactive incident-centric approach, into a new approach that revolves around turning data into predictions.

Model adoption, however, is, no guarantee of success. Being clear about the vision of the transformation and having tangible and measurable business outcomes are practically even more important.

Data-driven operations transformation main benefits:

  • Highest network performance. Network stability is the foundation of good user experience, which can translate to a 15 percent ARPU increase for frontrunner CSPs.
  • Lowest total cost of ownership (TCO). By optimizing the incident management in the NOC, data-driven operations are able to notably reduce the volume of work orders and site visits, focus the field force with surgical precision and resolve issues much faster from a remote location.
  • Best customer experience. Together with the improved performance contributes to a better quality overall experienced by the subscriber and is reflected by a notable reduction in customer complaints related to network or service quality.
  • Less energy consumption. Leverages AI and advanced data analytics to optimize energy consumption across network infrastructure for CSPs, while also reducing site visits and curbing CO2 emissions.
  • Highest security standards. With 5G increasingly turning mobile networks into a backbone of the digital society, telco-specialized security expertise is paramount for preventing, simplifying handling and accelerating remediation of incidents.

 

Figure 1: Quantitative benefits of the data-driven journey based on aggregated figures from 20 CPSs from Q1-2019 to Q4-2021

 

Field-measured data from 20 CSPs transformation journeys powered by Ericsson Operations Engine between Q1, 2019 and Q4,2022 clearly answers our initial question: “Data-driven operations: Does it pay off?” Yes, it does, and it has a significant impact on CSPs operations business outcomes.

From a network performance perspective, data-driven operations reduce network unavailability by 34 percent while decreasing customer complaints by 21 percent. On the network efficiency side, the transformation led to a significant 12 percent reduction of work orders (WO) and 24 percent less truck rolls per node which had an important impact on CO2 emissions.

 

Data-driven infrastructure delivers 5G to six national operators in six months

The chief technological officer of Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB) Ken Tan, and his team, worked with Ericsson to launch Malaysia’s 5G infrastructure – just nine months after DNB was set up!

DNB is a special-purpose vehicle company, owned by the Ministry of Finance Malaysia. It was established in March 2021 to drive the development and adoption of 5G services in the country, offering its 5G network on a wholesale basis to the six established telecom service providers.

Tan says the pandemic highlighted the importance of digital connectivity globally:

“In Malaysia we have a digital divide we need to bridge so that connectivity is accessible to all – it has become a basic need. DNB was set up to accelerate building that bridge. It is a great ambition.”

He continues, “5G will deliver the next step change not just for the mobile industry, but the whole country, to transform it into a digital economy riding on the Industrial Revolution 4.0. DNB is set up for that purpose with policies to ensure that 5G connectivity is affordable…to all and to make it a commodity in the market that should transform and accelerate innovation for society.”

Malaysia’s 5G services are perhaps the cheapest in the world, costing the same or less than 4G. The government estimates 5G will deliver MYR650 billion (about $139.845 billion or €140.356 billion) in additional gross domestic product (GDP) for the economy by 2030. With so much riding on DNB’s success, the tender process for selecting partners was stringent, with three key criteria regarding the technical, commercial and socio-economic benefits for the nation. Ericsson was found to be first in each category after scrutiny by an expert panel drawn from around the globe.

 

An ambitious approach

DNB’s approach was ambitious and unique – to provide 5G infrastructure by the end of 2021, although the tender was only concluded in July.

“Also, the multi-operator core network has to support up to six other service providers’ cores that could contain components from any vendor,” Tan points out. “This not proven anywhere in the world, especially for 5G which is so new.”

Given this extraordinarily tight timeline, “I thought the managed services offered by Ericsson are great, because rather than DNB build up its own operations teams to manage the network it built, we can leverage the managed service team from Ericsson, and that global scale of expertise that Ericsson has, to help us to run the network in the shortest time frame it could be ramped up,” Tan says.

He adds, “We’ve introduced a lot of new technologies to make the network as efficient as possible, adopting the principles of an autonomous network and zero touch. When the managed service requirements came in during the tender, all of these things were incorporated.”

That determination to embrace autonomy, enabled by AI including machine learning, also allows DNB to introduce new skill sets to the nation: “When we introduce new AI and machine learning technologies, we need fewer people to run the network. This is not a bad thing because then we help transform those with a low skill set into highly skilled operations teams – including their income. Instead of people physically going out [to fix or install things], we turn them to programming applications or software.”

 

Spectacular results

DNB built the first 5G site on 10 October 2021, then the live production connected to six of the operators’ 4G networks on 10 November, followed by a soft launch with one of the operators in December.

“In that sort of timeframe, it had to be zero touch: the team was able to build up the NOC/SOC, not just the tools, but set up the whole process, escalation procedures and the operations within that really, really strict timeline. It gives us visibility of how the NOC is run, any issues and how to react. It’s a managed production network that we’re not running blind,” Tan explains.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of being data driven in this regard. “With data comes insights which mean you know what’s happening inside the network. Having those insights is a cycle: you apply remedies to ensure things are improved, then add more data to see that the improvements you make pay off, or if not, we can take the necessary action. We monitor growth into a seamless cycle, continuously driven.”

This is particularly important and no small undertaking as DNB is both a greenfield and brownfield operation. The new 5G infrastructure has to interoperate with the core of other operators’ networks, but Tan says that this complexity was embraced on day one, led by the Ericsson Managed Services team, which understood the challenge.

Tan observes, “Everyone operates [networks] on the grounds that you’re ‘innocent’ until proven ‘guilty’ [that is, fault is attributed based on evidence] but here in this set-up, you’re guilty until you prove your innocence.” This means the whole team needs to be proactive, always on the ball to be ahead of the game and the curve; to manage and capture issues before they become a problem for the mobile operators in the market. Prevention is always better than treatment.

“That’s the mindset and that’s how the team went about building the tools and how it uses the technologies like data and machine learning to automate all the processes and ensure they have visibility of how to prevent issues.” It has also delivered spectacular results: DNB started with 500 sites in November 2021 and had about 320,000 alarms per day. By August 2022, with the same size team, the alarms had reduced to 1,200 per day with over 2,000 sites live.

 

The operations brain

At the heart of DNB’s operations is the – a central platform which contains all the tools the teams need. It applies processes to data applications and manages how they operate and run the networks. The tools are managed centrally, dealing, for example, with software upgrades and swapping out bugs, relieving engineers of that responsibility: they simply log into the platform to access the tools.

Tan calls the Ericsson Operations Engine “the brain that allows people to work and program”. With those tools in place, people can use [the engine] to introduce the machine learning data, the value add and manage the network so that it is becoming a programmable network, run by software. Without these capabilities, we’d have to revert to old ways of running networks. Now you can centralize all of it with the NOC/SOC in one place.

The manual processes of logging into different components and network elements in the systems are gone. The data logs process and analyze data. Tan says, “When you multiply that by the number of sites and pieces of equipment, and especially equipment that is not within your control, you really have to automate the process. Then all information can be provided in real time for analysis, and you get that sort of capability [whereby] the team can react in close to real time, rather than days and days later, to apply the treatment. That sort of transformation is how to prove your ‘innocence’ from day one.”

 

Complex relationships

“DNB provides radio-as-a-service to six operators and when you get that service to them, they’re all part of one team, but now you’ve got another entity – Ericsson Managed Services – running the radio network for you and they need to gain the trust of their counterparts in each of these operators. Trust is not won through ‘Oh, here’s the data’; it’s more about providing self-serving capabilities to those operators and that’s what the Managed Services team have to do so they are part of the team.”

He elaborates, “It’s more than just providing data, it’s making those six operators part of the process including the escalation process, part of the day-to-day running of the analysis, being integrated into one team. The complexity comes once you integrate six other, different teams, but somehow this managed service team is able to manage all these things in parallel.”

 

Caring for your customers’ customers

Tan believes the most critical part of his job is enabling his operator customers to provide the best and most affordable 5G service to their customers. He comments, “If you have no issues, everything’s working fine, and the six mobile operators don’t complain, and if we can manage issues all the way to the end customers seamlessly, that’s the ultimate goal. We’re going to continuously upgrade the networks to support all the new features and capabilities for 5G and all the other use cases, plus the complexity that will come in.

He concludes, “Hence automations will continuously learn and improve to make sure we free up the people to do the high end, high value sorts of process and get jobs right…avoiding repetitive, mundane jobs. If people are engaged, they love what they’re doing, it’s a repetitive cycle, trying to find out how to keep improving and do more and more.“

To sum up, Tan says: “To me, that’s a win for all!”

 

Interviewed CSP: Ken Tan, Chief Technology Officer, DNB

Ken Tan has more than 20 years of work experience in the telecommunications industry and has successfully delivered on network and IT transformation programs. He was a key member of the Senior Leadership team that deployed the world’s first 5G Fixed Wireless Access Network and Australia’s Mobile Speed Leadership. His most recent role was Head/VP of Digital Networks with Singtel Optus. Leaders of DNB (Digital Nasional Berhad)

 

 

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Explore how Ericsson are unlocking the true potential of your network

This article was originally published on the Ericsson website here on the 22nd of November 2022.

Panel Discussion: Dynamic orchestration & intelligent assurance: paving the road to intelligent, zero touch networks

Watch On-Demand. Broadcast live at FutureNet Asia on the 19th of October 2022.

  • Jake Saunders, MD and Vice President, Asia-Pacific & Advisory Services, ABI Research
  • Hazim Ahmadi, AVP Advanced Network, Orchestration, Telkom Indonesia
  • Anuradha Udunuwara, Senior Enterprise Architect, Sri Lanka Telecom
  • Robert Lamb, Global VP of Business Development – Software, DZS, Inc.

Panel Discussion: Operational Transformation – Accelerating the journey to zero touch automation

Watch On-Demand. Broadcast live at FutureNet Asia on the 19th of October 2022.

  • Roy Chua, Founder and Principal, AvidThink
  • Sander Veraar, Vice President of Product Management, StarHub
  • Anuradha Udunuwara, Senior Enterprise Architect, Sri Lanka Telecom
  • Erez Zelikovitz, VP Product, Head of Network Orchestration, Ribbon Communications

Keynote Panel: Automation Today: What is the role of automation in running a network with disaggregation technology

Watch On-Demand. Broadcast live at FutureNet Asia on the 18th of October 2022.

  • Nathan Bell, Partner, Kearney
  • Agus Sulistio, SVP Network Operations, Indosat Ooredoo Hutchison
  • Emre Can, Director, Group Core Systems, Singtel
  • Djakhongir Siradjev, CTO, P.I. Works

Keynote panel: The Open Telco and the evolving ecosystem

Watch On-Demand. Broadcast live at FutureNet Asia on the 18th of October 2022.

  • Stuart Carlaw, Chief Research Officer, ABI Research
  • Si Cheng Choon, Vice President of Technology, Strategy & Transformation, SingTel
  • Danny Han Seng Foong, VP & Head of Asia Strategy, Telenor Group
  • Kailem Anderson, Vice President, Portfolio and Engineering, Blue Planet, a division of Ciena

Announcing the FutureNet World 2023 Advisory Board

FutureNet World is excited to unveil the 2023 Advisory Board, a group of 22 senior executives who help guide the focus and direction that the award winning FutureNet World takes and ensures that it remains relevant and of value to the industry. This group includes members from many of the leading CSPs from across the globe, key industry organisations and is representative of the ecosystem.

FutureNet World looks through the lens of the CSP and is focused on the strategic and commercial decisions that telcos are making today and the considerations for the network. The event is dedicated to drive the agenda around ´Network Automation and AI´, a core foundational pillar for the next wave of growth in telecoms.

2023 Members:

Kim Krogh Andersen, Product & Technology – Group Executive, Telstra | Mallik Rao, Chief Technology & Information Officer, Telefonica Germany | Babak Fouladi, Chief Technology and Digital Officer, KPN | Dr. Ibrahim Gedeon, CTO, TELUS | Brian King, CIO, T-Mobile USA | Sharad Sriwastawa, Chief Technology Officer, Rakuten Mobile, Inc. | Philippe Ensarguet, CTO, Orange Business Services | Matteo Gatta, CEO, BICS | Mark Newman, Chief Analyst, TM Forum | Thomas van Briel, SVP Architecture & Strategy, Deutsche Telekom | Terje Jensen, Senior VP & Head of Global Network Architecture, Telenor | Juan Manuel Caro, Director Autonomous Network and JV´s Technology, Telefónica | Mark Duesener, EVP Mobile Networks and Services, Swisscom | Alessandra Pavese, Head of Network Evolution and Automation, Vodafone | Bastien Bianchi, Director Core Network and Transmission Solutions, Orange Belgium | Ton Brand, Director Standards Development Centre, ETSI | Kirsty Bright, Director of Network Innovation & Transformation, Virgin Media O2 | Luis Anaya, Head of Technology, Vodafone Group | Imen Grida Ben Yahia, Program Lead- AI Empowered Networks, Orange | Diego Lopez, Senior Technology Expert, Telefonica | Dimitris Mavrakis, Senior Research Director, ABI Research | Arpit Joshipura, GM Networking & Orchestration + Edge/IOT, Linux Foundation

Commenting on the Advisory Board, Giles Cummings, Founder & CEO of FutureNet World, said: “Since launching FutureNet World in 2019, I have been humbled by the incredible support we have received from senior executives who invest their valuable time into making sure our event remains timely and relevant for the industry. Their knowledge, insight and expertise are key to the work we do as we continue to provide an important platform to help CSPs unlock the full value of intelligent automation and help them to accelerate growth, competitiveness, and networks for the future.”

FutureNet World takes place on 3-4 May at The Novotel West, London.

Vodafone announces slew of ambitious Open RAN plans with multiple partners

The operator is looking beyond accelerating its own Open RAN goals to those of Europe and the global industry writes Contributing Editor Annie Turner.

October saw a raft of announcements from Vodafone. First, Vodafone and NTT DOCOMO signed an MoU agreeing to cooperate on harmonising mobile operators’ system integration and test processes. This includes testing criteria and experiences to create common test scripts – software instructions to conduct tests – so vendors can avoid duplicating effort arising from every operator doing everything slightly differently. Their work will adhere to the specifications of the 3GPP and the ORAN Alliance and is intended to improve interoperability between vendors’ systems across 4G and 5G Open RAN networks globally.

The two companies also aim to maximize the benefits of the Service Management Orchestrator – part of the Open RAN Network Operation Support System – and the RAN Intelligent Controller platform (SMO/RIC). To these ends, they will identify the key features of SMO/RIC, determine their probable evolution and define the underlying software architecture.

Through their joint efforts, Vodafone and NTT DOCOMO want to lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for operators by enhancing the efficiency of RAN technologies, integration processes, AI and machine learning, and automation techniques, with a view to publishing a whitepaper.

Expanding Europe’s ecosystem

The operator said it will partner Nokia to advance the Open RAN ecosystem in Europe. They claim their efforts mark “a significant milestone for the mobile industry and a major boost to Europe’s competitiveness”.

They are to combine Nokia’s ReefShark system on chip (SoC) technology, developed in cooperation with Marvell, with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) servers in a solution based on the ORAN Alliance’s specifications. They say this will put their solution’s performance on a par with traditional mobile radio networks. Nokia’s ReefShark SoC boosts Layer-1 processing which is integral to connecting users to mobile base stations and support high levels of data traffic.

 

Commercial pilot in Germany

Open RAN should allow for far great levels of automation than have been possible previously: Vodafone has set a target of 30% of its European networks running on Open RAN by 2030 and announced it will launch a commercial Open RAN pilot in Germany after successful field tests earlier this year in Plauen. The pilot will use software and radio equipment from Samsung, and will take place in south-east Bavaria and north-east Lower Saxony, and from there be rolled out across Germany over the next two to three years.

Santiago Tenorio, Director of Network Architecture for Vodafone, noted the pilot “brings timely resilience to the supply chain, allowing us to work with a greater number and more diverse pool of suppliers. Greater competition also encourages innovation, leading to a better mobile experience for our customers.”

 

Marvell – another starring role

 Vodafone, Samsung Electronics Co. and Marvell are also to collaborate in an effort to accelerate the performance and adoption of 5G Open Radio Access Networks (RAN) across Europe. They will use Marvell’s OCTEON Fusion processor/accelerator which is optimised to carry out the complex calculations normally carried out by central processing units (CPUs) in existing virtualized mobile networks.

When combined with Samsung’s vRAN software, the chip speeds up the data processing for complex radio network functions, “enabling Open RAN to deliver features, security and performance like those of a traditional mobile radio networks”. Further improvements are promised, but the energy efficiency of mobile sites should improve immediately after deployment through needing fewer CPUs.

Boosting Massive MIMO

Accelerators can also deliver Massive MIMO to serve many customers in dense urban areas such as shopping centres, sports arenas and business parks – and Vodafone is hedging its bets, announcing the next stage of its collaboration with Qualcomm Technologies.

The two are to develop, test and integrate 5G distributed and radio units with Massive MIMO capabilities powered by the Qualcomm X100 5G RAN Accelerator Card and the Qualcomm QRU100 5G RAN Platform. The solutions are expected to use less power and reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) for Massive MIMO with 64T64R and 32T32R capabilities.

This joint announcement builds on the companies’ commitment in April 2021 to develop technical blueprints to help equipment suppliers build 5G networks on Open RAN technology.

Cutting the cost of upgrading 4G sites to 5G

And finally, Vodafone is deploying new disaggregated cell site gateway (DCSG) routers to cut the cost of upgrading 4G cell sites to 5G and of bringing new ones online. The routers link mobile sites to the core network. The DCSG routers are based on the same principles as Open Radio Area Network (RAN) equipment. Santiago Tenorio, Director of Vodafone Network Architecture, said, “By opening the door to greater vendor diversity and network automation, we can stay ahead of the curve and bring new mobile sites online more quickly and cheaply.”

Vodafone is using hardware from Edgecore Networks Corporation, a subsidiary of Taiwanese company Accton Technology Corporation, with software from the German networking and software company ADVA, for the roll-out in Turkey. The Vodafone DCSG router is described as “easy to install”, and software changes and capacity upgrades can be made automatically, making it cheaper to extend coverage.

Hard on the heels of that announcement by Vodafone, Orange said it has jointly created the world’s first disaggregated switch with Edgecore Networks that has accessible software. The developers code all the Edgecore switch’s functions using the principles of the SONiC (Software for Open Networking in the Cloud) open source movement.

Orange stated, “This bold move towards disaggregation and community open-source software is part of a major upgrade of Orange’s access network infrastructure”.