Network innovation is springing out all over

March was a busy month for new partnerships, pilots and deployments pushing the boundaries of networks, from Gigabit Ethernet and NaaS, to instant new ways of boosting mobile coverage and direct-to-device, writes Contributing Editor Annie Turner.

e& UAE has joined the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) to participate in the standardisation of carrier-grade Ethernet as Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) revenues increase. This follows the operator beginning trials of 800Gbps Ethernet in March with Huawei.

The operator said it intends to deploy 800GE networks for commercial services to accommodate the growth in network traffic and the network’s architectural needs.

e& is preparing for the 5G Advanced era by prioritising bearer networks to act as a backbone and to build out IP infrastructure in fixed and wireless access networks.

The operator wants to combine 800 GE ports with network automation and slicing to gain a bearer network with “ultra” bandwidth, intelligence and low latency.

e& UAE and Huawei intend to complete their 800GE router trial this year using the Chinese equipment vendor’s NetEngine8000X platform and 19.2T line processing unit. They will also jointly explore ways to exploit the technology.

e& UAE becomes Yahsat’s first telco partner

woman holding phoneElsewhere, e& UAE and the Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat) signed an MoU. Under its terms, the operator will be the first telecom partner in the satellite operator’s direct-to-device initiative, launched in March.

The services will use Yahsat’s geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) satellites including T2, T3 and T4. The latter two are scheduled for launch this year. GEOsats have higher latency than low Earth orbit (LEO) constellations but are suitable for less delay-sensitive traffic.

The partners plan to offer phone calls and messaging this year followed by SMS and IoT capabilities on smartphones in 2025.

In the second phase, called Project BlueStar, the companies plan to enable full direct-to-device connectivity through a “scalable and sustainable satellite network.”

Yahsat is expected to merge with Bayanat later this year to form an entity worth an estimated $4.1 billion.

 

TOTEM takes on tunnelsBeautiful young woman travelling in a train of Parisian underground and using her mobile phone. Eiffel tower is behind the window

Orange’s towerco TOTEM has started to deploy 5G in the tunnels of Line 15 South which will involve 1,000 network elements. It is one of Paris’ four new automated train lines that are part of the city’s ambitious Grand Paris Express transportation project.

TOTEM’s 5G deployment will cover 33km of tunnels and 16 stations. It is due for completion by the end of 2025 and will be the first 5G-connected Grand Paris Express line within the city’s metro system. The 5G infrastructure will be available on a wholesale basis to all mobile service providers.

Smart poles to boost 4G/5G

Virgin Media O2 in the UK has piloted a new way of improving and expanding mobile services. It combined its fixed network infrastructure with new smart poles which are much smaller than conventional mobile phone masts.

Front view of small cellsThe smart poles are powered by Virgin Media’s fibre network which can transmit power from on-street cabinets along the fibre cables. The street cabinets themselves are connected to the national electricity grid.

Small cell technology is installed at the top of the pole. As they do not require planning permission, the poles can be installed in less than a day to boost coverage in busy areas, according to the operator. Also, the fibre infrastructure provides instant backhaul.

Virgin Media O2 has about 25,000 street cabinets across the UK which could potentially power smart poles, helping meet demand for mobile sites in urban areas “for years to come”.

AI driving need for more DCs

Market analyst DC Byte reported that Europe, the Middle East and Africa’s data centre capacity grew from 4.6GW in 2018 to 8.8GW in 2023. Even so, the growth lags that in the Asia-Pacific region and the Americas.

blue UTP cordAccording to DC Byte’s 2024 Global Data Centre Index, the reason EMEA growth is slower is due to problems with power supply and the high cost and scarcity of suitable land. Tighter regulations also play a part.

Consequently, demand has outstripped supply in Europe for several years which has increased the cost of colocation. The situation is likely to worsen as AI gobbles up ever more capacity.

Faced with these challenges, the analyst house has identified a new trend. Network operators and hyperscalers are expanding beyond the established clusters and into places where adequate land and electricity are available to run AI models and applications.

Despite Europe’s limiting factors, the biggest, established markets – Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, Paris and Dublin or FLAP-D ­– added an average of 450MW of Live Supply each. Secondary markets like Belgium, Denmark, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UAE each gained at least 100MW of Live Supply between 2018 and last year.

‘So what’ and disaggregation spell success in Coordination Age

BT Group’s Gabriela Styf Sjöman talks to Contributing Editor Annie Turner about her approach to harnessing technology and why network readiness is all. 

Gabriela Styf Sjöman joined BT Group as Managing Director, Research and Networks Strategy, in June 2023. Previously she was Group Chief Strategy Officer at Nokia and has held senior roles at Telia, TIM and Ericsson as well as sitting on various boards as a non-executive director.

How does Styf Sjöman sum up her role? “To create an awareness and influence about the opportunities of new technology,” but, she stresses, always concentrating on the “So what?”. In other words, what technology can do, not for its own sake.

She explains, “It’s always technology that has driven new innovation…for instance, a big shift was the separation between consumer service and network that came through IP. Then we were all taken by surprise to have all these services going over the top. We didn’t ask ourselves, ‘So what?’ about IP.”

Styf Sjöman firmly believes that, “If we really want to understand that ‘So what?’ in society and [for] societal growth, economic growth, then we need to have that multi-disciplinary understanding”. Her education and career are multi-disciplinary.  She originally studied power engineering before going into telecoms, with her first job at Ericsson. Among other things, she has studied law and political science, and holds both an MBA and MA in international affairs with a specialism in cybersecurity.

Multi-disciplinary doesn’t mean lacking clarity: “I’ve led R&D before, overseen a lot of innovation. I always say, you are either looking to make money or save it. There’s nothing in between. You must be able to explain your value proposition to your customer,” she says.

The next big step

She sees disaggregation as the next big network evolution. “Cloudification of the network is not only for optimisation and to reach hyperscale economics. Disaggregation is opening value chains. That’s why we see new, different players coming into connectivity and what the full stack of an integrated telco used to offer. We have new players on services, on the platform level and in infrastructure – netcos and towercos,” Styf Sjöman says.

She adds, “APIs are a big ‘So what?’ – abstracting network capabilities and opening them to developers and customers – and becoming AI-driven for self-optimisation, etc. All of this is transforming the network to become a platform that enables product innovation on top of it and we need to treat it as such.

“We should be asking ourselves, what does this all mean for the role of the network? What does the network become? In my eyes, the network becomes a production environment – a programmable network that enables the fast development, introduction and operation of new products, either for myself or the ecosystem. I open up my network to monetise the ecosystem and unleash new product innovation.”

Too slow, too expensive

Styf Sjöman says she only understood why telcos have so few products after she went to work for one. She discovered it cost perhaps tens of millions of pounds and took two years to ready the network and associated IT for one new product and its launch. She says, “Now we’re creating all these disaggregated, more agile, faster networks. The networks must serve product innovation, allowing me to develop and introduce even remove applications at a much faster pace to create that long tail of applications.”

She describes the industry as coming to the end of the Information Age, in which people and things are connected to share information, and the beginning of the Coordination Age. Here “collaboration and coordination are what matters, so everything we connect is coordinated: AI, machine learning and analytics are for actionability.”

Characteristically she asks, “What’s the role of the telco?”. Clearly, connectivity is the base for it all, but “what are the new capabilities I need? What are those business models?”.

She notes the shortcomings of received wisdom. For instance, while everybody talks about the need for software skills, Styf Sjöman thinks software architecture is the critical issue. She notes, “Increasingly we buy everything off the shelf but as we move towards programmable networks, parts of the network will be unique to specific telcos. We will need our own system integration and development capabilities.

“It’s not only developing a few lines of code…You need to know how to architect a product, how to develop and maintain it, and to know how to do the overall product management. It’s about new functional skills. This is usually described as the journey from telco to techco.”

An eye on the horizon

Then there’s the importance of keeping an eye on the horizon. For example, BT Research is working to understand the impact quantum computing will have on quantum networks. Styf Sjöman states, “A quantum computer will be able to decrypt any cryptography in milliseconds and it will come. Our research has been around quantum secure communications, such as quantum key distribution.”

The idea is to understand how the nature of quantum can also be used to protect different type of keys and cryptography. BT (working with Toshiba) has scored a world first in quantum secure communications, having launched a trial commercial quantum secured metro network in London. EY was the first customer to join the network, followed by HSBC which has become the first bank to pioneer quantum protection for AI-powered foreign exchange trading, using the network.

No wonder Styf Sjöman thinks we’ve only glimpsed the tip of the iceberg regarding use cases in the imminent Coordination Age. They will be powered by automation, from autonomous manufacturing to using drones for public safety, in a remote health care and much more. Their common denominator is that they will require an intent-based network.

Intent runs deep on automation and AI

She defines this as a network that is service- and device-aware that is on-demand with seamless access regardless of access technology. “So everything is around very deep AI that scales in [step] with self-optimised networks,” Styf Sjöman explains. “There will be an absolutely massive shift in how we operate the networks and assurance in future. We will also require skills, process redesign and automation of those processes.”

She says at the moment, telcos are using AI within domains and on a component level, rather than end to end. She emphasises that in future, “If the network is ‘going to serve’, there will not be ‘a killer service’, but thousands and thousands of applications. Some will continue over the top, others will be net-compute applications.”

They will require a much higher level of interdependency between the consumers’ cloud-native applications and the network application. This means seamless optimisation and management from the core network all the way to the radio. Furthermore, the thousands of net-compute apps will require network slices.

Styf Sjöman asks, “How are you going to get economics out of that? You need an AI-driven network that understands the service and the device to decide which is the optimal performance to deliver the best customer experience. So where do I put my workloads? Which infrastructure do I use to deliver that performance and the best economics, sustainability and energy consumption? That’s that level of AI you need.”

How’s it going?

How much of this is theory and how much actual? “We’re progressing a lot at BT, such as our global fabric, the product that we launched for BT Business [see this recent interview with CTO of BT Business, Colin Bannon]. It is like the first generation of Network-as-a-Service [NaaS]. It allows BT’s customers to request connectivity like Ethernet links and broadband access on-demand, leveraging the benefits of virtualisation to instantiate and activate network functions on-demand.

“The next step is AI-driven self-optimisation for an intent-based network. Nobody has it yet but that must be the objective and disaggregation is key.”

Styf Sjöman says making the most of those opportunities will demand far more concentration on product innovation: “We often introduce innovative network technology, but mostly use it to sell the very same products. This needs to change. We need more focus on exploring how we monetise the innovation to find new business models, in collaboration with our customers and partners.”

She notes, “Customers don’t wake up and say, ‘I want a private network’ or ‘a 5G slice’. They’re trying to solve for an outcome, to optimise their business. They are thinking of B2B2X business. They don’t only want to use our network for their digitalisation but also to build on top of our networks to offer products to their customers.”

Integration and differentiation

She concludes, “We have only seen the tip of the iceberg of the digital services that will underpin societal and economic growth in the UK. Many of these services will remain over-the-top and be network agnostic. But there will be a set of services that are so critical that they will require the best a carrier grade network has to offer in terms of, for instance, security, speed, latency and jitter – and delivered as a cloud delivery model.

“To be integral as an enabler in the Coordination Age value chain, the network must be intent-driven, self-optimised, disaggregated, and open. And this is exactly what our refreshed BT network vision is about.”

Is the apps era ending? AI is everywhere as MCW looms

BT is applying AI to product development, while DT has transitioned its telephony to multi-vendor cloud and is working with Qualcomm on phones without apps. Contributing Editor Annie Turner reports

BT Group has started applying AI to product development with Amazon CodeWhisperer, provided by AWS. The operator says that the ‘code companion’ and initial group of volunteer software engineers generated more than 100,000 lines of code in the first four months. The CodeWhisperer also helped automate around 12% of their most tedious, repetitive and time-consuming tasks, freeing them to do more productive work.

Woman at computerThe companion generated 15 to 20 suggestions of code per software engineer in real time, per day, with an acceptance rate of 37%. This might be in the form of a small snatch of code or a function. BT says the output is within itscomprehensive guardrails” aligned with the group’s tech principles BT Group has now made the solution more widely available to 1,200 engineers across the business.

Deepika Adusumilli, Chief Data and AI Officer, Digital, BT Group said, “The adoption of generative AI solutions on this scale is not just a major milestone for BT Group, but for the industry as a whole. It will equip our colleagues for a world of work that is transforming overnight, in turn delivering solutions for our customers quicker than ever before.

“Implementing coding assistance is step one in a wider enablement move for our digital colleagues in AI-supported product lifecycle management.”

DT moves telephony to cloud

Deutsche Telekom (DT) is also claiming an achievement as a blueprint for the telecoms industry. In its case, successfully transitioning its IP-based telephony system to a multi-vendor cloud. Landline connections are now centrally controlled from cloud data centres in Germany. The new platform is known as Next Generation IP Multimedia Subsystem (NIMS) and handles billions of voice minutes a year for 17 million subscribers.

One advantage is that features created by third-party application developers can be incorporated into the platform through what the operator says is the “near-complete automation of the telco cloud.”

Abdu Mudesir, CTO of Telekom Deutschland
Abdu Mudesir, CTO of Telekom Deutschland

Abdu Mudesir, CTO of Telekom Deutschland (DT’s German subsidiary) and DT Group’s CTO, commented, “This project is a game-changer in the industry. It is the result of excellent cooperation with partners such as Juniper Networks, Mavenir, Microsoft, HPE, Red Hat and Lenovo.

“Our common goal in this innovation project has always been to set a benchmark for excellence in the industry [and] for our customers. The success has spread – many network operators are now asking us specifically how we managed to achieve this.”

There is more about NIMS’ development in this interview with DT’s Thomas Van Briel.

Smartphones without apps

And that’s not all. DT is to demo app-free smartphones at MWC, showcasing its “generative interface” powered by Brain.ai.  The idea is that an AI-enabled, concierge-like functionality will enable individuals and businesses to carry out many everyday tasks that today are done through apps.

Smartphone useDT has already demo’d two use cases integrated into Telekom’s T Phone, which is widely available, with the AI located in the cloud. The operator is also showcasing a version of an AI smartphone based on the Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 Reference Design, in which the AI processing is done on the device.

DT said in a statement, “This underlines the Group’s commitment of introducing innovations on devices that are already on the market and making them accessible to everyone”.

This move, which looks inevitable, could have big repercussions for the duopoly that controls most of the global app market – the Android platform and Apple. It could strip out the intermediary layer between app developers and operators’ customers that has proved so very lucrative.

The app-store model is already involved in various anti-trust court cases and under scrutiny by regulators for possible abusive use of dominant market power.

Ericsson’s explainable AI for networks

Ericsson announced new capabilities using Explainable AI (XAI) within its Cognitive Software portfolio for operators which has a cloud-native architecture. The solution relies on AI models trained on the largest, most diverse global data sets in the market, according to Ericsson. The models can be retrained locally for specific use cases.

XAI provides the rationale behind actions it recommends to identify and fix root causes that affect network performance and end user experience. The XAI gives optimisation teams visibility of the biggest contributing factors to an issue, its impact on the network’s performance and recommended actions.

Adaora Okeleke, Principal Analyst at Analysys Mason, observed, “Communications service providers are beginning to realise the value of AI but are hindered by several factors including lack of transparency of their AI solution, limited access to high quality data and the difficulty of scaling AI solutions. Ericsson’s focus on addressing CSPs’ current concerns…aligns well with current market needs and will help accelerate AI adoption.”

Jean-Paul Arzel, Executive Vice President and CTIO of Bouygues Telecom, said, “We have recently achieved very promising results on our network with Ericsson in applying AI to network optimisation, [reducing] congestion…increasing capacity and ease of use, as well as improving spectral efficiency.”

Dell and Nokia team up

Dell and Nokia team upDell Technologies and Nokia have extended their strategic partnership. They are to use each other’s expertise and solutions, including infrastructure from Dell and private wireless connectivity from Nokia.

Under the agreement, Nokia will adopt Dell as its preferred infrastructure partner for existing Nokia AirFrame customers. In future, it will offer Dell’s technology as its infrastructure of choice for telecom cloud deployments.

Nokia and Dell will gradually transition Nokia AirFrame customers to Dell’s infrastructure portfolio, including Dell PowerEdge servers designed for telecom network workloads from the core via the edge to the RAN.

Will HPE+Juniper create a bigger AI sum and do network neutrality and slicing mix?

2024 got off to a busy start, with Nile, Nokia and Ericsson in action in January on private 5G networks, 5GSA, NaaS and Network as Code, writes Contributing Editor Annie Turner

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Juniper Networks said they had reached a definitive deal for HPE to acquire Juniper for $16 billion. The rationale is that the “highly complementary combination enhances secure, unified, cloud and AI-native networking to drive innovation from edge to cloud to exascale,” according to the press statement. HPE’s share price fell 9% when the deal was announced and had not recovered at the time of writing.

Antonio Neri, President and CEO, HPE
Rami Rahim, CEO, Juniper
Juniper’s CEO Rami Rahim

The “complementary” part is that Juniper Networks got into AI network automation four years ago with its acquisition of Mist Systems. Its success in the enterprise market has surpassed slowing sales in its telecoms and data centre heartlands.

In summer 2023, HPE entered the AI cloud market with HPE Greenlake to develop large language models (LLMs) for enterprises’ use, on-demand. It also started working with NVIDIA last November, to deliver “an enterprise-class, full-stack GenAI solution”. In between, in made a slew of announcements at MWC 2023 around “AI-native architecture and hybrid cloud solutions”.

The deal is subject to the usual regulatory approvals and also the approval of Juniper’s shareholders. HPE expects the deal to close in late 2024 or early 2025. Assuming those hurdles are cleared, Juniper’s CEO Rami Rahim will lead the combined HPE networking business, reporting to HPE President and CEO Antonio Neri. As always, it’s going to be a tough job delivering the expected advantages from the merger.

Is network neutrality vs slicing?

T-Mobile and others in the mobile ecosystem are not happy about the Biden Administration’s determination to reinstate net neutrality rules. T-Mobile said new developments like network slicing don’t fit into the rules’ older landscape in its filing to the telecoms regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In its submission to the FCC, Nokia wrote, “It takes a long time to develop new technologies to enable things like slicing, and these will require additional investment by operators to implement them into the network to meet consumer and industrial expectations. Uncertainty driven by an unbounded GCS, and whether partitioning of growing network capacity to support implementation of advanced services will be allowed, will hang like a regulatory sword of Damocles over the 5G market in the United States.”

The public interest organisation, Public Knowledge, is unmoved. It argues that networking slicing is covered by FCC’s existing “reasonable network management” provisions and a new approach is not required.

Mixing private 5G nets and metal

SMS Group, a designer of metallurgical plants and machinery, announced it has built a private 5G campus network with European telecoms provider Mugler and Ericsson. They are to test large-scale automation and systems in real-time at SMS’s Hilchenbach facility in Siegerland, Germany.

The plan is to attain data rates up to 10Gbps to make real-time applications in large-scale systems safer with lower emissions and more flexible production options. The project has received both federal- and state-level funding to develop the use of automated guided vehicles, IoT and lone worker applications.

It will build on the knowledge and experience gained from the 5G-Furios research projects that are run and funded by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the European Union’s Horizon 2020 project Zero-SWARM, and the CLOUD56 research project of the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (BMDV).

5GSA and Network as Code for NOS

Jorge Graça, Chief Technology Officer at NOS
Jorge Graça, Chief Technology Officer at NOS

Nokia secured a 5G Standalone core contract with Portugal’s NOS. The operator plans to exploit Nokia’s automation and low latency capabilities on which to base 5G-enabled services. The Finnish vendor leads the 5G Standalone core market with more than 80 communication service provider (CSP) customers around the world.

Jorge Graça, Chief Technology Officer at NOS, said, “Innovation is a core tenet of our market leadership in 5G and the collaboration with Nokia has proven to be key in that continued success. With the introduction of Nokia’s 5G SA Core we can further monetize our assets by exposing our network functions and exploring new growth opportunities.”

NOS also signed up for Nokia’s Network as Code portal which allows third-party developers to write software for industrial, enterprise and consumer applications. Since launching the Network as Code platform in September 2023, Nokia says sealed collaboration agreements with 10 network operators and ecosystem partners.

Nokia is providing NOS with its MantaRay Network Management solution (formerly known as NetAct) to deliver “a consolidated and automated network view for improved network monitoring and management”. The cloud fabric and networking infrastructure for this project will run on Nokia 7220 IXR interconnect routers, managed and automated by the Nokia Fabric Services System.

Frontier rides on Nile’s NaaS

The US’ fibre provider Frontier Communications is the first service provider in North America to deploy Nile’s Network-as-a-Service (NaaS). Frontier will offer NaaS to enterprise customers but it has implemented the tech for its own use at its new Dallas headquarters. Customers will be able to self-provision functionalities such as switches, firewalls and wireless access points as part of a monthly subscription. Frontier provides fibre for universities, healthcare institutions and local and state government organisations in 25 states.

Pankaj Patel, Nile’s CEO and Co-founder said, “The Nile Access Service is ideal for service providers like Frontier, as it provides a complete wired and wireless Local Area Network (LAN) offering that enables them to deepen their partnerships with their enterprise customers but doesn’t add to their operational burden.”

Nile is a networking start-up co-founded by former Cisco Systems’ CEO John Chambers and Pankaj Patel whose last role in his almost 14 years at Cisco was as EVP and Chief Development Officer. Nile raised $175 million in a new round of funding last August in its quest to rival Cisco.

NaaS offers customers unprecedented control in a deglobalised world

Colin Bannon, CTO of BT Business, talks to Annie Turner about the journey to commercialise NaaS, from redefining resilience and controlling latency through dual-homing, to data’s sovereignty in motion

Colin Bannon has been CTO of BT Business for eight years. He describes BT’s emerging global fabric in colourful terms, providing a clear picture of how cloud providers and innovative network operators complement each other. Or perhaps how telcos can augment cloud services is more accurate.

Bannon says, “This is as big as moving from analogue to digital…reflected in skills, culture, commercials, economic models, service and use cases for our customers to stay relevant for the future. Managing the transformation of the old to the new. And the last bit, and perhaps sometimes the least important, is the technology itself.”

Even so, “We’re building like fury right now,” he says. “Think of it on two layers. One is the physical infrastructure, the trucks and the equipment and the hardware. The racking and powering up and testing all the hardware. That’s going on geographically around the world right now. There will be more and more physical sites as the year goes on, in 2024 and 2025,” he states.

“We’re laying successive products on top of each node; additional software releases with new functionality and new products. We will do subsequent software releases…There is no end to this. We continue to innovate. There’ll be new features dropped in because now it’s like cloud.”

Could he have imagined this, say 10 years ago? “No. If you look at the innovation and the speed that the hyperscalers are doing on their platforms, I think it’s incumbent on the telcos to have equal ambition, and make sure that we are innovating equally to stay relevant to our customers’ needs,” he replies.

From coconut to avocado

At FutureNet World Colin is speaking on the panel: Network as a Service and accelerating the path to commercialisation

A big change is that for years, data centres were the hub. Now they are a spoke. Formerly most corporate traffic was scrubbed at a data centre before it was allowed onto the internet. Bannon says, “You’d trombone all your traffic. People spent a lot of money building big racks of firewalls and load balancers where they’d have their apps etc.”

Now customers’ traffic needs a specific reason to go to data centres, otherwise it goes straight to cloud or SaaS. Bannon explains, “The concept of perimeters has changed. The network was like a coconut – hard on the outside, but all soft and watery inside. Once you got through that data centre and the firewalls, it was a trusted network internally.

“Now we’re dealing with networks that are more like an avocado, with less defined perimeters – people working from home, on their mobile, coming in through an ISP or whatever – but the applications themselves and the concept of zero trust have a hard core, like the stone in the avocado.”

Physicality matters

The shift from ‘coconut’ to ‘avocado’ is a massive change which opens up new opportunities. Although we talk about ‘cloud’, networks rely on physical interconnection points – an IPX, carrier hotel or carrier neutral facility.

Bannon says, “There are business opportunities in being resilient and super-efficient.” He wryly points out that backhoes on plant machinery are one of telcos’ biggest problems, as someone is putting one through a fibre cable somewhere almost every moment of the day. BT designed its network as a mesh, so there are always multiple options at the optical layer if a link fails.

Somewhat ironically, automation can also destroy resilience. “Most of the big outages in the last year have been caused human error then automation magnified the blast radius, pushing something that was wrong to every box,” he says. In one instance, this included disabling the code reader on the door to a data centre that had to be accessed to fix the issue.

Bannon says, “That’s why an outage can take 12 hours now, because even if they know what the problem is, they don’t have that remediation.” BT’s way of avoiding such disasters is thinking “about the old school techniques of diversity, not just resilience. Failures in cloud availability regions are an excellent case in point.”

Dual-homing – more than twice as good

Say a company with a data centre in Japan send its workloads to, say, a carrier-neutral facility in Korea where a hyperscaler has an exposed network edge. In the event of failure, which could be for a multitude of reasons, common practice is to default to the next nearest route.

To access the application running in Korea, traffic is sent back to Japan via an undersea cable then onto Singapore via another such cable. Once the application has been accessed, the data needs to travel the reverse journey because, as Bannon points out, “Customers do not pay cloud providers to have an image of their application in every availability zone, they tend to just put one in a single region and think that’s resilient”.

The return journey could result in latency of between 200 to 250 milliseconds (ms) when already it’s likely that the customer’s experience has degraded, for example, with screens timing out.

Bannon states, “The way to fix it has to be additional diversity – and what we’re spending our CapEx on. Being dual homed, via different providers such as Equinix and Digital Realty, into that hyperscaler’s data centre in Korea. We’re doing this for Microsoft, AWS and Google, etcso rerouting is just a street across town with a 5ms failover, not going through the sea four times. That means you have resilience and performance.

“This greater robustness and differentiation brings real quality of experience that the cloud providers can’t fix themselves. We’re identifying needs in the market and solving for them as only service providers can. That’s just one example.”

Bannon says, “This is a differentiating factor within our network and part of our NaaS offer…Cloud providers have multiple options for resilience, shared or dedicated, and we’re making sure that we build and expose them digitally to our customers, making it really easy – a key click away – to order and change, to have visibility and control. That is significantly different to the way we do business today. And to be fair, most service providers have yet to go through that digital journey.”

Injecting intent for NaaS

That’s not all. Bannon continues, “We run our network on a modern segment around a core that has an abstracted path computation engine. The network is centrally controlled.” Previously routes were calculated, hop by hop with each hop across the core inside a ‘black box’ over which customers had no control. Nor had the black boxes any knowledge of the packets, they just moved them efficiently.

“Now, the central control…opens up fine-grained, micro segmentation and control,” Bannon says, giving BT total control and embedding business intent throughout the journey.

Why is this important? If a firm in Germany sends sovereign data to a data centre that data cannot legally leave that country. “But that backhoe goes through the fibre and the SD-WAN reroutes or reconverges, maybe peering through its partners via Russia then back into Germany. That’s not a great look today,” he says, as bad actors might well decrypt and steal or tamper with data.

SD-WANs are at the mercy of the ISP underneath and the internet was designed to withstand nuclear war. Hence “the paradox is that the internet is geographically ignorant. It is inherently viral in how it reroutes around a failure but we don’t have much determinism in how it reroutes,” Bannon observes.

Regulators are increasingly interested in what happens to data in motion, not only the sovereignty of data at rest. Bannon says, “We’re solving for being able to inject a business intent, such as to geofence this data within a country, as our service. That’s just one example of business intent.

“I don’t know a fraction of the business intents that will be thought up over the next 10 years. Having a platform that is programmable will make it relevant for future challenges. We need to manage the paradox of something that is inherently uncontrollable in a world of deglobalisation.”

Power to the port

BT Business is moving away from multiple racks with multiple stacks for each network to running multiple cores on a single stack. This helps maximise return on capital for shareholders and customers, Bannon explains. For example, a multi-service core and a multi-service edge is far more energy efficient, but also BT abstracts the concept of the port to the protocol and stack at the edge.

This allows customers to switch between services without the operational palaver of ceasing one service and provisioning another, involving engineers visiting sites, hardware changes, BSS and OSS. Instead, “The port retains the data, information and relationship with the customer to the lifetime of that contract. By abstracting the protocol and creating a software-defined edge, we can spin up whatever protocol they want to apply to that port or multiple ones,” Bannon says.

“All of a sudden, it’s a plugin that’s available to all the platforms. It cuts down on development, time, capex, code writing and testing. And when I talked about culture, this is genuinely a step change across the board.”

e& shows off 1.6Tbps per wavelength, BT embraces Network as Code

December was super-busy with the ONF bowing out, successful WRC-23 outcomes for the mobile industry, RIC performing well in multi-vendor environments and more. Annie Turner reports

e& boosts hyperscale computing

red and blue light bokehe& (formerly Etisalat) completed a world-first trial of 1.6Tbps per wavelength technology on an optical transport network using equipment from Huawei. E& reckons this will address the growing demand for: capacity from cloud-based business services; enhanced 10G home broadband; and advanced 5G services.

Apparently the test consumed 65% less power per gigabit than other technologies. Khalid Murshed, CTIO at e&, said, “This is part of our network transformation journey to provide one of the fastest and [most] energy-efficient connectivity for hyperscale computing.”

BT embraces Nokia’s Network as Code

BT Group and Nokia signed an MoU to develop 5G monetisation opportunities through APIs on the vendor’s Network as Code platform and developer portal. The platform was launched last September, with the US’ DISH Network as its first operator customer.

It comes with software development kits and APIs, plus a ‘sandbox’ in which to create software code, simulate use cases and test them. Code ‘snippets’ can be used to build applications while developer analytics track usage.

Reza Rahnama, Managing Director, Mobile Networks at BT Group, commented, “5G-era networks are fundamentally software-based and rich in capabilities – such as improving network quality on demand – that can really make a difference to enterprises and consumers in ways that were not possible years ago.

“[The] new platform [will] help us better tap into those capabilities that we have been aggressively building into our 5G network.”

BT strives to improve streaming with MAUD

BT also announced it is pioneering technology designed to enable more reliable and sustainable, better quality streaming in the shape of MAUD for Multicast-Assisted Unicast Delivery. Major broadcasters, including the BBC, will help evaluate and possibly trial the tech for various live content the operator says.

Unlike unicast delivery, where each viewer consumes content via a dedicated internet stream, MAUD groups single streams into a shared one. This is much more efficient for broadcasters, content delivery networks and internet providers, with MAUD using up to 50% less bandwidth at peak times.

Fewer caches are needed, which reduces the amount of power required, and freeing up internet capacity should result in better quality transmission.

MAUD is also claimed to be superior to ‘standard’ multicast streams because its integration is transparent to the applications. Hence content service providers do not need to modify their customers’ apps to use the technology, saving them time and money too.

Intelligently managing multi-vendor RAN

Rakuten Symphony successfully trialled RAN intelligent controller (RIC) handling multi-vendor connectivity at Rakuten Mobile’s testing site. According to Rakuten Symphony, this showed that RICs can manage RANs’ efficiency, reducing overall power consumption in 5G and 4G Open RAN networks.

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/akihabara-tokyo-gm484915982-72061831?phrase=japan

Rakuten Mobile has been conducting R&D on RIC applications, working with Rakuten Symphony’s RIC platform, since February 2023 as part of a project commissioned by Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). The project’s aim is to realise advanced RAN infrastructure beyond 5G.

Orange expands cloud expertise

Microsoft Canada Vancouver, BC, Canada - Dec 22, 2023: Exterior view of Microsoft's Vancouver office in Canada. Microsoft Corporation is an American multinational technology corporation headquartered in Redmond, Washington. Advertisement Stock PhotoOrange Business acquired French consultancy Expertime for an undisclosed sum. The consultancy specialises in Microsoft cloud, data and AI services and has about 165 staff, mostly based in France.

The acquisition is intended to “support the fast growth in digital, public cloud, AI and data” and help Orange Business achieve its ambition becoming “the leading network and digital services integrator in Europe, while reinforcing existing Microsoft expertise within Orange Business”.

WRC-23 “ground-breaking” for mobile

The GSMA, which represents the world’s mobile network operators, heralded spectrum decisions from the month-long World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23) as “ground breaking”.

Secretary General of ITU on stage at WRC in DubaiThe treaty conference is held every four years, under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), to allocate and harmonise the global use of spectrum for various kinds of communication through consensus.

John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer at the GSMA, stated, “WRC-23 has provided a clear roadmap for mobile services to continue to evolve and expand for the benefit of billions across the globe.”

Decisions and plans of action towards future decisions were reached for spectrum bands including 6GHz, which is key for 5G, 6G (and Wi-Fi), low-band, the mid-spectrum 3.5GHz and direct-to-cell satellite services. More information here.

Goodbye Open Networking Foundation

Free White and Black Love Print Textile Stock PhotoThe end of 2023 saw the end of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) after 12 years. Its projects will be taken under the Linux Foundation’s (LF) wing. The rationale is that the movecreates independent, community-led governance for the three major project areas – broadband, Aether and P4”.

Aether provides 5G mobile connectivity and edge cloud services for distributed enterprise networks while P4 – for Programming Protocol-independent Packet Processors (P4) – is an open-source, domain-specific programming language for network devices.

Nick McKeown, a founder of ONF and P4, commented, “ONF was launched at the dawn of [software-defined networking], starting with the stewardship of OpenFlow…Today, ONF’s project portfolio has all the software needed to build networks that are fully programmable top-to-bottom and end-to-end. These projects are ready for a bigger community of developers, and LF is the ideal partner to help grow these projects.”

Aligning strategy, operations and infrastructure is the secret of success

Tony Geheran, COO at TELUS, tells Annie Turner how the company is making innovative use of its assets in new domains, hitting its stride with GenAI and how it all started with a desire to improve the customers experience

Tony Geheran became Chief Operations Officer at global technology company, TELUS, in 2021, two decades after he joined the operator, moving from Cable & Wireless in Dublin, Ireland, to Vancouver, British Columbia. He has served in various senior roles, from chief customer officer to overseeing business transformation.

In such testing times for telecoms, what are Geheran’s biggest priorities? “First, are our services and technology creating value for our customers and opportunities for growth? Second, growth is not always easy to achieve, particularly in this economic climate… so how can we leverage technology to help give us operating margins that satisfy external stakeholders?

“Opportunities arise from pervasive 5G and our large, rapidly- growing fibre broadband footprint,” he says. TELUS’ approach to digitisation was based on three criteria: how to make customers’ lives easier; how best to enable the team; and how to simplify doing business with TELUS. Geheran describes this as, “Remodelling the business to be low touch, high efficiency and highly successful transactionally”.

Business within a business

He explains, “One of the catalysts for us to be able to do that more effectively was deciding to overbuild our copper infrastructure with fibre – a programme that really was ‘a business within the business’…This is a multi-year, multi-billion dollar build, so we didn’t want to wait until we could address the mass market, which is the traditional telco model of rolling out technology.”

Overall within its footprint, TELUS is beyond 70% penetration with its fibre overbuild, connecting more than three million homes and businesses across a geographically diverse, 2 million square kilometres.

“We had all the attributes in place, from the initial design engineering and the physical construction, to our installation and repair technicians installing the network at premises, to marketing and sales as we built. [We treated] every town, every city as a distinct project; every neighbourhood as an opportunity to market and sell directly…taking advantage of our presence to make people aware of the technology we’re bringing and sell them the technology and its benefits while we’re there,” Geheran says.

This has been hugely successful. “We designed the business of the future for us as a telco around putting a superhighway of fibre into the home and the possible services you can layer on top.” For example, TELUS is the biggest provider of home security systems and services in Canada. Geheran thinks the next big opportunity will be in managing smart home applications because currently they are collections of disparate, discrete solutions.

Different takes on network monetisation

This approach to infrastructure build is giving rise to other, diverse sources of revenue that are really sweating its assets. First, TELUS is carrying out what Geheran describes as “urban mining”, that is, reclaiming and recycling thousands of kilometres of copper cable in the local loop. This is “the greenest copper on the market,” he says, because it is not mined in the traditional way. Proceeds from the recycled metal are funding the reclamation as well as future upgrades to the fibre.

Second, is repurposing central office buildings (telephone exchanges) and their sites which are in the heart of every town, city and province where TELUS operates. The offices are, or will become, largely redundant as the copper loop disappears and will be redeveloped by TELUS with partners to provide affordable housing. The proposition is that property developers share the building costs and their expertise, and 18 months to two years after the projects are completed, TELUS “has the right of first refusal; we buy them out, then we own the asset in its entirety,” Geheran says.

Another revenue stream arising from existing assets was announced last June. TELUS is partnering with Australian electric vehicle (EV) charging company, JOLT, to install stations across Canada, helping drive the adoption of EVs and support the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. And to add to its green credentials, TELUS operates solar and wind farms in Alberta which offsets its carbon footprint where it does not have access to those technologies. It aims to be carbon neutral by 2025.

Smart services at the edge

Thirdly, as Geheran notes, “The old central offices are still an edge point for our fibre connections and for our 5G network – very low latency runs into the heart of the community and we see that it’s going to be a significant benefit.” In particular, TELUS is thinking about smart city applications such as autonomous vehicles and smart traffic sensors and management.

He says, “How the Internet of Things and smart cities transform the way we interact with our communities [presents] a huge opportunity”. It is also another area in which AI will have a foundational role.

Leveraging AI

TELUS was an early and innovative adopter of AI, as this interview from 2021 with its long-serving former CTO Ibrahim Gedeon illustrates. Geheran states, “The traditional sort of supervised AI – standard machine learning and robotic process automation – provided point solutions for a part of a repetitive process that stayed the same. Supervised AI is great for things that are done over and over – as long as you’re managing and understanding when changes might occur, which requires code. It works fine and we’ll continue to use it.”

However, as he says, “Generative AI is taking knowledge sources, historical data, and learning the nuances of what is happening in the process, or in the network, with each iteration. This is important amid many thousands of network alarms, when it seems a particular fault recurs although it might have different root causes.”

According to Geheran, “GenAI holds the promise of better diagnostics and shorter time to fix because of it being able to sift and interpret the vast amounts of data…there are many internal applications we’re focused on with AI capabilities.”

For instance, GenAI has the potential to make the network greener, such as powering down elements when they are idling. but stresses, “The critical thing is that bringing them back up can be a point of failure so you need reliability assurance to do that without creating any issues.”

Looking after the humans

Beyond the technical advantages, TELUS is building trust with its customers and team members as a leader in responsible AI, an extension of the company’s long-standing commitment to social purpose.

Geheran says,We’re very conscious that as we automate and bring massive machine learning to bear, we need to look at what the impact is on the business and the people within the business. We continually foster a culture of learning and experimentation, encouraging team members to be more curious and open to change and experiment with new tools and technology.”

TELUS set up a fast track Digital Developer programme in conjunction with a Canadian tech education company to offer employees whose jobs were being automated a new career path and to gain the skills the operator needs. Geheran says, “The first cohort graduated last year with an industry-recognised qualification and over 30 graduates were hired as junior developers”.

Taming the data dragon

Despite telcos talking about gaining insights from Big Data for a decade or more, it’s still slow going. Geheran explains, “We’ve set up a team that [brings the data together] now, so our data is an aggregate of all the data sources. We cleanse it to make it into a usable data repository that is accessible within the organisation so that the business can gain better insights from the transactional data that’s generated.”

He continues, “I would say we’re still at maybe a two instead of an eight out of 10, in terms of the journey of really useful monetisation of the insights from that data, but we’re starting to see where the opportunity paths are, and where we can create value.

“Critically, with data and data privacy, you’ve got to be very clear about the purpose you want to use the data for, the integrity of the data and [its] anonymisation. We’re formulating our business process and contracts so that we get express consent.”

Geheran believes that if people understand they are giving permission for a specific use of particular data, not carte blanche, they are far more likely to at least consider it and open the way, finally, to unlocking customers’ data for innovation that benefits all – the business and its customers.

AI in Networks: getting beyond the hype

In this podcast. Ned Taleb, CEO and Founder, Reailize & B-Yond discusses Network AI with FutureNet World Founder & CEO, Giles Cummings.

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The SMEs’ cry for affordable assured services: the revolutionary approach of the ‘Converged Access with ODA’ Catalyst

Contributed by Alejandro Medina, CTO, Future Connections. 

Small and medium size businesses (SMEs) struggle to provide their services when their broadband gets impacted. Most solutions for business continuity today focus on service failure instead of SLA performance degradation. In addition, current SD-WAN and Dynamic Multi-path Optimization (DMPO) solutions are proprietary and expensive, hence they are not affordable and suitable by SMEs.

It’s interesting to note that the market in consideration is represented by 145 million SMEs and is set to grow to US$800 billion by 2027. Based on Eurostat research*, SMEs are responsible for over 64% of employment in Europe and contribute to over 52% of the value add of the EU countries economy*. Worldwide, they represent over 90% of businesses and are responsible for more than 50% of employment**. If the business impact of SMEs is so crucial to support the value chain of our society, why, then, their cry for innovative and affordable assured service solutions doesn’t seem to have been heard yet?

Something is changing though, if we consider the Catalyst ‘Converged Access with ODA’, a proof-of-concept recently presented at TM Forum Digital Transformation World ’23 in Copenhagen. A team of operators and service providers put their knowledge and expertise together to provide the perfect answer to the SMEs’ market need and, in doing so, to advance the industry by addressing and solving together a specific market problem, demonstrating feasibility and potential benefits. In this Catalyst, Future Connections joined forces with the operators Claro Brazil, GCI Alaska, NTT Japan, Verizon USA and VNPT Vietnam and with the service providers Brillio, Incognito, NaaS Compass and Red Hat to respond effectively to the SMEs’ cry and capture its market growth by creating a solution that delivers affordable, guaranteed service continuity.

Illustration of Catalyst use case

During phase I of the Catalyst, presented at last year’s Digital Transformation World, champions and participants focused on investigating the consolidation of fixed and mobile service networks. The solution achieved a reduction of network access cost by 30%, thanks to network management platforms consolidation and simplification.

During phase II of the Catalyst, a solution was developed by abstracting the access technologies using a Converged Access Domain (NaaS), by using cloud-native architecture and by leveraging predictive monitoring performance Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and close loops. The solution, implemented in the labs of Claro in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in Brazil, delivered the desired service continuity at times of network congestion.

The effectiveness of this innovative approach was illustrated using the example of a hotel chain with a failing fibre (FTTx ) that impacted the hotel’s SLA. This was due to congestion originated by a sport event on TV that triggered a lot of TV streaming demand, increasing the traffic in the fibre. The  check-in of the hotel´s customers, though, did not get impacted thanks to the smooth switching of access technology. When congestion was experienced, traffic was automatically diverted to 5G over Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), as it offered the same SLAs. When congestion in FTTx subsided, the service delivery was then back to the fixed network.

Future Connections made available its NIx Manager Assurance and Automation platform to manage the service assurance part of the solution. The platform implemented APIs in order to collect the relevant network indicators, implement the data analytics to monitor the health of the service and identify the degradation, and trigger the switch to 5GFWA technology for activation ad configuration of the service.

The outcome demonstrated that service continuity can indeed be offered in a cost-effective way to SMEs even at times of service degradation, not just service outage, and in a way that guarantees the SLAs in the access domain for both mobile and fixed networks. The operators that were part of the Catalyst team welcomed the results, with one of them forecasting a 62,5% increase in SME demand if using this solution. Additional positive outcomes were also recorded in the form of reduction of access and solution costs and guaranteed SLAs across all service impairments, as well as additional energy savings using cloud-native solutions (OSS servers and VNF/CNFs) and on-demand services. The TM Forum itself recognised the potential of this proof-of-concept as the Catalyst was selected as finalist in three of the Catalyst Program Awards ’23 for business impact, business growth and sustainability & impact on society.

With such demonstrated impactful results, it is hoped that the work of the Catalyst team goes on to commercialize the solution. Certainly operators, SMEs and their customers will thank them for that.

*  Data source: EU small and medium-sized enterprises: an overview – Products Eurostat News – Eurostat (europa.eu)

** Data source: The World Bank https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/smefinance

 

 

Moore’s Law is ending and who controls AI’s future?

November was an eventful month, with uproar at OpenAI and Nokia’s displeasure with Intel, overshadowing Nokia’s own AI breakthrough designed to enable verbal network configuration. Contributing Editor, Annie Turner reports.

Bell Labs, part of Nokia, claims its new AI and machine learning technology will enable telcos and their customers to reconfigure networks immediately, using verbal instructions.

Apparently the Natural-Language Networking technology can act on simple text or spoken requests to allocate and assemble network resources to suit end users’ specific requirements.

Profile headshot for Csaba Vulkán
Csaba Vulkan, Network Systems Automation Research Leader at Nokia Bell Labs

Csaba Vulkan, Network Systems Automation Research Leader at Nokia Bell Labs, said, “Operators won’t need to explore technical catalogues or complex API descriptions when they configure networks. Instead, a simple statement like ‘Optimise the network at X location for Y service’ will work.

“Those requests could be used to configure a wireless network in a factory for robot automation or optimise networks at a concert for a barrage of social media uploads.”

The Natural-Language Network will learn from the instructions it receives about how best to best optimise the network. The goal is that the technology will eventually anticipate users’ needs and automatically make adjustments.

The development is part of Nokia’s UNEXT programme designed to build a self-regulating, interactive operating system, “aiming to replicate the success of their seminal UNIX system,” which is celebrating its fiftieth birthday this year.

The death of Moore’s Law?

Lightreading reports that relations are not so rosy between chipmaker Intel and Nokia. The relationship first came under strain when Intel had problems with its 10-nanometer designs which caused delivery delays five years ago. Nokia was hardest hit and didn’t have another supplier lined up for its 5G products. After a change of top management, Nokia added Marvell and Broadcom to its suppliers.

Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel
Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel

Now Nokia has decided that Intel’s general-purpose processors are not suitable for running the code that processes signals in cloud RAN, known as Layer 1, although Ericsson is sticking with the silicon for that purpose. At an update in Oulu in early November, Nokia executives reportedly complained about vendor lock-in, claimed that Moore’s Law is finished and said the company is looking at cloud RAN products that don’t involve Intel.

This is quite a moment for Intel, cloud RAN, tech industries and every other sector that relies on them. Intel has dominated the general purpose chip market for decades. But Brian Cho, Nokia’s CTO for Europe and a former Intel engineer was quoted saying, “Nowadays, with every generation of pure general-purpose computing, there is almost no efficiency improvement…Moore’s Law ended, and this opens the door for a so-called special-purpose processor.”

Check out this article in the MIT Technology Review which describes industries’ lack of preparedness for the end of Moore’s Law. Gordon Moore, who co-founded Intel in 1968, died earlier this year.

General purpose has its place

In Cho’s view, general-purpose chips are useful when the workloads they process are unpredictable and flexibility is needed. However, many workloads are predictable and consequently there has been a steady shift to specialist silicon in the cloud for better performance and for AI. Nvidia has been the most notable beneficiary, joining the trillion-dollar market cap club in May, the first chipco to do so.

For its part, Intel points out that its silicon is not expected to run in cloud RAN deployments much before the end of next year and say that Nokia’s implementation with Marvell is not truly cloud native, requiring proprietary software and human oversight.

Marvell and Nokia began their partnership to jointly develop silicon for 5G in March 2020. They extended it in November 2022 to collaborate on the “industry’s most advanced Radio Access and Transport Processing Platform,” based on their jointly developed ReefShark chipset and Marvell’s 5nm OCTEON 10 DPU (data processing units).

Bullseye

Big implications for telecoms vendors

The latest survey by TelcoTitans, TelcoX: EMEA Leadership and Performance Report, asked respondents from Europe’s largest operator groups which vendors are on target in its new TelcoX Brand Leadership Bullseye. Microsoft came out smack in the middle, most immediately surrounded by Google, Nokia, Cisco, AWS, Huawei, VMware and Ericsson. The report takes a deep dive into the ramifications of how vendors are seen/positioned in the concentric-circles schematic for operators and vendors.

Who controls the future of AI?

Satya Nadella is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft
Satya Nadella is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft

Microsoft has had a tumultuous few days after non-profit OpenAI fired its iconic CEO and co-founder, Sam Altman, blindsiding the software giant completely. Despite the fact that Microsoft has invested some $13 billion in the firm, that Altman is widely seen as the face of AI globally and that just days before, Altman and Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO appeared on stage together as “the best partnership in tech”.

Altman was back as CEO within a week after a huge backlash and one imagines considerable pressure from investors behind the scenes. There has been widespread speculation that it is inevitable that investors would be given seats on the board and much more say in the start-up whose organisational structure reflects its focus on safeguarding and altruism, eschewing profit. In other words, that commercialism and those with deep pockets would gain control of the future of AI.

However, The Information reported that OpenAI is to have a nine-person board. At the time of writing, the first three directors of the new board were awaiting confirmation: Chair Bret Taylor, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Quora’s CEO Adam D’Angelo. However, there is no intention of giving seats on the board to any of the investors, which include Microsoft, Khosla Ventures and Thrive Capital.

And although it’s not fashionable to mention it right now,  OpenAI is not the only AI game in town.

Navigating the Telecom Revolution: A Realistic Approach to Network Automation and AI

Bridging the Gap Between Telecom Realities and IT Aspirations. 

Contributed by Ned Taleb, CEO and Founder, Reailize & B-Yond.

In the dynamic landscape of the telecommunications industry, the buzz around “Network Automation and AI” is ubiquitous. Almost every vendor in the telecom market incorporates these terms when presenting their solutions or products. However, amidst the hype, the actual progress in the network side of telecom providers often falls short, especially when compared to the rapid advancements seen in the broader IT sector and the TechCo segment.

This disparity is not unexpected. A first-hand account from a European Tier 1 operator reveals the challenges faced when cloud engineers attempted to implement a 5G Standalone (SA) virtualized core. The stark realization hit them when their personal and family devices were provisioned to the new virtualized core. The stringent requirements of network availability and reliability, distinct from other cloud services, became glaringly apparent. Telecom networks operate under a different set of demanding standards, requiring attention to details that might be overlooked in other realms. Hence, hiring cloud and ML engineers is not going to quickly resolve skill gaps on the telecom operator side. Such new resources will require some time to learn and adjust to the telecom’s reality. An alternative is to partner with companies that have already gained the blended experience with Telco-applied Cloud and ML Engineering solutions.

In the intricate dance of nature, cross-pollination occurs as a bee gracefully moves from one flower to another, facilitating the exchange of vital elements. Remarkably, a similar phenomenon unfolds in the vast landscape of technology, both at an individual and company level. Those individuals and organizations that traverse diverse projects globally, offering cross-domain and cross-technology solutions, stand poised to propel the AI and Automation journey for Communication Service Providers (CSPs).

A compelling illustration emerges from our own endeavours, a testament to the power of diverse exposure and collaboration. Enter the realm of Packet Capture (PCAP) analysis—a technical and engineering-intensive domain demanding considerable expertise and domain knowledge for meticulous issue identification. However, innovation often thrives on breaking traditional moulds. Through a symbiotic partnership between our Data Scientists and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), a groundbreaking approach emerged. PCAP files were transformed into a unique “language,” and a sophisticated Large Language Model (LLM) algorithm was deployed to automatically unearth words out of context, pinpointing with precision the faults within the system.

Allow me to illustrate it with another tangible example from our experiences. Our team undertook a significant engagement with a Tier 1 operator in North America, embarking on the establishment of a cloud infrastructure across various cloud vendors for diverse projects, including the deployment of 5G Standalone (SA). As we worked diligently on the ground delivering on the agreed scope, the meticulous documentation by our Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and the close collaboration between our cloud and Machine Learning (ML) engineers yielded remarkable results over time. The outcome? A robust platform that genuinely transformed the deployment process from a matter of months to mere hours, and this is no exaggeration. This achievement not only underscores the power of a tailored approach but also highlights the impact of sustained collaboration and attention to detail.

In reflecting on our extensive journey, a compelling sense of responsibility drives us to deepen our contribution to AI and automation in the Telco sector. A pivotal step in this direction is our recent venture, the “LLM Discovery Workshops.” These workshops foster collaboration as we empower clients to shape their unique use cases using Generative AI and LLM technology. Leveraging open-source resources like LangChain and open LLMs, we ensure a secure integration with information systems, underpinned by robust authentication and access controls. A notable illustration from this initiative is the creation of a “Ticket Recommender System.” Here, the LLM model identifies parallels with past tickets by determination of a similarity score that is then used to suggest a resolution codes and a resolution team for a newly created ticket.

In essence, the path to effective network automation and AI integration lies in recognizing the unique challenges posed by the telecom sector. It involves a blend of experience, expertise, and a pragmatic approach that addresses immediate concerns while keeping an eye on the larger strategic goals.