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Crowning glory: FutureNet World announces 2024 Award winners

The Awards are to recognise outstanding innovation in automation and the use of AI to change how networks function and operate, writes Contributing Editor Annie Turner.

The FutureNet World Awards 2024 were the crowning glory at our hugely successful in-person event in central London in April. Our congratulations and thanks to all the winners and entrants for their outstanding contributions. A special thank you goes to our independent judging panel which, as ever, had the unenviable task of choosing winners from an outstanding field.


The Operator Award

This Award highlights the best example of automation deployment for operators or joint operators and vendors. The winners were Vodafone and Celfocus. The operator partnered Celfocus to transform its Global Network Operations Centre (NOC) and deliver a Cognitive Intelligence & Automation Solution (CIAS).

This digital transformation was driven by AI and machine learning. The solution is designed to detect network incidents, end-to-end, and resolve them. This project is playing a pivotal role in helping Vodafone digitalise its OSS so it can work with autonomous networks. So far the solution has been onboarded in five markets.

A big step forward was the addition of the Google Cloud Platform (GCP). This involved migrating the solution’s cognitive component, which detects network issues and their root causes, to GCP’s cloud-native tools which provide greater accuracy, efficiency, and reliability. This opened the door to leveraging Generative AI within the solution, adding value and extending its benefits to new use cases.

The CIAS processes more than 2 million events daily and ingests 60 million alarms per month. It correlates diverse data sets to pinpoint the root causes of network issues. CIAS covers a range of scenarios with more than 60 incident journey types automated already, including use cases for RAN, Core and Transmission network domains.

Importantly, the solution reduces the lifecycle costs of operating Vodafone’s network. Automating key processes has reduced ‘event noise’ by 70%, improved mean time to detect by 90%, and enabled zero-touch automation for incident journeys. Additionally, field service costs and the overall total cost of ownership (TCO) have also been reduced compared to previous on-premises deployments.

This drives revenue and commercial growth due to better customer experience, loyalty and satisfaction. Shorter incident resolution times translate to an improved Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and customer retention. Also, CIAS allows Vodafone to explore new services and features to boost customer experience and maintain a competitive edge.

Simon Norton, Head of Digital Networks & OSS Europe at Vodafone, commented, What we have achieved is a Vodafone and industry first in terms of migration of the AIOps ecosystem to Google Cloud. Well done to all the teams involved. To get to this point, it’s been a huge team effort involving NOC, OSS Engineering, Digital Engineering, VNO Digital, C&OSS Ops, IT and Celfocus. I would like to thank each and every person and team involved in…this important achievement.”

Daniel Dias, Account Executive from Celfocus is also proud of the result: “At Celfocus, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of technological innovation and operational excellence, as this project with Vodafone and Google Cloud exemplifies. Our collaborative efforts have positioned Vodafone at the vanguard of the sector, showcasing the transformative power of AI and cloud technologies in the rapidly changing digital landscape.”, he states.


The Network Disaggregation Award

This Award is for the best example of a disaggregated networking solution and was won by VMware by Broadcom and Mavenir. Mavenir’s Open vRAN, powered by VMware Telco Cloud Platform RAN, is a 4G/5G disaggregated networking solution.

The solution integrates Mavenir’s RAN containerised network functions (CNFs), including its virtualised Distributed Unit (vDU) and virtualised Centralised Unit (vCU), with the VMware Telco Cloud Platform RAN.

The integration reduces fragmentation and complexity, offering a pre-integrated, validated, Open vRAN solution designed to optimise performance, streamline operations and boost scalability.

It is designed overcome the challenges of implementing a Non-Standalone (NSA) Open virtual RAN (vRAN) in a brownfield environment, providing a transition from legacy, vertical hardware systems to software-defined networks, open interfaces and cloud-native architectures.

The solution has real-life deployments: for example, Mavenir and VMware virtualised the LLS-C1 configuration at a Tier 1 operator. This replaces traditional cell-site router hardware as it generates and distributes the timing solution through a virtualised Cell-Site Router (vCSR) within the VMware Telco Cloud Platform RAN.

The companies’ combined solution has smaller hardware footprints and minimises points of failure. It also reduces energy consumption compared with a traditional RAN site, making the total cost of ownership is lower. Also, operators can combine the cloud’s economies of scale with less CapEx and a pay-as-you-grow OpEx model for the centralised part of the network or data centre.

The combination includes lifecycle management, end-to-end automation and vRAN assurance that can be deployed on commercial off the shelf servers but supports O-RAN compliant radio units from Mavenir and other vendors.

The integrated solution supports deployment scenarios from massive MIMO to mmWave and 5G slicing. As it is cloud native, with containerised microservices, it can be deployed on any cloud, whether private, hybrid or public.

In short, Mavenir’s unified vDU and vCU is intended to help operators strike the balance between performance and the cost of operating a large, scalable network. The CSP has the flexibility to invest capital in the part of the network that requires better performance and low latency, such as at the edge.


The Orchestration Award

This Award is to recognise the most innovative automated service orchestration solution. The winner is Nokia for its Orchestration Center. This is part of Nokia’s Digital Operations software portfolio which is used by over 200 customers around the world and can run on any kind of cloud.

Nokia Orchestration Center enables operators to design and deploy services based on business intent. Automating service fulfilment and multi-domain orchestration significantly reduce the time-to-revenue for new services.

As operators move towards a programmable network and APIs to tap new revenue opportunities, the underlying operations environment must evolve in parallel. Nokia Orchestration Center enables network programmability by automating intent-based orchestration of end-to-end services.

This can include 5G slice-based services, in multi-domain, multi-vendor and multi-technology networks. Customers like stc in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Telenor in Norway rely on Orchestration Center to orchestrate complex 5G slices in minutes instead of days.

Creating 5G slices is a highly time-consuming and error-prone process: deploying one slice on a network with 10,000 gNodeBs means managing more than 100,000 objects and updating several hundreds of thousands radio parameters. This requires hundreds of hours of effort.

However, the Orchestration Center relies on a GraphDB-based inventory that leverages structured data for forecasting, what-if analysis and predictions. Traditional inventory solutions cannot properly reflect whether the network can support an end-to-end service or what the network delivers in near real-time. Automation is not possible without that intelligence.

The Nokia Unified Inventory is integral to the Orchestration Center and the company’s Assurance Center: when used together, they support automated resolution of service degradations and anomalies using closed loops.

“We are delighted that Nokia’s Orchestration Center was selected as the most innovative automated service orchestration solution by such an esteemed jury of industry experts.  The FutureNet award provides valuable recognition for the tangible business and operational benefits our solution has delivered to customers including stc, Telenor and Telstra.” said Andy Burrell, Head of Portfolio Marketing, Cloud and Network Services, Nokia


The Network Sustainability Award

This Award celebrates the best intelligent automation solution for network sustainability and energy efficiency. Elisa International Digital Services won with its Distributed Energy Storage (DES) solution, which is being rolled out commercially in Finland.

Telecoms networks are heavy users of electricity which accounts for a high proportion of their OpEx and can have a profound influence on their transition towards zero-carbon.

Renewable energy makes electricity generation more sustainable but also harder to manage, given the intermittent nature of sources like wind and solar. Operators are looking to use more renewable energy while addressing the issues of resilience of supply and balance in the grid, which must be in tune every second of each day. In the past, fossil fuels played this balancing role.

Elisa’s DES solution manages the energy at operators’ battery-based, back-up facilities for their RANs but also uses AI to turn them into Virtual Power Plants (VPPs) to maintain this balance.

The solution enables ‘load-shifting’ – that is buying electricity from the grid during low-cost periods and storing it for consumption when prices rise. Crucially, DES also provides precise, second-by-second power management that can be aggregated to megawatt level for grid balancing purposes.

Based on empirical evidence, the company reckons this approach could cut operators’ electricity costs by 50% through cost savings and new revenues. Elisa also estimates it could result in provider CSPs and transmission system operators across Europe gaining as much as 15GWh of storage capacity.

Elisa trialled the DES solution on its networks in Finland and Estonia in 2022. The full roll-out across its Finnish network began in 2023 and now covers 1,000 base stations. According to the latest official Finnish marginal CO2 emission calculation rates, Elisa’s deployment in the country is expected to result in annual reductions of up to 20,000 tonnes of CO2 when fully deployed.

Elisa received approval to participate in two electricity reserve markets in Finland. Of these, market approval for the automatic frequency restoration (aFRR) reserves was the first ever granted for a distributed solution.

The company announced its first commercial contract for DES earlier this year, with DNA Towers in Finland.

Jukka-Pekka Salmenkaita, VP AI and special projects, Elisa Corporation was delighted to win this prestigious award:

“Energy sector transition towards zero-carbon production is such a challenge that collaboration across sectors and even competitors is warranted. With Elisa DES we started by transforming Elisa’s radio network energy consumption into large flexibility asset balancing renewable production. But the much larger impact lies in transforming all the European telecom energy assets, and for this purpose winning the FutureNet World Awards is great encouragement.”


The Automation Solution Award

Huawei Technologies’ Autonomous Driving Network (ADN) solution was chosen as the leading solution for network automation. Using Generative AI (GenAI) and large language models (LLMs), Huawei raised its ADN solution to Level 4 automation, from Level 3, to generate more intelligence and value across all network domains.

Then it built what it calls the industry’s first Telecom Foundation Model for RAN, Core, IP and optical networks. The model uses intelligent language interactions to communicate via role-based copilots and scenario-based agents to improve the efficiency of different roles and improve workers’ knowledge and efficiency based on its analysis.

Last year, Huawei began collaborating with Operator GD using Net Master. At the start, its O&M in the NOC (Network Operation Center) had little automation, but now NOC engineers “co-work” with the model’s agents using natural language. It assists them through a Q&A-based process for resource and potential risk checking, fault analysis and troubleshooting. The agent generates work orders and dispatches commands automatically to field technicians.

The field engineers run the Net Master copilot app on their smartphones to access key information like work orders, affected users, fault location, suggested repairs and more to fix network faults faster and avoid reworking. They found 80% of faults were automatically diagnosed, and the mean time to repair fell from two hours to 10 minutes.

ICN Master has been piloted by Operator ZJ, one Operator CM’s opcos to improve efficiency in the core network’s O&M, which on average receives more than 3000 complaint tickets every month. Formerly the complaint handling process was slow, needing experts with years of experience to analyse the huge volume of signalling flows and complex interactions.

ICN Master automates and simplifies the processes, by classifying complaints, carrying out basic analysis, signalling analysis and more. It automatically fills out tickets, collapsing the handling process from fours steps to one. This halved the time taken to handle complaints from thirteen to five hours.

“I would like to thank FutureNet World for honoring Huawei with this award. We believe that the Large Model will effectively advance the value of Autonomous Networks while moving Level 3 to Level 4. In the future, Huawei will continue to invest in the key technologies such as the Telecom Foundation Model, to build ADN Level 4 solutions based on the high-value scenarios, and co-work with all industry partners to reshape the operation mode, system capability, service process, and integration mode to help global operators move towards highly Autonomous Networks.” said Ken Lu, president of Huawei General Development Department.


The Customer Experience Award

This Award is for the most innovative AI application to enhance customer experience and went to Netcracker Technology. GenAI’s potential contribution to customer experience in telecoms is immense.

However, there are many challenges in bringing GenAI safely into telecoms, with high quality responses that generate business results.

Netcracker is addressing these issues with its GenAI Telco Platform and commercially-ready use cases being deployed by several CSPs including T-Mobile to provide a better experience to their customers and increase internal efficiency and productivity.

The platform incorporates a flexible GenAI model strategy enabling CSPs to work with any commercial or private LLM/FM in the same way. Netcracker believes multiple models will be used over time to focus on specific tasks.

Netcracker’s focus is to bring telco domain knowledge and data to GenAI models to give accurate and high quality outputs. It uses its own knowledge bases, build up over years of telecom expertise, and uses techniques such as fine-tuning and retrieval augmented generation to enrich GenAI models with real-time BSS/OSS data, context and instructions to deliver accurate responses in the lowest number of interactions.

Security is another pillar of the solution and it provides a security layer that isolates public GenAI models from sensitive customer data using sophisticated anonymization techniques.

Using the platform, Netcracker has created a number of use cases that are having a significant impact on telecom customer experience.

In the B2B wholesale market GenAI tackles explaining complex invoices by aggregating usage and cost data to assist customers and partners with questions like, “How has my usage changed in comparison to last month?” and “Which customers have the highest roaming charges?.  These real-time insights are reducing invoice processing times from days to seconds.

The Platform’s solution for onboarding encourages partners to engage with GenAI, with the option of connecting with a customer service representative. Once contract terms are agreed, GenAI automates the catalogue configuration of the tariff plan and generates the contract for approval.

Up to 90% of the onboarding process is  offloaded onto GenAI, shortening the catalogue entry to minutes whereas it used to take days. Reviewing the contract typically takes two hours instead of days.

Sue White, Head of Strategy and Portfolio Marketing at Netcracker said: “Netcracker is delighted to be recognized for this important award with our GenAI Telco Solution.  It demonstrates our significant progress in breaking down the barriers to bring GenAI safely to telecom with innovative use cases that deliver exceptional value to our CSP customers. Our goal is to build off this success to help more CSPs adopt this powerful technology across their business.


The Network AI Award

The most innovative AI solution to enhance network performance Award was given to Amdocs for its AI-powered approach to delivering quality customer experiences in complex networks.

The Amdocs Helix Service Assurance Suite (SAS), powered by AI, is a comprehensive solution that brings together all aspects of assurance, fault, performance, and service quality management. It offers a complete view of the network and services status, coupled with automated process resolution.

This suite uses patented machine-learning algorithms, which have been successfully implemented by Communication Service Providers (CSPs) globally. These algorithms analyze large volumes of real-time and historical data, enabling CSPs to gain deeper insights and address potential issues that could affect the network’s performance and the experience of their customers.

The Helix SAS is versatile, supporting physical, virtual, and cloud network functions. It can be deployed on-premise and on both private and public clouds. This integrated, modular suite delivers measurable value by enhancing CSPs’ efficiency and customer satisfaction simultaneously. For instance, its alarm prediction feature can cover over 90% of major and critical service-impacting alarm types, providing warnings from a few minutes to 24 hours in advance.

The Helix SAS enables CSPs to standardize assurance processes and align their engineering and operations teams. This allows them to efficiently manage mobile and fixed networks across new and legacy technologies.

The suite enhances network performance in several ways. It collects and analyzes hundreds of millions of network performance measurements daily, translating this information in real-time. It also provides deeper insights into network behavior using its data forecasting and trending algorithm for any system counter, KPI, or network element, generating insights without the need to analyze vast amounts of data.

The suite generates alarms based on a range of conditions using statistical algorithms to automatically calibrate and fine-tune settings, enabling early detection of problems. By aggregating data, the suite can calculate KPIs and key quality indicators (KQIs), identify peak and high-traffic network periods, and predict network-impacting service problems.

Oleg Volpin, President, Europe, Telefonica Global and Network Offering Division, Amdocs said “This award is a testament to our cutting-edge AI-powered Helix Service Assurance Suite which has been recognised for its ability to integrate fault, performance and service quality for a 360-degree view on networks and services”


The AIOps Award

This Award reflects the best operations solution incorporating AI functionality. It went to Ericsson for its Data Driven Cognitive Operation to support the multi-operator core network environment (MOCN) for Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB) in Malaysia.

DNB deployed the world’s first 5G MOCN to support six mobile operators. At the same time, it implemented Ericsson’s data-driven operations to manage the complexity of the 5G wholesale network. DNB’s challenge was to ensure high availability and cost efficiency while meeting the needs of six different sets of connectivity and processes.

DNB also needed to safeguard the integrity of each operator’s network. An ethical wall policy protects the confidentiality of each service provider’s operational information.

The solution oversees software upgrades and the introduction of new features. It automatically manages each RAN partition per site and per mobile operator plus DNB’s associated wholesale billing. In addition, it optimises network KPIs for all the operators and handles their complaints.

The Ericsson Operations Engine (EOE) was designed to embrace AI-based automation, cognitive core and intent-based automation and handle complex co-relations and API-based connectivity. The solution is be vendor- and technology-agnostic, secure and scalable.

Within the first year of operation, the network’s uptime rose from 97.5% to 99.8%. This is critical for the delivery of enterprise-grade services nationwide across the RAN network.

It was achieved by automation and chaining processes for auto-alarm handling, rectification of faults by actuation and deductions based on automated root cause analysis from co-relating inter-technology incidents. Meantime to repair halved, to 2.18 hours, for service-impacting incidents from the RAN to the core.

DNB’s NOC response time fell by 90%, from 33 to three minutes by automating the first response to every fault.

The solution guides field engineers towards right first time remedies hence the meantime to restore faults fell by 54% while network operations automated 95% of trouble tickets and 100% of work order dispatches.

Overall, alarms fell by 95% although the network grew by a factor of seven. Real-time analysis of alarms and their rectification helped to achieve an average of 0.5 alarms per day per node in DNB’s network.


The Technology Leader Award

This Award recognises an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the telecoms industry. This year’s popular and deserving winner is Howard Watson, Chief Security & Networks Officer, Group CTO, BT.

Congratulations again to all our winners and to everyone who submitted an entry. This was a truly outstanding field.