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MENA Awards: Celebrating outstanding innovation in automation and AI

Contributing Editor Annie Turner looks into what it takes to win one of these prestigious Awards

FutureNet’s MENA Awards are to recognise outstanding innovation in automation and AI that change how networks in the Middle East and North Africa will function and operate. The winners were announced at FutureNet MENA which took place in Dubai in May. They make inspirational reading. Could you be a winner next year?

 

The Operator Award

This Award was won by e& UAE recognizing its Autonomous Care platform and its companion App, compatible with both Android and iOS devices. This innovative system serves as an in-pocket troubleshooting solution revolutionising the way issues with mobile and fixed services are diagnosed and resolved. By seamlessly integrating diagnostics at the physical layer and managing devices at the customer premises; it swiftly identifies and resolve issues. From analysing WIFI metrics to assessing signal strength and call stability, this platform offers instant insights; whether the problem stems from physical infrastructure; local dead zones, data throttling, or faulty SIM cards or devices.

The app, revamped in 2023, is deployed with machine learning, so that its AI-driven decisions evolve along with new technologies, use cases, features and continuous enhancements. Further, e&’s Autonomous Care platform doesn’t only tell the customer what’s wrong, it empowers them to act.

For example, if the customer finds themselves without connectivity and doesn’t know whether the problem is their phone or subscription, the service or the network, the app runs diagnostics to discover and address the problem. The customer can then decide what action to take and avoid unnecessary calls to customer service.

The app also provides a feedback loop to the operator. By providing insights into service performance, users’ behaviour and pain points, the Autonomous Care platform can help operators identify and address issues proactively, so customers are not affected. It’s a win-win situation.

Furthermore, the platform’s key performance indicators (KPIs) for mobile and fixed services
measure the impact on problem resolution, proactive protection, business optimisation and continuous improvement. This paves the way to achieving seamless, satisfying services for all customers with optimised customer-handling capabilities.

At e& the Autonomous Care platform is not just a troubleshooting app but a game-changer for the whole ecosystem.

Ali Khalfan Ali Al Shamsi – Senior Vice President/Revenue Management and Network Automation, e& UAE commented: “This is a testament to our commitment to revolutionising customer service; It underscores our dedication to leveraging cutting-edge technology , improve outcomes and ultimately, enhance the entire customer experience journey. This recognition reaffirms our position as pioneers in technology solutions, driving us to continually push boundaries and shape the future.”

 

The Automation Solution Award

Netcracker Domain Orchestration (NDO) won the Automation Solution Award. It provides a unifying automation layer across vendors, layers and systems to automate the lifecycle management of cloud infrastructure and the resources, services and network slices that run on top.

Through integration with the BSS, either Netcracker’s own or that of another vendor, the NDO provides end-to-end automation from the BSS layer to network equipment. The vendor claims this is a unique attribute.

The NDO can work in all network domains with domain-specific components. Netcracker states it is the only vendor to have complete, commercial automation solutions for every network domain – including RAN, fiber access, transport, core, business edge and satellite. It delivers them through a unifying automation layer for the domains using industry standard, vendor-agnostic data models (NETCONF/YANG) for resources, services and slices. This makes onboarding and integrating products much faster.

NDO provides a common foundation of service orchestration and assurance, plus configuration, federated real-time inventory, resource monitoring and security functionality to automate the lifecycle of cloud infrastructure, resources, services and slices.

The solution automates network discovery and documentation; provides zero-touch intent-based service provisioning and lifecycle management; automates configuration and monitoring of physical and virtual network functions; and delivers closed loop service assurance.

Netcracker says it has achieved commercial success with operators in the Middle East, including Etisalat, Zain and Vodafone Oman, and deployments around the world with Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone Hungary, Swisscom, Telesat, Globe and others.

Results from commercial deployments in the Middle East include:
• comprehensive interoperability testing was shortened by 70% through automated onboarding, using TM Forum’s Open APIs and standard service models.
• test automation – that is, prepare, execute, analyze and document – was increased from 40% to 100%.
• a 90% reduction in effort to scale services in and out because all the tasks are automated.
• 63% less effort for upgrades making them faster using DevOps processes, automated testing and upgrades.
• up to 66% less effort to detect and resolve problems as with closed loop, assurance is automated, which also means fewer complaints from customers.

“Netcracker is honoured to receive the FutureNet Automation Award for our significant progress in helping operators in the Middle East and globally bring higher levels of automation to their evolving networks and service” says Susan White, Head of Strategy and Portfolio Marketing at Netcracker. “Building a strong automation foundation is essential for the next wave of service innovation and the ability to adapt quickly in a highly dynamic market”

 

The Orchestration Award

This Award for orchestration went to Rakuten Symphony for its Rakuten Cloud suite of cloud-native, Kubernetes-powered platforms. They are designed from the ground up to deliver network services that leverage the efficiency, scalability, levels of automation and lower cost of cloud-native technologies from the RAN to the core and edge.

Rakuten Cloud’s orchestration and cloud-native platforms automate lifecycle operations and enable network services to be deployed in minutes, instead of days, at the core, edge, and in multi- and hybrid cloud. This includes for telcos’ bare metal infrastructure, third-party appliances, virtual network functions (VNFs), cloud-native network functions (CNFs) and service chains.

The Rakuten Cloud-Native Orchestrator has an integral logging, monitoring and policy engine for closed-loop automation. It is managed through a single pane of glass and driven by an intuitive, context-aware workflow manager.

The orchestrator onboards applications and network functions with one click, pulling them from the integrated vendor ecosystem which encompasses telco, cloud and enterprise applications. It can ingest any scripting, such as helm charts, to automate Methods of Procedures (MoPs) and orchestrate any network element, application or process.

Everything has policy-driven automation and can be implemented with a graphical user interface, or via an API or command line interface, from the portal which has the look and feel of an app store.

The solution’s intelligent low-footprint edge can match hyperscalers but can also scale down to one or two cores while retaining full functionality – without stripping out APIs, or operators’ observability and performance. Regardless of scale during deployment, Rakuten Cloud is one coherent solution from end to end with a single, unified operations model.

Rakuten Mobile deployed the world’s first end-to-end, cloud-native, fully container-based 5G network at scale and modernised its legacy 4G network with Rakuten Cloud. Sharad Sriwastawa, Co-CEO at Rakuten Mobile and President, Rakuten Symphony, noted, “Rakuten Cloud-Native Platform and Orchestrator…have been the foundation of the telco cloud at Rakuten Mobile, spanning the core and edge data centres, and enabling CNFs and VNFs with minimal effort.”

Rakuten Mobile achieved: a 40% reduction in capex and 30% less opex; RAN deployment in four minutes for a 5G site.

 

The AIOps Award

Ericsson and Mobily jointly won this category for Ericsson’s solution to balance Mobily’s core network traffic. 5G technology spurred unprecedented growth in user numbers and traffic volumes for the operator. Major events, such as Formula 1, football matches, Ramadan and the Hajj pilgrimage put huge strain on its network.

Congested networks can severely degrade performance and disappoint users. Without sufficient redundancy and failover mechanisms, any network failure or outage during such critical periods can disrupt service disruptions, upset customers and even result in revenue loss.

Hence Mobily needed efficient distribution of traffic across diverse nodes and domains, to gain optimal use of capacity while maintaining a stable network. It recognised that a reactive mechanism to identify degradation in KPIs means a delay in response, remedy by the network operator and a level of manual intervention which is inefficient. Yet Mobily found, “a notable absence of solutions that can predict KPI degradation in advance”, much less automated solutions that could take preventive actions.

Ericsson’s approach is dynamically to distribute traffic among multiple core nodes by fine-tuning the domain name system (DNS). This improves the network’s efficiency and reliability, and enhances users’ experience.

The workflow in Ericsson’s solution has proactive prediction, automated actuation and event-specific management. All help to reduce manual effort significantly through streamlined processes and timely responses. The predictive analytics respond to breaches of thresholds using machine learning models. They are able to predict high or low utilisation of core network nodes and links 12 hours in advance, allowing Mobily to take preventive actions through the Enable function.

The performance management has resulted in an 80% reduction in issues with a further 20% fall thanks to actuation – and a big drop in human intervention. More efficient use of network resources can improve customers’ experience which results in fewer complaints, particularly during major events that attract huge numbers of people.

In short, proactive monitoring of KPIs with closed loop automation contributes towards better network performance, minimal downtime and more reliable systems with less downtime.

 

The Sustainability Award

This Award recognised P.I. Works and Turkcell for the AI4Green initiative to develop AI-powered algorithms for greater energy efficiency. The initiative reaches beyond mobile networks and data centres to new architectures like smart grids.

AI4Green operates within the CELTIC-NEXT framework, benefiting from the collaboration of 17 partners from five European nations. The project’s objectives were to advance sustainability, improve energy efficiency and ultimately achieve zero emissions in the RAN – and all without disrupting services.

The companies targeted three use cases. Predictive shut-down at carrier level used an algorithm they developed to forecast future traffic loads, in contrast with reactive methodology based on historical data.

It was tested across 396 sites in three cities within Turkcell’s multi-RAN vendor network. Field trials yielded an average of 2.5% additional savings in the RAN beyond those of vendor-specific energy-saving measures. The classification accuracy of 92% increased carrier shutdown hours by 18.8% compared to conventional methods that rely on metrics from past performance.

The second use case extended the first, shutting down entire underused sectors but risked gaps in coverage. The solution was integrated into EXA, one of the elements of P.I Work’s integrated, open platform EVO. It was deployed in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district, involving more than 104 sites and processing billions of measurement logs. The solution added 10% to energy savings derived from vendor-specific measures which translates to about 6.5% of total energy savings across the entire network or annual savings of $1.77 million (assuming $0.26 per kWh).

The third use case tested automation applications to model crowds’ movement. Planned and unplanned live events impact local RAN capacity. P.I. Works’ Special Event Handling (SEH) application, integrated within EVO, redistributes traffic to underused sectors, collaborating with energy-saving applications to manage capacity fluctuations.

The crowd movement modelling was tested during a football match at Fenerbahce Stadium in Kadikoy, Istanbul, covering 1,430 cells within a 10 km2 area. The energy saving algorithms remained active for 52.5% of the time, resulting in savings of 3.2% compared to 6% on normal days.

Turkcell shared and refined the insights it gained with project partners, including Turkgen and universities KTH, Sweden and METU, Turkey.

 

The Customer Experience Award

Nokia and stc won this award. Saudi Arabia’s largest operator company, stc has more than 1.4 million pieces of equipment on customers’ premises for fixed access and 90,000 fixed wireless customers. Its FTTH subscriber base is growing at 4.4% per annum and its fixed wireless access at 8.3%.

stc lacked visibility into the fixed network which hindered root cause analysis and visibility of customer experience, customer care and usage patterns, and data correlation across OSS and BSS.

It typically took two weeks to correlate insights into customer experience manually and more time to translate the insights into preventive action. stc wanted to minimise delay between activation and customer care touchpoints, through digitisation and automation, to speed activation of fixed broadband services.

Nokia and stc jointly developed an AI-based solution. It provides visibility into the network through the 360-degree integration of touchpoints across devices, inventory, network performance and fault management, billing and customer relationship management. It also has order and workforce management, plus the home-analytics platform, probes and more.

Telemetry data is aggregated in real-time and translated into scores for network quality, device performance and customer experience. They are juxtaposed onto a network map for simplified observability and contextual understanding of historical and current states across the network and broadband CPE.

Bell Labs’ predictive models, based on AI and machine learning, are applied to telemetry data to uncover correlations and causality related to current and potential network issues.

Overall, stc improved customer experience of its fixed network and a concomitant drop drop of 41.2% in calls from customers and 82% fewer monthly tickets. First-call resolution rose to 70%, closing tickets with the parameters of service level agreements improved by 23%. It achieved a 15% increase in fixed service activation and agents handle 59% more tickets. Customers’ complaints have decreased 7% there are 10% fewer visits related to the last mile.

’’Being honored with the FutureNet MENA award for the strategic utilization of AI, ML, and data to elevate the fixed network customer experience for our client, stc, is a testament to our relentless pursuit of innovation in the telecom industry. Our partnership with stc has redefined fixed network excellence, driving transformative advancements in customer experience. This win reaffirms our position as leaders and fuels our commitment to delivering excellence in fixed networks globally.’’

 

The Network AI Award

Reailize and Ooredoo won this award for transforming network operations, introducing a predictive service operations centre (SOC) in Ooredoo Qatar in 2022. The SOC is an early warning system based on anomaly detection and impact prediction. It has fundamentally reshaped how Ooredoo’s network performance is monitored and improved.

It was deployed ahead of the Football World Cup 2022 to ensure user experience despite the stresses on network capacity.

Reailize’s AGILITY Continuous Assurance solution aggregates data from sources, including performance and fault management, configuration management and data from the control and user planes. This is carried out across technologies from 2G to 5G, spanning domains from radio to transport, core and service.

Machine learning-based anomaly detection and cross correlation allows continuous assurance to identify inconsistencies and provide performance-based alerts and impact predictions. It also offers insights into potential root causes to improve network management.

Predicting the impact of issues is a game changer according to the operator. A major alarm triggered at the same time as a performance-based alert is often overlooked in traditional network operations centres (NOCs). Continuous assurance analyses both, meaning that operators can distinguish between critical and less pressing issues.

Continuous assurance can ‘tell’ that a major alarm on a redundant node is unlikely to affect customers in the next four to eight hours, but can predict that a performance alert affecting a small number of VoLTE users will escalate to 300 within the next two hours. This allows NOC teams to prioritise efforts efficiently and effectively.

SOC management can detect blind spots – issues normally reported by standard fault management tools that are ignored or missed due to the huge volume of events coming into the system. Again, impact-based prioritisation allows alarms to receive the attention they deserve. It can also pick up that cross-correlated incidents with the same root cause don’t need separate analysis.

Reailize’s AGILITY Continuous Assurance solution operates on an API-based, service-oriented architecture (SOA) that aligns with industry standards, including those of TM Forum and ETSI’s zero-touch network and service management or ZSM.

Ned Taleb, CEO of Reailize commented that “We are honoured to receive the award for The Most Innovative AI Solution to Enhance Network Performance. It is a recognition of our pioneering innovation in the field of AI-powered Network Diagnostics and its tremendous impact on accelerating the diagnostics workflow through automation. We extend our gratitude to our partner, Ooredoo, and their progressive team in working with us on making this vision a possibility”

 

The Technology Leader Award

Khalid Murshed, Chief Technology & Information Officer of e& UAE was the popular winner of the Technology Leader Award. He has more than 23 years’ experience in the telecoms industry in a number of leadership positions.

After gaining a bachelor’s degree in Telecom Engineering from Khalifa University in the UAE, Khalid started his career at Etisalat UAE in 1998 as part of the mobile planning team.

After six years there, he next led the central region at Mobily in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where he managed network development. Khalid and his team achieved remarkable success by launching the new mobile network during the peak Hajj season. He then moved to the Emirates Telecommunications Company (du) where he was Vice President, Mobile Access Network.

In 2013 Khalid joined e& group (then known as Etisalat Group) as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for Etisalat Misr in Egypt, where his contribution to the business helped it become the technology leader in the market. Under his direction, the company successfully launch its 4G network and achieved its goals, becoming the second operator in the Egyptian market.

Now Khalid is Chief Technology & Information Officer for e& UAE, with a long track record of successes. He was involved in the launch and planning of mobile networks, and is regarded as one of the industry´s leading thinkers and most inspiring technology leaders.

 

Congratulations to Khalid and to all our winners and everyone who entered the FutureNet MENA Awards 2024. The calibre of the entries are what makes these Awards so special.

 

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