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Wake up Neo…

Contributed by Sam Keys-Toyer, Head of Business and Portfolio Development, Managed Services Networks, Ericsson.

The industry has a successful history of managing networks by technology domain, with the basic ideal that if you maximize the availability of the network then you maximize the customer experience. This inside out philosophy has served the industry very well in the past decade, but it will not be enough to address the dramatic increase in service demand variability and the augmenting service outcome diversification CSPs are aiming to provide.

In 1999, I was about to enter my 30s when the Wachowskis released The Matrix, a science fiction-action film masterpiece about a massive simulated virtual reality world, created by Artificial Intelligence that blew my mind and maybe inspired the ideas behind the “Metaverse”. Twenty-four years later, not even the Wachowskis could have imagined the intensifying complexity at the Network Operations Centers (NOCs) behind today’s Matrix, inside Telecom Networks.

I took the red pill

After watching the film, there was only one question running through my head, how could anyone (human or machine) manage such a massive scale of data to keep the Matrix up and running? What was the operating model able to run such a big virtual reality simulation?

Back in 2018 I leaped at the chance to lead a revolutionary project aimed at transforming Ericsson’s network operations model, a kind of the engine behind the film story that fascinated me 20 years before. We took a blank sheet of paper and started to define a new operational approach. One that moved Communication Service Providers (CSPs) away from reactive and incident driven operations to predictive and data-driven operations.

As part of their individual journeys toward that future, CSPs would need to transform in two essential dimensions, one technological and one organizational. The technological dimension entailed CSPs fundamentally moving toward an operations environment that was orchestrated end-to-end in an intent-driven fashion.

The organizational dimension, on the other hand, encompassed the cultural shift, re-engineered processes, ways of working and skills that CSPs would need to make internally to fully become a data-driven organization.

At that time, it was already clear that without addressing the organizational dimension and properly transform operations, CSPs could run the risk of simply adding complexity with new technology which in turn would drive cost.

While transforming operations is a constant state for most CSPs, the pace of change was new. Most CSPs were transforming too slowly, and continued effort was required to capture new opportunities, for example, at the network edge.

 

The Engine behind The Matrix

And the culmination of that project was the launch of the Ericsson Operations Engine (EOE) in 2019 – our multi-technology and multi-vendor data-driven approach to operate and optimize telecom networks. Ericsson Operations Engine is essentially a catalyst for CSPs to succeed in today’s “5G Matrix”, an agile and holistic solution intelligent enough to ensure a smooth operational transformation that capitalizes on people & domain expertise; data driven processes; modernized applications & platforms; automated and AI driven insights.

Today, I can proudly say we succeeded. The Wachowskis would have been able to see unparalleled scale enabled by global feedback loops that constantly evolve our processes and grow our closed-loop automation & AI use case libraries, making it possible to handle a Matrix of more than 710 thousand sites, 18.2 M work orders and 6.4 M RAN cells with highly focused human intervention. To illustrate, the aggregated level of close loop automation within our today’s network operations is above 88% and in 2022 we reached 36 M of AI recommendations annually.

This has a significant tangible impact on CSPs operations business outcomes. From a network performance perspective, data-driven operations reduced network unavailability by 34 percent while decreasing customer complaints by 21 percent. On the network efficiency side, the transformation led to a significant 12 percent reduction of work orders and 24 percent less truck rolls per node and up to 8% reduction in energy consumption which has an important impact on CO2 emissions.

Equally important is the benefit to cost and performance of running a network operations organization. The shift from people-based delivery to machine based delivery changes the cost and productivity profile significantly. Contrary to the Matrix, people are still required, but need to be skilled for different roles and the machines at this stage are most definitely not in charge. The Cloud has helped with 5x more efficient compute, than we had in the days of owning our own data centers. All of this means that you can achieve your goals of best network performance at much lower costs.

 

The intent-driven Matrix

Results speak for themselves, the so-called triple A (Analytics, Automation & Artificial Intelligence) has been and will continue to be a key element in this story. However, if we want to continue leading the CSPs transformation journey we- like Neo-, need to follow the white rabbit towards a scenario where telecom networks can rapidly respond to CSPs needs with little manual intervention by translating commands (Intents) into network-based actions.

Certainly, intent-based operations is an inevitable shift in the approach to monetize the 5G investments. The network will need to support a dramatic increase in service demand variability and adding more humans to cope with this demand will not scale. We see three main drivers for intent in building and operating new services:

  • The complexity and cost of operating 5G networks and beyond require a new level of automation – a level beyond even AI/ML today’s automation.
  • The need to transform operations to better meet the needs of the business.
  • The need for transparency and AI explainability – so that we can trace back all decisions recommended and actuated on by the system. Its about Trust!

Obviously, our EOE Operating model is evolving to support a self-optimizing network driven by intent and underpinned by hyper-automation. This involves transitioning from people managing the network to people managing the machines that manage the network. For this to work, data/knowledge, policy, automation, assurance, analytics, machine learning and reasoning, and security must be integrated into a true Intent-Based (Matrix)Network.

 

Industry must follow the white rabbit

The next evolution of the Data-driven operating models will need to support a wider variety of applications and use cases for consumers and businesses with CSPs aiming to provide configurable services with detailed agreements on functional and non-functional characteristics that require dynamic adaptation to the network. A sort of Hyper-automated Matrix reloaded, where telecom networks must be managed in real-time to deliver on these requirements. Concepts like “autonomous networks” and “intent” are needed to drive new propositions and automate the network’s state to meet performance KPIs, SLAs, and business outcomes.

During FutureNet World earlier this month, I had the chance to meet some industry analysts and customers and get a first-hand view from different sessions where I heard directly from CSPs how they are already anticipating a radically different future for their companies, particularly repositioning their business as solutions companies in line with what enterprises are demanding from telcos. This was really well encapsulated by the Enterprise Opportunity presentation by STL partners.

Lots of interesting discussions around Open Telco and Networks as a Service (NaaS), particularly the transformation challenges that a disaggregation strategy comes with. Having said that, it seemed clear that all the challenges ahead will require solid Data-driven operating models that, as shared during my presentation, are already paying off for CSPs.

By the way, I still prefer the original Matrix trilogy, but, I still don’t know Kung Fu.

 

Learn more about Ericsson’s Data-driven operations [https://www.ericsson.com/en/managed-services/data-driven-operations-does-it-really-pay-off]

Header image attributed to Marcu Spiske via Unsplash

 

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