Automation’s chickens start to roost, Open RAN goes local in Turkey

Annie Turner rounds up network automation and AI stories from what turned out to be a very busy May.

BT hit the headlines when its group CEO, Philip Jansen, announced the operator would cut 55,000 jobs – about 42% of its workforce – by 2030. This is not quite as radical as it looks at first glance as of thousands of them are contractors working on Openreach’s massive fibre build out which will be all but complete by 2030. However, about 10,000 roles will be lost due to more automation and digitalisation as BT looks to make annual cost savings of £3 billion a year by the end of 2025.

Jansen enthused about the potential uses of AI-enabled tools for automation and its impact on BT’s business, pointing out the operator “has filed more AI patents than any other UK-based company” and that it already runs a dark network operating centre where “network planning can be done automatically with AI in a way that couldn’t happen two or three years ago”.

He added, “We’ve got AI and all the data that can help create self-healing networks,” and said BT will be a huge beneficiary, to the tune of many millions of pounds, in terms of efficiency and cost. Jansen was speaking on the same day that BT reported a 12% decline in pre-tax profits to £1.7 billion, which it attributed to the higher cost of building networks, although revenue was down 1% too.

 

Scott Petty, Group CTO, Vodafone, spoke at FutureNet World last month

More staff, more automation

Vodafone Group’s new CEO, former CFO Margherita Della Valle, said Vodafone’s poor performance meant it would be cutting 11,000 jobs – more than 10% of the workforce – over the next three years by becoming simpler and leaner in an attempt to be more appealing to customers and shareholders.

This is not a straightforward reduction of headcount. While Della Valle said “layers are to go” at the London-based group offices in Paddington, in a recent exclusive interview, Vodafone Group’s CTO and Head of Vodafone Technology, Scott Petty, talked about the strategic decision to add 7,000 software engineers in October 2021. Although still far from that target, he commented, “Our headcount has gone up in Technology as we’ve added those capabilities, but our external spend with systems integrators has gone down by more so it’s helped us deliver our cost savings targets as well.”

 

Nokia adds insights for AIOps

Nokia is adding AI-derived insights to its Fixed Network Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).  solutions suite. AVA Fixed Network Insights will be launched later in the year and is designed to help operators to improve customer service while reduce operating costs.

It collects access and Wi-Fi network, router, device and OSS data to identify problems using Bell Labs developed AI/ML models. The insights will provide operations and customer care teams with automated recommendations so they can identify and resolve problems remotely before they manifest network service problems. The idea is to shorten call handling times and improve first-call resolution.

Julie Kunstler, Chief Analyst, Broadband Access Intelligent Service, at Omdia, said, “The SaaS delivery model is a critical piece of digital transformation for operators. Nokia’s new Fixed Network Insights SaaS component provides operators with another needed pathway towards AIOps-driven, self-healing fixed broadband networks.”

 

Turkey and acceleration

Mavenir announced a partnership with i2i Systems to work closely with network operators on Open RAN in Turkey. They plan to work on Mavenir’s containerised microservices portfolio and adapt it to “the necessary localization to accelerate the delivery and adoption of Open RAN”.

Mavenir also announced a $100 million funding round to expand its technology and its customer base. The firm said the funding is “anchored” by a long-establish backer and former majority owner, private equity company Siris.

Pardeep Kohli, Mavenir’s CEO and President, commented, “This new capital will allow us to accelerate our capabilities in automation, sustainability and use of AI as we enable our customers to efficiently deploy and operate Open RAN based end-to-end cloud-native networks. Our unique strategy incorporates best practices from the hyperscale, cloud and IT industries, to transform how the world connects and builds the future of networks.”

 

High performance Ethernet

DriveNets, which offers cloud-native networking solutions, has introduced Network Cloud-AI, which is designed to maximise the use of AI infrastructures to improve the performance of large-scale AI workloads. It is built on DriveNets’ Network Cloud which “is deployed in the world’s largest networks” and the company says has been validated by “leading hyperscalers in recent trials as the most cost-effective Ethernet solution for AI networking”.

The company explains that it was prompted to develop the solution because AI workloads perform best when the network is in full operational use. Yet until now AI networks were based on either traditional Ethernet leaf-and-spine architecture not intended to support high-performance AI workloads at scale, or with proprietary solutions that did not support network interoperability and had little flexibility for hyperscalers keen to avoid vendor lock-in.

Network automation market to rise at 23% CAGR to 2033, action at the edge

Contributing Editor Annie Turner takes a fast but insightful look at new tech, continuing trends and strategic partnerships in network automation over the last month.

Future Market Insights has produced an upbeat report about the global network automation market, which is subject to a number of technology shifts. The analyst house predicts the market will be worth $34.8 billion by 2033, up from $4.4 billion in 2023. This represents a compound annual growth rate of 23% over the decade.

The Asia Pacific region is poised for growth due to thriving IT industries in India and China, but the US will remain the top revenue contributor with a 30% share in the global market.

The report reckons this rapid expansion is due in large part to the rising use of connected devices, hybrid workspaces and 5G-driven applications. Greater use of network virtualisation could also accelerate the market’s growth. Sectors including banking, financial services and insurance, manufacturing and retail are turning to services enabled by network automation.

The virtualisation of different types of network is expected to grow at an annual average rate of 24% and it is thought the hybrid network segment will follow closely with an annual growth rate of 23.5%.

Big tech shifts

The report also notes that up until 2022, the market was dominated by those specialising in network automation solutions, which had 70% revenue share. Now the services segment is picking up rapidly and projected to progress at a rate of 25.5% during years covered by the forecast.

Likewise, while previously the on-premises segment accounted for 55% of network automation deployments, cloud-based network automation solutions are rapidly gaining popularity and are forecast to grow at 25% over the next ten years.

The report highlights Anuta Networks, IBM, VMware, Juniper Networks, Cisco Systems and Fortinet often working together to serve customers, including telecom providers, advertising and local players to outperform their rivals and “take a big chunk of the market”.

Private O-RAN 5G network

Free 5G Metal Sign under Wire Construction Stock PhotoNortheastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, and its Open6G R&D Center have built an automated, virtualised private O-RAN 5G network at the university’s Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things (WIoT) campus. It is based on open-source programmable components, with compute solutions from vendors including Dell Technologies and NVIDIA, software-defined radios, and dedicated automation and orchestration pipelines through zTouch.

zTouch is Northeastern’s AI-based management, control and orchestration framework which can deploy the software-based infrastructure “in seconds”, with automated configuration via high-level intents and management of the software-defined radio frontends. The network runs on Dell servers and uses OpenAirInterface and Open5Gs as the main radio access and core network implementations. The base stations use NVIDIA Aerial Research Cloud, integrating a GPU-based physical layer and OpenAirInterface. The system runs from a server room that terminates connections from 64 antennas to software-defined radios.

Extending no-code automation

NetBrain, provider of no-code network automation and visibility solutions for hybrid, multi-cloud networks, announced NetBrain Next-Gen, version v11 of its flagship product.

The new version extends the no-code network automation capabilities “to every hybrid multi-cloud environment” and simplifies capturing and scaling intent-based network management. It has a new dashboard and reporting subsystem that continuously provides real-time KPI info about infrastructure’s service delivery status, plus optimisation usage and overall resource savings. A new Automation Bot is designed to allow anyone to diagnose network issues quickly and share them without any NetBrain know-how or even a licence.

NetBrain’s Founder and CEO, Lingping Gao, comments, “We have…thousands of customers worldwide who operate some of the world’s largest infrastructures, so we listen very carefully to their operational needs at scale.”

Operationalising ML for the edge

Wallaroo.AI and VMware have a strategic agreement to provide a unified edge machine learning (ML) deployment and operations platform. They say it is the first such platform that is tailored to the needs of global communications service providers (CSPs).

The solution is claimed to enable: easy deployment of models trained in one environment to many edge endpoints; easier testing and continuous improvement to the accuracy of live models; automated observability and drift detection; serves “full-fidelity” models, even at resource-constrained edge environments; and integration with common ML environment like Databricks and the main cloud platforms like Microsoft Azure.

The new VMware/Wallaroo platform will operate across cloud, the RAN and edge environments – “elements of the emerging, low-latency, highly distributed internet of the future”.

Modular, low-code OSS

Atrinet has released the NetACE TONAS line of cloud-native, modular, low-code OSS products. The firm says the products align with TM Forum’s Open Digital Architecture (ODA), ETSI, and 3GPP standards. Atrinet  is also designed to reduce the total cost of ownership, accelerate time-to-market and improve operational efficiency.

The NetACE TONAS range is built on a containerised, cloud-native architecture, open-source software, TM Forum Open APIs and streamlined continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD). These attributes make it highly scalable, flexible and lightweight, so it can be easily customised, integrated and operationalised, according to the company.

Tough times for new entrants but network automation is set to soar

Contributing Editor Annie Turner rounds up some highlights and low points of the last month in the automation market in Japan, and the US, but most especially Germany.

Rakuten Mobile, the global trailblazer in network automation, Open RAN, cloudification and softwarisation is finding life as a pioneer is tough. Its parent company, the e-commerce giant Rakuten, has racked up losses close to $5 billion in the four years since embarking on becoming a state-of-the-art mobile operator, only attracting of just over 5 million subscribers out of Japan’s population of 126 million.

Still, the long game was always to weave mobile into Rakuten group’s extensive ecosystem that cross-fertilises services, from TV to insurance and other financial services, esports and holiday rental properties. Being a customer of one service triggers discounts and deals for others, with the aim of getting customers to take more services and stay within the ecosystem, thereby encouraging customers to spend more and remain loyal.

Founder and CEO of Rakuten Group, Hiroshi Mikitani, said his company aims to bring the mobile phone business into profitability by the end of 2023.

More strings

It has other strings to its bow too. In March Rakuten Mobile launched three tariffs for business users, including unlimited in-country calls and international options; an in-bound roaming service for tourists visiting Japan; and an Open RAN Customer Experience Centre in the UK.

The Centre is a joint enterprise by Rakuten Mobile, Rakuten Symphony, Inc. and Rakuten Symphony UK, and was awarded funding by Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. According to the press statement, it heralds “a new era of British-Japanese technological collaboration and the European advancement of…Open RAN”.

1&1 deployment woes

In Germany, Rakuten Symphony is the general contractor for the new entrant network, 1&1, which intends to build Europe’s most technically advanced 5G network. It is also enduring adversity. Like Rakuten Mobile, it is a greenfield build, based on softwarisation, Open RAN, automation etc. Unfortunately, 1&1 is running spectacularly late with its deployment: the plan was to have 1,000 base stations in commercial use by the end of last year. It has three up and running, so far.

According to 1&1, the delay is nearly all Vodafone’s fault, rather than anything to do with tech teething troubles. 1&1 is leasing tower space from several providers, but mostly from Vantage Towers whose majority shareholder is Vodafone – and operator Vodafone Germany and 1&1 are rivals. In a complaint filed with Germany’s Federal Cartel Office in February, 1&1 accused Vodafone of obstructing access to Vantage’s sites. Vantage rejects the accusation and says it’s working to provide access to the 3,800 sites agreed with 1&1.

In March, 1&1 issued a statement claiming, “Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefónica are lobbying unanimously to withhold essential frequency spectrum from 1&1 in the upcoming frequency auction” on the grounds that 1&1 has failed to meet its coverage obligations.

Political hot potato

Despite these setbacks, 1&1 might still have an ace in the hole: it is the only German operator not to have equipment from Chinese vendors in its brand new infrastructure. Use on Chinese vendors’ equipment in German networks is not news, but has turned into something of a political hot potato.

Nancy Faeser

Amid accusation that Deutsche Telekom’s (DT) 2019 pact with Huawei was designed to get round US trade sancetions, Republican Senator Marco Rubio was quoted in the German newspaper Handelsblatt saying DT’s actions should “have consequences,” adding, “Germany and the companies working there should work with us and not help an opposing regime to undermine international security,” during an official visit to Washington DC by Germany’s Minister of the Interior and Community, Nancy Faeser.

Faeser said she intends to investigate ties between Europe’s biggest telco, Deutsche Telekom (DT) and the Chinese vendor, Huawei. The use of Chinese equipment was already under scrutiny by German government authorities, which is expected to ban Chinese equipment from 5G networks, with a statement anticipated in the summer.

Sieve not a DISH?

Still across the Atlantic, Dish Network, the new national entrant with a 5G network is taking a similarly innovative approach to Rakuten Mobile and 1&1 for its network. It has strong ties with Rakuten Symphony but is under the cosh too after a “cyber-security incident” that began in February. This caused a weeks-long outage that hit the company’s internal servers, corporate communications, and some Dish-owned websites and IT telephony systems. All of which meant it was unable to install services, process payments or provide customer care.

Pundits appear to be viewing this as a short-term hitch rather than a long-term disaster.

 Automation on the up

Despite these travails, the total market for network automation was $3.62 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow at 24.9 percent CAGR to reach $21.45 billion by 2029, according to Maximize Market Research – see graphic below for highlights.

Telecom Egypt opts for IBM

Telecom Egypt chose IBM to automate its OSS across its mobile, fixed and core networks to reduce the time spent on troubleshooting and fixing network-related issues. The operator intends to implement IBM Cloud Pak for Watson AIOps, on top of RedHat OpenShift, and robotic process automation (RPA) technologies.

IBM says its RPA will enable Telecom Egypt staff to automate the process of tracking network operating capacity and service quality, ending a manual process which it asserted could take at least 18 hours to complete.

Telecom Egypt MD and CEO Adel Hamed stated working with IBM will improve the quality of service it provides by reducing “the time required to monitor and repair incidents”.

Orange puts automation at the heart of telecoms’ future fortunes

Automation has been absolutely everywhere in the welter of announcements made at and around MWC writes Contributing Editor Annie Turner

ORANGE NEW CEO, Christel Heydemann, 2022/01/28, © Nicolas Gouhier

At Orange Capital Markets Day, the week before Mobile World Congress 2023 (MWC), Christel Heydemann, CEO of Orange Group, laid out her strategy after 10 months in the job. She observed that operators cannot make a sufficiently good return on investment without diversification or selling off assets, although telecoms are viewed as being of critical strategic importance.

She is hopeful a change in regulation will result from the ongoing consultation by the European Union on so-called fair-share and consolidation, but said she saw the industry’s salvation in telcos’ next-generation network, assets and expertise, stressing the importance of execution.

Managing value

Heydemann called on Michaël Trabbia, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Orange, was called upon to elaborate. He said, “Our goal as operator is to become the reference in networks agility, resilience and performance. This ambition includes software transformation, automation and AI.”

He continued, “We will measure our progress in this transformation based on the standards set by TM Forum for the level of automation in network operations. Our ambition is to move from level one or two currently, depending on the country, to level four by 2025, specifically on two key processes, the test integration deployment process, and the network monitoring and fault management process.

“To further increase network automation, we are implementing group-wide network integration factories and shared operation centres that will allow new, on-demand network services operating in Network-as-a-Service mode, thus creating new business opportunities.”

Open RAN rural sharing

During MWC, Orange had another infrastructure announcement: it has an agreement with Vodafone to build out and share Open RAN in rural parts of Europe where both have mobile networks. The first commercial sites will be deployed outside Bucharest, Romania’s capital.

Trabbia described this as “a significant milestone on the road to wide-scale open RAN adoption across Europe,” adding, “It is a major step towards agile and fully-automated networks, unleashing the potential of virtualization and AI to boost performance while driving both infrastructure and operational costs down.

“In particular, Open RAN is a great opportunity to take network sharing to a whole new dimension, with even higher operator differentiation thanks to the ability for each of the partners to tune its network more independently according to its promises towards its own customers.”

Testing of the Open RAN solution on a live network will continue throughout 2023, allowing a like-for-like comparison with legacy networks and will aim at confirming the feature and performance parity between Open RAN and traditional RAN solutions, before expanding the Open RAN sharing blueprint to other markets.

Pikeo pushes automation

Orange also disclosed findings from its Pikeo experimental network which was launched in June 2021 help the operator better understand how best to deploy cloud-oriented, open API-based, automated, disaggregated, multi-vendor 5G Standalone network. Orange said the work on Pikeo had helped it reach a “major milestone on its journey towards software and data-based, fully-automated networks.” The models developed enable Orange to run private 5G in a multi-cloud network, whether that’s on-prem Orange Telco Cloud infrastructure or using SUSE/Rancher Kubernetes distribution.

Going global with network inventory

Francis Haysom, Principal Analyst, Appledore Research

AT&T and ServiceNow announced a global telco solution during MWC, continuing the trend of operators productising their expertise and assets to sell to other operators, like Rakuten and SK Telekom, among others. The operator provided “strategic design and technical guidance” for the development of ServiceNow Telecom Network inventory, built on ServiceNow’s platform.

Hence the solution provides “a single platform that connects systems to maximize network investments, manage orders, improve customer service experiences, and enable business agility”. AT&T plans to deploy the platform soon.

Francis Haysom, Principal Analyst, Appledore Research, commented, “With Telecommunications Network Inventory, operators have an opportunity to better support end-to-end network automation and increasingly dynamic and valuable network services.”

AWS builds on telco credentials

AWS made several telco-friendly announcements ahead of MWC including Telco Network Builder intended to make deploying telcos’ functions on cloud more efficient by using common terminology and languages, including several ETSI specifications. There are no upfront commitments or fees the Builder, and customers pay only for the AWS services used to manage their network. Amdocs, Cloudify, Infosys, Mavenir and O2 Telefónica are all investigating the Builder’s possibilities.

Bas Hendrikx, Head of Cloud Centre of Excellence at O2 Telefónica said, “We are exploring AWS Telco Network Builder to enable us to leverage automation to deliver new 5G network services faster and manage our networks more efficiently”.

Google goes for network automation

Google Cloud announced its Telecom Network Automation at MWC, designed to accelerate network and edge deployments. It does this using cloud-native automation based on Kubernetes and the work done by Nephio, the open-source project that Google Cloud founded in partnership with the Linux Foundation in 2022. The hyperscaler also launched Telecom Data Fabric for migrating operators’ workloads to the cloud faster and more efficiently, plus the Telecom Subscriber Insights analytics platform.

Colt ups ante with Equinix

Colt Technology Services and Equinix have extended their partnership: businesses in Spain, Italy and Sweden now have access to Colt’s On Demand infrastructure interconnecting with Equinix Fabric. Mark Hollman, Vice President for Partner Development and Success at Colt said, “In this latest evolution of our longstanding partnership with Equinix, we’ve invested in joint API development to deliver a simplified, automated and improved customer experience across Colt On Demand and Equinix Fabric platforms.

Microsoft reportedly invests $10 bn in ChatGPT, DT hits €100bn market cap

AI and automation seem to be entering a new era, generating headlines the world over as 2023 began, writes Contributing Editor Annie Turner

OpenAI’s ChatGPT (short for Generative Pre-trained Transformer) automation tool has taken the world by storm since its launch in November. Microsoft has invested an undisclosed sum in the firm which is widely rumoured to be $10 billion. The AI-powered chatbot is able to hold human-like conversations with actual humans about, it seems, almost anything.

The investment extends the relationship between the two companies. Microsoft Azure will continue as OpenAI’s exclusive cloud provider for ChatGPT as OpenAI uses Azure to train all its models. Further, Microsoft will deploy OpenAI’s models across all its consumer and enterprise products and introduce “new categories of digital experience” built on the tech.

They will include Azure OpenAI Services for developers to build applications through direct access to those models, “backed by Azure’s trusted, enterprise-grade capabilities and AI-optimized infrastructure and tools”.

ChatGPT is not alone

ChatGPT being used for search has allegedly so concerned Google, for so long the trailblazer in AI, that it has reportedly has issued a “code red” button which includes recalling founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page to help it steer through these dangerous waters. This is a little surprising given it has its own ChatGPT-like system – LaMDA (language model for dialogue applications). One engineer was fired for publicly saying it was so compelling he thought it might be sentient. Apparently Google’s not quite ready yet, maybe because it has regulators breathing down its neck on several fronts.

Meanwhile speculation mounts that there is a new AI chatbot in town, from Baidu, the Chinese search giant.

What does it mean for telecoms?

The rise of a new generation of AI-chatbots will generate a lot more messaging traffic that will be carried on telcos’ networks, as text messages are made audible and the communication becomes conversational. There are also big implications for customer service if finally chatbots can take automated customer service to a whole different level, including personalisation.

This has rather suddenly become a possibility just as telcos are starting to roll out 5G Standalone in earnest which will eventually allow customers to set up their own slices to match granular parameters. Avoiding a clunky user interface would be a massive win.

Then of course what’s good for external use with customers could be applied internally too, as the democratisation of integration progresses.

DT’s rise helped by cloud

Deutsche Telekom group started 2023 with a bang, announcing its market capitalisation had exceeded €100 billion on 11 January – in line with CEO Timotheus Höttges expectations. The share price passed the €20 threshold for the first time since 2001, making DT the sixth largest telecom company in the world based on equity value.

While there is no denying that DT’s fortunes have improved dramatically in the wake of its US’ subsidiary’s merger with rival Sprint in 2020, the operator was keen to stress this was not the only reason for its success. On the same day its German opco Telekom Deutschland announced it had completed the migration of 10 million voice subscribers to its cloud platform, which handles billions of minutes and interoperates with about 100 interconnect partners.

This is a major milestone in its Next-generation IP Multimedia Subsystem (NIMS) strategy. Caroline Chappell, Research Director, Cloud & Platform Services at Analysys Mason was quoted saying, “The level of automation in the NIMS architecture is exceptionally high and forward-looking. Deutsche Telekom has set a new standard for the industry with its bold, vendor-agnostic approach.”

Its partners for NIMS include Juniper Networks for cloud infrastructure and as the prime integrator, plus Mavenir, Metaswitch (part of Microsoft), Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Lenovo and Red Hat. Telekom Deutschland added, “Due to the high level of disaggregation and the horizontal cloud approach, more technology partners can easily be added as the demand for services grows”.

Killer combo: SD-WAN, analytics and automation

Organisations need to augment SD-WAN with analytics and automation to derive maximum benefits according to Brandon Butler, Research Manager at IDC’s Enterprise Networks practice. He was speaking at a webinar sponsored by Cisco. Butler is a proponent of melding security and networking control, noting that all the core SD-WAN vendors support some analytics and automation components that assist with this, including Cisco, Juniper Networks, Extreme Networks and Palo Alto Networks.

As SD-WAN relies on interoperability with cloud, “It is necessary for network analytics solutions to heighten visibility into and control over cloud services, resources, connections, and application performance,” IDC wrote in a recent report Analytics and Automation: Driving SD-WAN Success at the Network Edge.

IDC found that enterprises link observability with automation from its 2022 worldwide survey: more than 75% of respondents said they use or plan to use observability intelligence and insights to support automation efforts.

Predicting and preventing failures

The UK’s National Grid chose EXFO’s Intellisense Systems weather tracking and remote fibre testing, monitoring and AI analytics for a pilot to predict and prevent operational failures. The Grid carries a telecoms network across its electricity transmission infrastructure that is essential to provide secure, critical, operational information. EXFO’s tech will help assess the condition of the fibre infrastructure, and predict its lifespan and potential vulnerabilites that could cause outages.

EXFO will measure, analyse, and report results from an 80 km span of the National Grid network, in an area that routinely has challenging weather, over a 12-month period. Deployment of test equipment and Intellisense devices started in October 2022.

Separately, EXFO’s diagnostic capabilities have been added to Telescent’s Gen 4 Network Topology Manager (G4 NTM).  Telescent’s robotic patch panel system helps to automate fibre management, while EXFO’s remote fibre testing system provides visibility of reconfigured optical circuits, thereby closing the automation loop and making diagnostics and proactive management easier.

Thinking networks

ETSI ENTRANCE

In Sophia Antipolis, an area in the south of France known for considerably better weather, ETSI group on Experiential Networked Intelligence (ISG ENI) published a White Paper describing the design of a novel cognitive network. It explains how the novel system architecture (based on ETSI GS ENI-005) intelligently manages, predicts, adjusts and optimises network behaviour using cognition management to improve the operators’ experience.

Ray Forbes, Chair of the ETSI ISG ENI, noted, “The ETSI ENI system is a set of hierarchical closed control loops based on extensions to the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act model. These extensions enable the ENI Cognitive Architecture to adapt its behaviour according to changes in user needs, business goals, and environmental conditions. As an example, the ENI system could reconfigure a set of 5G slices to meet changing service needs.”

Microsoft ups the Open RAN ante, SA and private 5G to rise in 2023

 As a tumultuous 2022 ends, network automation and intelligent operations went out with a bang in December. Contributing Editor Annie Turner rounds up the highlights.

Microsoft is developing analytics and control technologies to support vRAN kit from third-party vendors running on Microsoft’s edge platforms. According to a blog by Yousef Khalidi, Corporate VP of Azure for Operators at Microsoft, it plans to extend the RIC architecture specified by the O-RAN Alliance.

Extending architecture

That architecture exposes telemetry and control interfaces with predefined service models (known as the E2 interface) for Open RAN vendors to implement in support of near-real-time xApp applications which help operators monitor Open RANs.

Caption: Microsoft’s proposed overall framework with the dynamic service model denoted by the letter D within the star circle.

Source: Microsoft blog, December 2022

Microsoft plans to extend the E2 interface so that it can dynamically extract detailed internal data and real-time telemetric data from live RAN software without interfering with RAN operations. Khalidi claims, “This technology…with detailed platform telemetry, [means] operators can achieve better network monitoring and performance optimization for their 5G networks, and enable new AI, analytics, and automation capabilities that were not possible before.”

Speeding up 5G monetisation

IBM, Casa Systems, and Enea are collaborating on a private 5G platform designed to help operators make more money from 5G deployments through rapid entry into new markets. IBM is contributing its Cloud Pak for Network Automation platform: Cisco’s Crosswork service was added to Pak last October to automate and abstract the complex process of virtualising the RAN and network core. Operators can orchestrate the management of virtual 5G networks, and optical and IP infrastructure using one cloud framework.

Casa Systems is providing its 5G core that runs on its Axyom Software Framework to enable private 5G coverage and capacity, while Enea brings its end-to-end encrypted comms and managements of subscribers’ data.

IBM and Casa are also to build an Open RAN platform for private 5G use cases, including work on the RIC to support Open RAN interoperability and network automation across different hardware and software components.

T-Mobile selects Cisco to flex 5G SA

T-Mobile US has again chosen Cisco to a launch a cloud-native 5G core gateway to improve the flexibility of its 5G Standalone (SA) core for 5G and 4G traffic. They says it is the world’s largest cloud-native, converged core gateway. The two have a long-standing relationship: T-Mobile’s 5G SA core is based on Cisco’s cloud-native control plane, which uses Kubernetes to orchestrate containers running on bare metal which is said to reduce central processing unit usage by 20%.

The US operator has deployed Cisco’s 8000 Series routers, 5G and 4G LTE packet core gateways, Unified Computing System (UCS) platform and Nexus 9000 Series Switches. The latter run the vendor’s Network Services Orchestrator for full-stack automation. T-Mobile US said automation simplifies “network functions across the cloud, edge and data centers to

significantly reduce operational lifecycle management.”

Rel-17 adds to automation arsenal

(Rel-17) has additions for intelligent automated networks – features for enhanced self-organising networks (SON) and minimisation of drive tests (MDT). Future intelligent, automated networks will need unprecedented analytical capabilities, an extensive knowledge base of previous performance and continuous access to real-time data from every part of the network. The new features make it easier to gather and use data from users’ equipment and other network nodes to serve as the eyes and ears of the network. Read more about the background to this work and its import here.

Can test software fly high?

Nokia has teamed up with Rohde & Schwarz, the testing and measurement specialist, to explore the possibility of adding software-based, network measurement tools to its drone platform. Nokia already uses drones to measure networks’ performance, by attaching a smartphone loaded with Rhode & Schwarz’s QualiPoc 4.9G/LTE and 5G network measurement capabilities to the drone.

If the application could be embedded in the software, it would reduce the weight of the drone, enabling longer flight times and lower power consumption. Thomas Eder, Head of Embedded Wireless Solutions at Nokia, said, “By consuming Rohde & Schwarz QualiPoc and SmartMonitor in this way, customers can increase the value of their existing Nokia Drone Network deployments and leverage a high level of automation to gain real-time data for tasks such as network performance assessments.”

Overall optimism spills into 2023

Almost two-thirds (63%) of respondents to the Telecoms.com Annual Industry Report said they thought 2022 was an excellent or good year. Operators think 5G SA will drive greater adoption of 5G in 2023, but think security, digital transformation, IoT and broadband will be the four main areas of telecoms that business will focus on this year. Despite the overall optimism, respondents identified legacy infrastructure and siloed operations across technologies are obstacles to broadband network and service automation.

Broadband network automation Downunder

On which subject, NBN Co, the operator responsible for Australia’s National Broadband Network (nbn), announced it is to deploy Nokia’s new Lightspan MF-14 optical line terminal (OLT). The decision coincided with the Australian government pledging an additional AUD$2.4 billion (US$1.62 billion, €1.53 billion) to deploy more fiber in the NBN.

The upgrade programme, which starts this year, will focus on extending fibre to the node (FTTN) architectures to FTTP, which will benefit more than 1.5 million homes and businesses. The Lightspan MF-14 will also ready the network to support 25Gbps passive optical network capabilities, which over time could be upgraded with 50G PON and beyond, the parties say.

The Lightspan MF-14 will be deployed in tandem with Nokia’s Altiplano Access Controller which will deliver greater software-defined (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) capabilities to improve network automation.

ETSI says network automation can improve telcos’ finances

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

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

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

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

Network automation market growing fast

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

Heavy Reading survey on network slicing

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

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

Operational challenges for network slicing

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Source: Heavy Reading

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

Drei Austria moves towards full automation

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

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

 

Strengthening the RAN in Libya

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

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

 

New standard

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

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

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

Vodafone announces slew of ambitious Open RAN plans with multiple partners

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

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

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

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

Expanding Europe’s ecosystem

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

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

 

Commercial pilot in Germany

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

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

 

Marvell – another starring role

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

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

Boosting Massive MIMO

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

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

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

Cutting the cost of upgrading 4G sites to 5G

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

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

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

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

Cloud infrastructure market on the up, service assurance gets a makeover

It’s been a busy month for new products and solutions that will power future networks. Contributing editor Annie Turner provides a whistlestop tour.

Analysys Mason estimates that the network cloud infrastructure sector for telecoms will quadruple from $6.9 billion in 2020 to $30.1 billion by 2026, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28%. It expects the growth to be mainly driven by operators’ 5G investments in vRAN, the standalone core and network edge. The analyst house splits the market into five main sub-segments: network cloud hardware; virtual infrastructure management (VIM); container-as-a-service (CaaS); virtualisation layer and data centre software-defined network control. It reckons vRAN will be the fastest growing cloud domain in terms of spending (with a CAGR 58%) with investment in this area reaching $12 billion by 2026.

Dell Technologies is introducing a cloud infrastructure solution, engineered with Wind River, to help operators simplify and accelerate cloud-native network deployments. Dell’s telecom partner certification programme should allow technology partners to validate and integrate their products within a “growing open technology ecosystem”. Dell points out that unlike clouds typically used by enterprises, clouds for mobile networks must address distributed geographic areas and strict service level agreements (SLAs) while supporting a range of software, compute and networking technologies that have made these deployments complex and costly.

Cloud Metro for scale and security

Juniper Networks has applied cloud principles to architect, build, and operate metro networks. The firm describes it as “an experience-first network,” which “provides a quality service instead of mere packet transport, with automated and AI-aware operations at the forefront of new approach.” Juniper argues that metro traffic is estimated to grow 500% by 2027, but the cost per bit is not sustainable, and network cannot scale efficiently. Also, security is challenging, as is the shortage of skills, plus ITU standards require greenhouse emissions to be reduced to 45% by 2030. In short, traditional metro isn’t up to it, but Juniper says its Cloud Metro offer is.

Viva Las Vegas!

Rakuten Symphony announces Symops Service Assurance at MWC in Las Vegas. According to the company, it has already been deployed in commercial networks and delivered modern monitoring, network change management and navigation of daily operational tasks in 40% less time than usual. It also claims that configuration errors can be cut by 70% and trouble tickets halved. It points out that these “enablers” are usually sold separately but that fault, performance and configuration management, automation engine, data management and analytics, are all part of the Symworld platform. Further, this consolidation of operational domain data (RAN, core, transport, BSS, and security) and end-to-end data management “leads to transformational outcomes versus traditional approaches”.

Still more from MWC

VMware unveiled several new products and partnerships at MWC Las Vegas, designed to accelerate 5G core, RAN and edge deployments, and lifecycle management. This includes VMware an expanded version of its Telco Cloud Platform Ecosystem so operators can upgrade the control plane and worker node pools separately, and secure their 5G networks with intrusion detection and prevention system (IDPS) for east-west network traffic. VMware says is also can speed the deployment of network services due to a growing partner ecosystem of more than 275 virtual- and cloud-network functions (VNFs and CNFs) including Mavenir’s Converged Packet Core.

VMware launch its Telco Cloud Service Assurance 2.0, which DISH Wireless will test to monitor its distributed-cloud infrastructure and collect metrics and logs for actionable insights and to facilitate closed-loop automated provisioning and management. The VMware Telco Cloud Platform RAN 2.0 is intended to simplifying deployments across distributed RAN sites with “cloud-smart automation”. This release apparently improves performance, operability and scale.

TCS opens two new telecom arms

India’s The Economic Times reports Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has created two new business unit dedicated to telecom and 5G solutions. They are the network solutions and services unit (NSS) to cater for 5G deployment and engineering. The cognitive enterprise network unit (CEN) is to offer intelligent network management solutions. NSS will focus on solutions including: product engineering for wireless services and radio frequency; network roll-out for wireline services; intelligent networks; network virtualisation and automation; 5G services and network planning. TCS is India’s largest IT services company by revenue and is reportedly in the final stages of closing a potential $2 billion 4G network implementation deal with state-run operator BSNL.

Lab-as-a-Service

HFCL announced the launch of 5G Lab-as-a-Service to accelerate roll-out of 5G solutions and services. From prototyping to end-to-end testing, HFCL’s 5G Lab are intended to enable telecom operators and ecosystem partners to co-create 5G solutions, services and business models and build new 5G use cases. HFCL says the lab is relevant to sectors including manufacturing, transportation, healthcare and retail and that it will provide access to highly skilled teams with expertise in 5G networks and devices including expertise in DevOps, continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD), Kubernetes and cloud-native technologies for testing in 5G environments.

 

Network slicing Down Under, revitalised BSS/OSS and very different greenhouse effects

Contributing Editor Annie Turner looks at some of the market and technology moves around network automation over recent weeks. 

Telstra is claiming a world first is on the way – a suite of 5G Standalone automated and orchestrated services for enterprises. Ericsson says the two companies have stepped out of the lab “to deploy an automated standards-based network slicing service orchestration capability in the commercial network, using Ericsson Orchestration and Ericsson Inventory”.

New functions include: interworking with fully automated 5G network slicing; Local Packet Gateway which provides enterprise customers with on-site local data breakout; and 5G enterprise routers with network slicing capabilities, delivered by the Ericsson unit Cradlepoint.

With the 5G RAN and dual-mode 5G Core, Telstra should be able to offer enterprise customers differentiated services that deliver assured networ nk characteristics such as throughput, latency and resilience for digitised operations and processes.

And all that Jazz

Pakistan’s 4G operator, Jazz, has chosen Juniper Networks to build an expanded and upgraded data centre network to underpin Jazz’s services delivery platform for its 74.9 million subscribers. Jazz’s objective was to refresh its architectural approach, leveraging continuous automation, assurance and data-driven insights to deliver a better network user experience, at scale, while simplifying operations.

Jazz chose Juniper after a rigorous technology appraisal that focused on the operational and cost efficiencies made possible by network automation. According to the press release, “Juniper’s advanced automation capabilities, transforming the entire network management lifecycle process within a single system, were a standout in the market”.

Automation is the future

In early September, BT gave a progress report on its ambitious plans, outlined in summer 2021, to modernise its infrastructure. It reckons it can shave £500 million off its operating costs by getting rid of a long list networks and services based on legacy technologies by the end of the decade, with overall network running costs reduced by about 30%.

In a media session at its new London HQ, BT’s CTO Howard Watson said, “There remains a real challenge to earn a return on capital and we are a very infrastructure-intensive business and technology lifecycles are actually quite short”. BT’s Chief Architect, Neil McRae, added, “The future is about automation and network capability where you need it. With legacy that is not possible, and we want to shut that down.”

Still growth in BSS/OSS

Omdia’s practice leader, James Crawshaw, said he expects the telco IT market to exceed $40 billion by 2027, up from more than $30 billion in 2021. He explained that although BSS/OSS are seen as mature technologies, parts of that market thrived during the pandemic as service providers invested in better automation and customer experience for those platforms.

In particular he noted that over the last year, Amdocs, has enjoyed 8% organic growth, up from 2% where it had been for some years, and even that had been driven by acquisition to some extent. He also cited Netcracker’s success in this sphere, and Nokia and Ericsson’s significant presence, adding, “We try and work out what the revenues are of all of the major players and there’s a long tail…we track…or estimate the revenues of around 100 companies, but it’s really the top 10 that make up probably 40% of the revenue…that’s we get to for our estimate about $30 billion [now].”

Google Cloud joins TM Forum

Just in time for TM Forum’s Digital Transformation World in Copenhagen, Denmark, Google Cloud has joined the global association to help the telecoms industry unlock “growth and potential”. The hyperscaler is to work with the Forum and its members to realise the value of cloud-native automation in network evolution. This includes applying AI, like machine learning, to improve customers’ experience, and leveraging cloud computing to open new areas of growth and monetization.

Further, Google Cloud will work with the Forum’s members to help them “access a single source of truth around their data through better data management, automation, and data governance in multi-hybrid cloud environments”. This includes the two organisations demonstrating use cases that show how AI can optimise and modernise networks and helping to develop closed-loop APIs.

A different greenhouse effect

Vodafone has deployed a 5G private network at a Bayer greenhouse in Monheim, Germany, to improve its research into insecticides. The greenhouse covers 11,000 square meters and consists of 133 chambers, in each of which climatic conditions can be simulated with different temperatures and humidity, day lengths and so on. The network will support tools like autonomous robots, AI and digital imaging.

Alexander Saul, head of corporate customers at Vodafone Germany. “The basis for this is the 5G network with high bandwidths and extremely short response times to handle the amount of data generated transport and reliably maintain the flow of information.”

Autonomous robots can obtain knowledge about plants’ health quickly using AI and digital imaging via a series of 5G antennas that provide the greenhouse with a 5G Standalone connection, which Vodafone brands as 5G+.

BT private 5G partnership buoys Ericsson, while declarative code gets a grip

Contributing Editor Annie Turner looks at some of the market and technology moves around network automation over recent weeks. 

BT and Ericsson (UK and Ireland) signed multi-million-pound partnership to provide commercial 5G networks. The two claim this is the first commercial 5G private network agreement of its kind in the UK. They also said it would “combine BT’s expertise in building converged fixed and mobile networks with Ericsson’s leading 5G network technology and enterprise solutions”.

Ericsson ended May on something of high, having had a torrid 2022 so far. In January it reported what Bloomberg called “stellar results”, with year-on-year profits up by 41%, but activist investor Cevian Capital, took the opportunity to complain about the Swedish vendor’s low share price, its $6.2 billion Vonage acquisition last November, and a lack of clarity about the enterprise market. Ericsson’s share price and reputation subsequently took a serious battering when allegations of payments to ISIS in Iraq surfaced.

https://newsroom.bt.com/bt-and-ericsson-sign-multi-million-pound-partnership-to-provide-commercial-5g-networks/
BT’s Paul Murnaghan with Joe O’Neill from Belfast Harbour

Remedial measure

In the face of fierce criticism, in mid-May Ericsson announced it was restructuring to drive growth, which includes setting up a new division for Business Area Enterprise Wireless Solutions, comprising Cradlepoint and Dedicated Networks. George Mulhern is appointed head of the unit and will join the Ericsson executive team. The new structure will be in place from 1 June.

BT and Ericsson have worked together on major projects incorporating private 5G networks, including Belfast Harbour in Northern Ireland. They say their contract paves the way for BT to sell 5G products to enterprises in sectors from manufacturing to defence, education, retail, healthcare, transport and logistics.

Getting your ducks in a row

Sinéad Pillion, Head of Operations Ericsson Athlone, with Minister of State Robert Troy and Denis Dullea, Head of R&D Ericsson Athlone

Just before the contract was announcement, BT said it would invest almost £100 million over the next three years in its Division X unit which is supposed to accelerate the development of customer solutions which embed tech including 5G, IoT, edge compute, cloud and AI. Division X is led by Marc Overton.

For its part just ahead of the announcement with BT, Ericsson said it would recruit will hire 250 cloud native software developers, engineers and architects to its Athlone R&D centre in Ireland to work on 5G projects.

Ericsson says its Irish operation has grown 25% over the past five years and that it also intends to attract software developers, data scientists, architects, cloud and mobile communication engineers to the centre over the next three years.

Denis Dullea, Head of R&D at Ericsson Athlone said the moves are “to enhance our capability to deliver the benefits of cloud native technologies to our global customer base via our RAN, Management, Automation and Orchestration offerings.”

DIY declarative code gathers pace

There were some interesting findings in the Nemertes Network Automation Research Study 2022, published in May 2022. It looked at how organisations with a lot of Cisco kit in their infrastructure implement network automation. Turns out that fewer than 20% use its flagship DNA Center network controller and management dashboard to automate provisioning and change management.

By contrast, more than 40% of those surveyed provide their own automation solutions from a combo of imperative scripting or programming (Python in the main), while about half use a model other than imperative or in addition to it – declarative automation.

We explored the importance of declarative coding in our recent interview with Philippe Ensarguet, Group CTO of Orange Business Services. In short, declarative coding (such as HTML) describes the desired outcomes and achieves them using reconciliation loops to fix any deviations from the pre-set desired state.

Most programming is imperative – a series of ‘If this happens, do that and then if X happens do Y’. Accuracy is critical: it is not forgiving if the sequence isn’t correct or the coder includes more or less than is required.

The study found 33% of the organizations interviewed used Red Hat’s Ansible for network automation because of the increased use of DevOps and its infrastructure as code approach. It started out as imperative but then graduated to declarative around five years ago. Gluware is designed for network automation in Cisco-heavy environments.

As M. Ensarguet explained, a declarative approach can support full automation so that as data centres, networks and storage are softwarised, the people working in these areas make all employees affected by this shift “more effective, more productive,” He added. “If you are not able to automate longer or deeper than with the CI/CD [continuous integration/continuous delivery], then you have no lever to manage the scaling – and that’s critical to the whole [automation] thing.”

It looks like that message is increasingly well understood from the Nemertes research, and we’ll leave them with the last word from the study (see ‘Recommendations’ image).

 

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