Michael Fränkle, Executive Vice President and CTO, TDC NET, talks to Contributing Editor, Annie Turner, as part of the Ericsson Data Driven Transformation series.
In October 2021, TDC NET outperformed operators around the world by delivering the best mobile experience in the world, based on Tutela’s Excellent Consistent Quality metric which rates networks on overall mobile experience. In our second data-driven blog post we explore how data-driven operations played a key role in helping TDC NET achieve its highest-ever network performance. We spoke to Michael Fränkle, Executive Vice President and CTO, TDC NET, about TDC NET’s operational and business changes, and ambitious plans for the future.
Michael Fränkle has held the role of Executive Vice President and CTO at TDC NET since November 2017. During this period the leading Danish communication service provider (CSP) has undergone some seismic changes. The most obvious of which was in June 2019 when the operator decided to split its business into two legally and operationally individual subsidiaries: TDC NET and Nuuday. The two companies began operating separately on the 1st of January 2022.
The idea behind this decoupling was to allow each subsidiary to excel in their respective areas. This has resulted in TDC NET focusing on the provision of digital infrastructure, especially fiber and 5G, to service providers on an open access basis. Whereas Nuuday is Denmark’s largest provider of connectivity, communication and entertainment services.
TDC NET’s desire to push the boundaries and unleash the power of 5G was the catalyst for the 2019 decision to expand their long-standing partnership with Ericsson, this time through a network performance-focused collaboration.
This kicked off a new chapter, with the partners agreeing to collaborate on three elements: a move to Ericsson Managed Services, the complete replacement of the RAN plane and an agreement to transform the core; meaning the mobile core plus parts of the fixed, wireline services.
We asked Fränkle: “How much is using Ericsson Managed Services a case of ‘just’ handing over responsibility?”
Fränkle smiles wryly and says: “It’s not that easy when you talk about national critical infrastructure and a NOC [network operations centre], which in Ericsson’s case is located in Bucharest, Romania. They have lots of security rules to respect and to comply with, but also there’s the cultural barrier – how we tackle things, especially when the heat is on and things reach a crunch point when we are running an incident.”
When the closer collaboration began, Fränkle explains, “We saw we were sitting in the same boat – our goals were the Ericsson team’s goals and the Ericsson team’s goals were ours and this has continued right up to today. In the beginning, for the managed service part you have to make some adjustments – to ramble, form, norm and storm – but it went fairly well, with a mutual understanding of the objectives.
“We rapidly gained a mutual understanding of our processes, our measurements, our monitoring procedures, and things like that. This was a critical task, and a critical part of our success was the ability to sit in the same boat without rocking it.”
As a multi-access operator, TDC NET runs fiber, coax and copper broadband networks, which contain a lot of legacy solutions. The combination of 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G mobile networks also created extra complexity during the switch out process.
“The biggest driver of all [to improve network performance] is to manage that complexity and transform our operations from an incumbent operator, with had lots of manual interventions, into a more automated, resilient set-up which is competitive for customers,” Fränkle says.
Paradoxically, the two big inhibitors to deploying automation are the very complexity Fränkle is striving to tame and handling customers and their experience.
“Operations-wise, we are looking at the entire network plane as a single domain. This is how we run it because the customer doesn’t care if an incident is in the mobile or transport network or the IP core. It’s all the same to them.”
So where did TDC NET apply automation first?
“We started on the entire Ericsson Managed Services part [so] the radio and core networks, but we are expanding the automation, scoping it to our backbone and backhaul monitoring on the fixed line side. This is our vision,” Fränkle says.
More specifically, the operator started with the Ericsson Operations Engine, a component of its Managed Services, which processes massive data sets using AI and machine learning to provide a high-resolution image of the network.
“We looked at mobile, especially when we switched on 5G, but used it also for 4G and the other mobile technologies. Our desired end state is automation covering all technologies, [both] fixed and mobile.”
Fränkle and his team set about optimizing the network to reduce downtime and the number of network incidents. They also focused on implementing ways to minimize their impact on customers, for example, by making the mean time to repair as short as possible.
To achieve these objectives the team focused on good analytics, good monitoring and a good incident-management process.
“Automation is the only way to avoid human error. If you have an automated plane from network elements to the NOC [network operations center], it helps improve performance significantly.”
The most significant improvement so far is reflected in the key performance indicator (KPI): service impact. Service impact measures the ratio of hours of service to the number of incidents. The results so far are impressive: over the last four years incident reports have fallen 10 percent and are at the best level they’ve been at for 25 years; when the network was a far simpler proposition.
“Clearly we are on the right track, but we’re not finished yet,” Fränkle continues. “In the last four years, we have been rated as providing the best mobile network experience in the world, a rating that was measured by drive tests. From a device point of view, crowd-sourced measurement reports have also rated TDC NET as the best provider of mobile Android experience in the world.”
As TDC NET’s customers are service providers, mobile operators, with some exclusive arrangements on mobile and fixed, and some open access arrangements, this brings major benefits to the service providers and their customers.
Backhaul and the backbone
Now the plan is to achieve those accolades close for backhaul and in the backbone as TDC NET still has some systems that need to adhere to the Ericsson Operations Engine.
Fränkle says. “The biggest challenge here is ensuring the systems are in that one network domain, so that the different IT and monitoring systems can talk to each other, and we can adapt to needs and have an automated plane in these systems. Some are older, some newer, but we want to bring them all into the holistic view of the Ericsson Managed Services.”
“Using the Ericsson Operations Engine is a data-driven transformation journey for us. We know it has been a success story for other operators in other countries with different priorities and as a global partner, Ericsson can help us innovate. In the last years in our partnership, we can clearly see this.”
Automating backhaul and the backbone in the fixed infrastructure is something of a different kettle of fish to what has been achieved in the mobile network.
“We are learning different dimensions; this is where we meet the software world. Coming from a big hardware manufacturing company, Ericsson is learning with us how to integrate with the software, in fast cycles.
“The idea is not only to do upgrades every half year or so, but to do them in DevOps mode. We’re working hard to get there on the SA [standalone] – to play out the full game of scale-driven automation with a single man or woman [running the] NOC is the journey we are on. We have manual processes in place and that needs to be overcome in the months, not years.”
TDC NET Operations is still running some AXE systems from Ericsson from the 80s and 90s.
“The people who run them are retiring before the machines, which is big kudos to Ericsson,” Fränkle observes. “But power technologies have improved over the last 40 years, which is why I’m saying take them down as fast and aggressively as possible, but on the revenue side, we need to watch how we migrate these customers into a meaningful future with new, replacement products.
“This is where we need the core transformation to make sure that we can capture existing customers and revenue lines with new technologies. This migration is critical because if we lose them, we will harm our business.”
Fränkle believes that the commercial model and the time-to-market for new services is critical: “I will give you an example; we had a Tour de France in Denmark over summer, and we a local TV production gave us very short notice to ensure they could backhaul the TV stream over the 5G network. We had hours not days – our team working with Ericsson’s. This technology enables it.
“The next thing is for us to find products, and revenue generation and monetization mechanism to capture good income from it. We have shown the technology works by slicing 5G and in the right configurations. The next step is to scale it and monetize this fantastic technology.”
He acknowledges enterprises don’t fully understand the potential of 5G yet, but says, “The appetite comes with a meal. We see this now with 5G and… I’m 100 percent sure we will have a success story as we did with previous generations of mobile. The difference is you’re also changing parts of the business model. It’s not only about bigger bandwidth and a new SIM card, but about slicing and serving local providers with high reliability networks so they can address groups other than consumers in a B2C model.”
- Read more about Managed Services
- Learn more about TDC NET case
- Discover how TDC NET and Ericsson cooked up the world’s best mobile experience
- Explore the Operations Data-driven transformation blog series [Blog#1: Data-driven operations: does it pay off?
- Register for a free webinar with visionary speakers & Ericsson experts about the data-driven transformation journey. Register for a live webinar with visionary speakers & Ericsson experts
This article was originally published on the Ericsson website here on the 2nd of December 2022.