Automating to tackle unprecedented disruption

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Duncan Greenwood GM for VMware’s Northern Region, EMEA, examines the increased need for automation that comes with 5G.

The telecoms industry is experiencing a moment of unprecedented disruption. As it prepares to shift from 4G to 5G, they find themselves having to manage both physical and virtual infrastructures on a scale never before seen, while also contending with the growing importance of the network edge.

That’s before the demands of innovations such as smart cities and an expanding IoT universe are taken into account, plus a predicted increase in communication intensity, or time spent connected, of 63 per cent over the next ten years.

All of this against a backdrop of heightened customer expectations that must be satisfied.

To meet these challenges head on, CSPs worldwide are having to go through major digital transformation to increase service and business agility.

Why are they putting themselves through this? Because of the huge opportunities this period of transition offers – new lines of business and sources of revenue, coupled with the multitude of efficiencies enhanced optimisation and automation promise.

Successful digital transformation brings increased complexity

The goal of digital transformation is to enable CSPs to better compete in the digital economy with a flexible and programmable network, powered by network functions virtualization (NFV), and software-defined networking (SDN). Together, these two technologies significantly increase network complexity, resulting in new requirements and pressure points for operations.

More devices, more variables, more complexity – it is increasingly difficult to have end-to-end visibility and assess actual network issues in real time. This in turns limits CSPs’ ability to link network performance with service quality and customer experience, which is vital to provide actionable intelligence for the physical and virtual networks tasked with delivering dynamic digital services.

That is the major issue. CSPs cannot expect customers to put up with continuous disruption. There are alternatives to their offerings, whether new entrants lacking legacy infrastructure or better prepared established players. All of this means CSPs must prepare for tomorrow while still delivering the essentials of today. That’s easier said and than done, so how do they go about achieving this?

Ultimately, they need to work backwards from the customer. It is the experience of providers that matters, meaning they should continually be asking how much and what sort of resource would be best deployed.

On the front line, for example, successfully dealing with customers requires human interaction – to empathise, to connect, to offer tailored solutions and facilitate those experiences consumers expect. But as we get further from the customer, how much human is really needed? It may seem counter-intuitive, but does the answer to best supporting human workforces in delivering exceptional customer experiences actually lie in automating where possible?

Smarter automation for better customer experiences

Currently, CSPs rely on human intervention at each layer, reacting to issues. Greater speed is required, however, if they’re going to keep up with, and ahead of, the disruptive opportunities within the industry. In order to deliver on the promise of 5G and digital transformation, CSPs must embrace operations automation and look at every opportunity to reduce human intervention. This can be supported by comprehensive management tools already available – ones that can integrate and interlink multiple networks to ensure the highest possible experience for their customers.

To that end, what if CSPs could adopt truly smart automation, removing that need for intervention and shifting them from a reactive to proactive footing? Suddenly, they can continuously monitor for situations that could cause network incidents, detecting abnormal patterns before these have a chance to disrupt service. And, when incidents cannot be prevented, automatically identify the root cause of the problem.

Furthermore, as new devices or virtual functions are moved, added or changed, smart automation tools ensure the network topology is automatically updated and refreshed, eliminating the need for manual updates by the network ops team. This level of assurance automation is even more critical in NFV and cloud-native networks due to the inherently dynamic nature of virtual network functions (VNFs) and service chains.

So, everything moves faster – when issues are identified proactively, solutions can be deployed before users flag the problems. And with the right tools, the management of different environments can all be delivered through one solution. In other words, having complete, end-to-end visibility.

As a result, network operators can focus on delivering quality of service guarantees, meet stringent service level agreements, and provide a high-quality customer experience, rather than spend their time troubleshooting network problems.

High standards today, future-proofed for tomorrow

In doing so, CSPs can continue to deliver a high standard today, while investing and deploying for tomorrow. Rather than frustrating people with railway-style upgrades, new services simply appear in the eyes of the customer, with no inclination of the alterations happening behind the scene.

It is a rich, integrated approach to managing ever-changing networks. It goes beyond traditional service assurance and infrastructure monitoring to provide a complete approach to physical, virtual and service-based network management.

This automated approach is the only way CSPs can keep pace with the avalanche of new services, tighter cross-domain dependencies and virtualized networks.

 

Duncan Greenwood is Vice President and General Manager for VMware’s Northern Region, EMEA, responsible for driving business growth across VMware’s compute, cloud, mobility, networking and security portfolio in the UK, Ireland, Benelux and Nordics.

Nokia raises its OSS game

In the build up to MWC 2020 Nokia has got one of its announcements in early, in the form of the ‘cloud-native’ Network Operations Master software.

Turns out 5G is pretty complicated and at times there’s so much going on that you can’t possibly expect flawed, obsolete humans to stay on top of it. That’s why you need greater automation, we’re told, and that has to start with the network operations software, or OSS in old money. Nokia prides itself on its software, so the launch of a new OSS suite is presumably a fairly big deal for them.

“With 5G forcing traditional functions, like revenue management and customer care, to the cloud and helping drive software deeper into the network, communication service providers need a modern approach to performing network operations that is automated, more efficient and scalable,” said Ron Haberman, CTO at Nokia Software. “The Nokia Network Operations Master delivers these capabilities and allows our customers to perform lifecycle operations with ease, efficiency, and confidence.”

Network slicing will make automation and a much higher level of cloudy flexibility critical features of any network software. NOM also covers AI, machine learning, etc and is designed to just take care of all the plumbing, allowing network operations centres to focus on the stuff only people can manage, if such a thing still exists.

“5G networks will require significantly more operations automation than past networks in order to achieve promised levels of efficiency and new service support,” Nokia got Dana Cooperson, Research Director at Analysys Mason, to say. “Nokia’s Network Operations Master is a cloud-native network management system that is underpinned by machine learning and automated actions and provides the types of tools mobile network operations teams need now for 5G.”

Here are a couple of vids that may tell you more.

Nokia gets German train automation gig

German rail company Deutsche Bahn is really keen on automation and ha picked Nokia to help it take humans out of the equation.

Deutsche Bahn has a project called S-Bahn, which is all about automation. As part of that Nokia has won the work to test and deliver what it claims will be the world’s first 5G SA system for automated rail operation. At this stage it’s all about proof-of-concept and finding out whether 5G is mature enough to be used as the connectivity layer for digitalized rail operations.

The time parameters for all this seem to be somewhat vague as, even if it’s not mature enough now, it may be in a year or two, so this is presumably a rolling (see what I did there) exercise. The fact that the standard for 5G-powered rail is simply called Future Railway Mobile Communication System implies this whole area is very much in its infancy, but you have to start somewhere.

“We are very pleased to be Deutsche Bahn’s partner, bringing digital technology to the forefront of the Hamburg S-Bahn network and rail system,” said Kathrin Buvac, President of Nokia Enterprise and Chief Strategy Officer. “Together, we have worked to research, develop and deliver the world’s first 5G-based communication system for automated rail operation, an important milestone towards the Future Rail Mobile Communication System and a major step in making Industry 4.0 a reality.”

This comes hot on the heels of the announcement that SK Telecom and Samsung are doing similar work to automate ships, as 5G initially shows more promise on the B2B than consumer side. It should be stressed that the plan is still to have human beings on-board, keeping an eye on things, but it’s still unnerving to see how quickly we’re relinquishing control of all kinds of vehicles.

SK Telecom and Samsung give 5G remote-controlled ships a go

Korea is looking to lead the way on autonomous shipping following the development of a 5G-based test platform by SK Telecom and Samsung Heavy Industries.

The new platform even includes a 3.3-meter-long test ship made by Samsung, which is equipped with with 5G-based LiDAR, a cloud-based IoT platform and T Live Caster, SK Telecom’s real-time video monitoring solution. Its maiden voyage took place in a shipyard that is covered by SK Telecom’s 5G network, enabling it to be remote controlled from 250 km away and to remotely keep an eye on its autonomous decisions.

“Today’s successful test marks a meaningful step towards commercialization of technologies for autonomous navigation of ships powered by 5G,” said Choi Il-gyu, Head of the B2B Office of SK Telecom. “SK Telecom will continue to drive innovations in the manufacturing sector with the world’s best 5G network and technologies.”

“We have now secured an optimal research environment to make a leap in the area of autonomous navigation ship technologies by combining Samsung Heavy Industries’ autonomous and remote navigation system and SK Telecom’s 5G communication technologies,” said Shim, Yong-Lae, VP of the SHI Ship & Offshore Research Institute.

While the thought of a supertanker cruising around the place thinking for itself is pretty alarming and dystopian, the companies involved insist this kind of technology actually improves safety, especially in narrow or shoreline environments, thanks to the ability to monitor the movements of other ships in real time. So long as the technology also ensures a human can step in if needed then that does sound plausible, if still a bit scary.

The First Network Slice Trial for Intelligent Manufacturing: How does the value of 5G reflect?

Recently, together with Zhejiang Branch of China Telecom and Zhejiang Bluetron, ZTE announced the successful commission of the first “5G Slicing + MEC + Intelligent Manufacturing” project in China, which will undoubtedly serve as a good example for the application of 5G in the manufacturing industry.

It seems that it is one of the areas that 5G has been exploring in the vertical industry this year. ZTE believes that this is the first project to apply 5G E2E network slicing technology to intelligent manufacturing scenarios in China, which has a unique significance for building 5G smart factories in various industries. To the telecom operators, it is also an important exploration targeting to the enterprise market.

5G implementation is the key issue

5G is not only the “popular star” in public, but also attracts the interests of users in various industries with its outstanding features of eMBB, URLLC and mMTC. How to introduce 5G to drive the business change and innovation, and make 5G a reality, are the common topics among telecommunication industry and vertical industries.

Therefore, the successful execution of this project is critical. The high-definition video streams for industrial production systems (such as Red Lion Cement feed inlet) is taken by BlueTron with its industrial cameras, and then transmitted to the industrial vision analysis system in real time via 5G network. The industrial vision analysis system, which is deployed on the MEC servers, conducts AI-based intelligent video analysis of the video streams. The abnormal in the production system, such as feed inlet congestion, can be automatically identified and alerted.

Network slicing is crucial in this project to ensure the large upstream bandwidth and high security isolation required by industrial vision scenarios. Vision analysis system is deployed on the MEC servers to provide nearby processing and ensure the low latency and high security. ZTE, Zhejiang Branch of China Telecom and BlueTron collaborated closely to provide a dedicated eMBB network slice and the MEC edge cloud platform for manufacturing enterprises. BlueTron’s cloud intelligent vision analysis system is loaded on the platform. In this project, not only the automatic monitoring and management of the production process are realized, but also the production data security is ensured since “data stays inside the factory” throughout the whole process.

The network supports multiple video streams uploading from various terminals at a speed of 20Mbps each and a delay around 20ms, which meet the current needs of industrial visual inspection in the feed inlet of Red Lion cement production line. This requirement for upstream rate is not very high and can be guaranteed preferentially through RAN resources scheduling supported by network slicing technology. With the further improvement of video resolution and bit rate of machine vision, as well as the increasing of monitoring point of industrial cameras in the future, the demand for 5G upstream bandwidth will be further increased. Independent frequency bands can be allocated in that stage and also the frame structure with higher up-ratio can be used to improve the utilization efficiency of RAN resources.

The video surveillance for production lines in traditional factories adopt wired connection solution, and a large number of cables are used, resulting in a complex internal structure of the factory, which cannot meet the needs of flexible production for future digital society. The adoption of 5G slicing solution makes it possible for wireless technology to replace wired, so that to easily build the flexible workshops and wireless factories, and promote intelligent manufacturing finally. That’s the meaning of this project.

Smart factories need 5G to do more

Currently, the project is mainly used for industrial vision detection, which is a common scenario in the intelligent manufacturing industry. In essence, it is the achievement of intelligent detection in industrial production environment through 5G network, by which the human visual is extended, empowered by the AI-based vision analysis system.

The current service flow of industrial vision inspection is still an open ring. In the future, it will be combined with the control flow to form a completely closed-loop automatic control system. 5G network will support seamless combination of eMBB service in upstream and URLLC service in downstream. Therefore, 5G low latency technology will play an important role in the future.

It is known that 5G eMBB network slicing technology is relatively mature and ready for commercial use. But the multi-dimensional charging of slices and business models need to be further explored in practice. The 5G URLLC slicing technology is expected to be commercially available by the year of 2021 after the accomplishment of relative standards in 2020.

Smart factories need 5G to do more. 5G technology will accelerate the transformation of intelligent manufacturing. “Internet of Things” of the workshops will be achieved by networking of the production equipment; production decisions are made based on the big data analysis with the production data visualization; the efficient and green manufacturing can be achieved when the production documents are paperless; the intelligent factory “neural” system can be created by the transparency in production process; and with the unmanned production site, the unmanned factory will be actually realized.

The 5G+ industrial internet can be applied in all the processes of the production, management and supply chains to help manufacturing enterprises in their transformation upgrading, reduce the cost, improve the enterprise informatization and competitiveness, evolving towards wireless, automated, intelligent, and flexible manufacturing.

For example, the 5G-based machine vision inspection, by the industrial cameras and edge computing gateway deployed in the production line, the video can be automatically processed, recognized and labeled, avoiding human error and mis-checking. All the units support on-demand, fast and flexibly wireless networking. This will greatly improve the qualification rate of the products. The scope of detectable applications in the equipment manufacturing industry will be expanded by more than 30% and the detection accuracy will be increased by 200%.

Digital transformation is just in time

On June 6, 2019, China’s MIIT (Ministry of Industry and Information Technology) issued 5G licenses to four major Chinese telecom operators, which means that the 5G era is officially open in China. Unlike previous generations of wireless technology, 5G will not only focus on upgrading in the public market, but also enter the vertical industries and build infrastructures for the digital transformation of the verticals. Miao Wei, the Minister of MIIT recently spoke at a press conference of the State Administration that, 80% of the 5G application scenarios will be on the industrial internet in the future.

The China Information and Communications Research Institute previously released the report “5G Industrial Economy Contribution”, which predicted that the information consumption driven by 5G commercialization in China from 2020 to 2025, directly driving the total economic output to CNY10.6 trillion ($1.5 trillion), and indirectly pull of the total economic output to about CNY24.8 trillion ($3.5 trillion). 5G will directly create more than 3 million jobs in China.

The digital transformation of the industry is the trend. We are currently on the eve of large-scale digital upgrading of the industry. The digital technology innovation will improve productivity and work environments by automation and intelligence of the production process. 5G networks are indispensable during such intelligent changes in manufacturing and digital transformation in vertical industries.

Industry scenario differentiation is very large. New demand, new business, new models are continually emerging. Compared to the B2C market, B2B market has the basic characteristics of fragmentation and high barriers. Expanding to the B2B market is a new topic for operators. Operators need to work closely with leading enterprises and solution providers in various industries in order to understand the needs of the industrial scenarios and transform them into network slice templates and form the B2B business models which are replicable, promotable, and profitable. ZTE believes that 5G will expand the market share for operators in the tide of digital transformation, and achieve sustainable growth of the telecommunications industry.

What did we learn from the Tory Party Conference?

In a couple of words; not a lot.

Considering there was the big claim of £5 billion investment into rural broadband, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised a rapid acceleration of fibre investment and 5G is on everyone’s lips, not a huge amount of homage was paid to the telecoms and technology industry.

Perhaps we should not be surprised. Brexit is dominating the headlines and politicians seem more interesting in insulting those on the other side of the Commons than addressing actual policies. There were of course passing references to things that matter, but this is the spearhead of the political circus.

Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Leadsom might not hit the headlines for telecoms and technology news that often, but her department is one which we should pay considerable attention to. In a brief address, the message was simple; success in-hand with the Government not in-spite of it. How this works out remains to be seen, there are plenty of sceptics out there.

“We’re standing on the cusp of a new industrial revolution, and for the first time since the first industrial revolution, the UK is positioned to lead in extraordinary new ways,” said Leadsom.

“Those memories shaped my politics, but it was Margaret Thatcher’s vision of a shareholding democracy and her introduction of the right to buy that shaped my personal ambition -and that is to help everybody to build a secure life for themselves and their families.

“So, I want to see a better environment for business, less red tape and lower taxes to incentivise them.”

This is a claim many business leaders will want to see. Lower taxes and less regulation to worry about. What is worth noting, this is a very generalist claim. The telecoms and technology segments are overdue a regulatory overhaul and this will not change because a politician is chasing headlines with a soundbite.

One area which is worth paying attention to is the idea of automation. This segment of the speech was directed more towards autonomous vehicles and drones as opposed to a workforce overhaul, though it could indicate there are some new policies in the pipeline. This Government has been very keen on gaining a leadership position in the growing world of autonomous driving and drone management already, and it would not surprise us to see another incremental step forward soon enough.

Sajid Javid, Chancellor of the Exchequer

This is the speech many in the telecommunications and technology world would have been paying attention to, and it might well have fallen short of expectations.

Over the weekend, it was reported Javid was going to announce new investment to encourage investment in the UK’s hardest to reach areas. $5 billion to ensure the UK does not create another digital divide which the Government has been working to correct ever since. The investment was confirmed, though little else was offered to add colour to the new policy.

The investment will be used to ensure fibre deployments reach the most difficult 20% of households and businesses throughout the UK. But like his colleagues, Javid elected to concentrate the majority of his speech on a bit of Corbyn-bashing.

One area which could be worth keeping an eye on is the promise to continue the devolution of power throughout England. Although this will please some in the regions, those who seek regulatory consistency will perhaps exhale deeply.

There will of course be regional variances in how regulations are designed and implementing, Cowbridge is very different to London after all, however the risk of devolution is a mix-match of red-tape. Negotiations with hundreds of councils throughout the UK, all of which have their own demands and requirements. It is the stuff of nightmares for a cash-intensive industry.

Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Amazingly, the person with the most relevance had the least to say.

In short, Morgan congratulated the Conservative party for what it had achieved thus-far, quoted figures, promised the UK is the best place in Europe for tech and talked-dirty about the Labour Party leadership.

Perhaps the most meaningless speech of the day.

Key take-aways from today at the Conference

It is difficult to cut through the noise, but we will do our best. A lot of today was hyping the Conservative Party, undermining the Labour Party and chasing headlines.

However, the idea of re-nationalism was consistently attacked. Lesser regulations have been championed. While technology and telecoms will form the central pillars of the UK economy moving forward.

There are a couple of interesting soundbites to take-away from today, and perhaps more than was offered during the Labour Party Conference, but we were hoping for more than posturing. Perhaps that was our short-coming.

Facebook is reading minds while Amazon perfects text-to-speech

A Facebook-funded study has achieved a breakthrough in decoding speech directly from brain signals at the same time as AWS has made automated speech more realistic.

The study funded by the creepily-named Facebook Reality Labs was conducted by San Francisco University. Its findings were published yesterday under the heading ‘Real-time decoding of question-and-answer speech dialogue using human cortical activity’. It claims to have achieved breakthroughs in the accuracy of identifying speech from the electrical impulses in people’s brains.

The clever bit doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the actual reading of these impulses, but in using algorithms and context to narrow down the range of possible sounds attributable to a given piece of brain activity. This helps distinguish between words comprised of similar sets of sounds and thus improve accuracy, with a key piece of context being the question asked. Thus this breakthrough is as much about AI and machine learning as anything else.

At the same time Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced a new feature of its Polly text-to-speech managed service. The specific announcement is relatively minor – the ability to give the resulting speech a newsreader style of delivery – but it marks a milestone in the journey to make machine-generated speech as realistic as possible.

When you combine the potential of these two developments, two eventualities spring to mind. The first is an effected cure for muteness without the need for interfaces such as keyboards, which would be amazing. The second is somewhat more ominous, which is a world in which we can no longer be sure we’re communicating with an actual human being unless we’re face-to-face with them.

The AWS post makes joking reference to HAL 9000 from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, but thanks in part to its own efforts and those funded by Facebook, that sort of thing is looking less like science fiction and more like science fact with every passing day.

 

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