Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Richard Piasentin, Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Strategy Officer at Accedian, explores the role of network assurance in the implementation of 5G.
The mobile industry is gearing up to 5G, and we’re now well aware of the value-added services 5G can and could bring. But these opportunities also come with increased network complexity. Most operators today have a fairly good idea about how they’re going to get to 5G. What’s less clear: how to overcome the challenges that will make 5G a success.
While 5G presents myriad new opportunities for operators, one thing will remain as important as it has been with 2G, 3G and 4G: user experience. Today, failure to properly understand and then fix user problems is the single biggest cause of churn. But ensuring network quality of experience (QoE) and quality of service (QoS) has been no easy feat for operators.
5G won’t magic away those challenges, and its complexity presents a serious management challenge for service providers: how can they assure both their networks and the service layer to deliver a perfect customer experience?
5G network transformation
The opportunities brought about by 5G are set to completely change the definition of the mobile operator. No longer just an access technology, 5G is going to positively revolutionise how humans interact with mobile devices. For operators, these opportunities potentially bring new revenue, but only if they can provide a user experience that is worthy of the 5G name.
Traditionally, operators have turned to test and measurement and monitoring tools to gather insight into what happens within their network. “Fix the network and we fix the user experience,” went the mantra. But while these solutions have proved adequate, it’s time for a rethink.
Not only are 5G networks more complex than their predecessors, they are also completely transformed. 5G will use network slicing to open up the network “as a service” to third parties and their various applications. The majority of these applications will reside outside of the network layer, in the service layer (Layers 4-7). This brings service-level performance and user experience into sharp focus as these applications become inextricably intertwined with their host slice. As a result, traditional monitoring tools designed only for the network layer will be no longer be fit for purpose in this new 5G environment.
In this newly created environment, humans will simply be incapable of managing the interplay and orchestration of the micro services on which applications depend. The ultra-fast orchestration required to react within microseconds to dynamic changes in the network is a key part of maintaining a cohesive, integrated compute experience. Humans aren’t quick enough, or smart enough to be able to keep up. Here, artificial intelligence (AI) will play an important role in orchestration by self-learning from network KPIs to rapidly establish what constitutes “normal” or acceptable impairments, relative to impairments that are affecting end-user applications.
From NOC to 5G SOC
To overcome this challenge, operators are shifting their attention away from the Network Operation Centre (NOC) and toward establishing the Service Operation Centre (SOC). The growing pressure to deliver an excellent customer experience (while reducing churn) means operators are transforming their legacy processes and systems into an architecture that can proactively manage actual QoE in real time. The SOC is key to this approach, helping operators move from reactive to predictive methods of dealing with network downtime.
SOCs are helping to bridge the worlds of network operations, commercial teams, and automation capabilities. For operators, this move away from network centricity and toward service (customer) centricity will make 5G a reality. Without a single, end-to-end comprehensive solution that can span both the network and application/service layer, and monitor activity on a “per slice” basis, operators will find themselves blind to what is really happening across their network.
SOCs are key to getting the real time, actionable insight that goes beyond the network layers. SOCs are focused on monitoring, in real time, all the service components for each customers. This helps operators to prioritise and resolve issues that may impact high value, ‘VIP’ customers or customers at risk of churning. The SOC does this by providing a single view in real time of the subscriber experience across all networks (edge and core, fixed and mobile), devices and services, applications and related domains being used to understand the complete experience of the end-user. Without this level of granular visibility, it will simply be impossible for humans to understand exactly what is happening at any point in the network.
Establishing an effective SOC is no easy feat, however, and there are several ingredients that make up a successful recipe. Moving to a customer-centric SOC requires a huge collaborative effort, not only on the technical architecture but the entire organisation to develop a customer-centric culture and organisational process models.
One key aspect of a successful SOC is the provision of timely, relevant, accurate KPIs and key quality indicators (KQIs). These requirements point to the need for a context-based service assurance and service quality management (SQM) architecture. The purpose of this SQM architecture: provide a SOC with the insight it needs to deliver 5G QoE: network, service and application performance perspective; real-time network, service and application monitoring; multi-layer troubleshooting; dynamic and automated network topology awareness for performance management; and much more.
Provisioning these elements depends on having the correct network performance and monitoring tools. The appropriate solution should be interoperable with any SOC architecture, work effectively in an NFV/SDN environment with or without physical instrumentation, and have the ability to feed events and data into the SOC platform to provide a more complete view of the customer experience. The SOC can then take processed data and either perform closed loop actions directly on the network or use the monitoring platform to increase the level of granularity, gaining an even more precise view of performance.
Ultimately, a successful SOC is nothing without the right tools. Performance monitoring solutions must encompass passive and active monitoring; network and application performance analytics and machine learning; and automation APIs to support SDN orchestration. With such tools, operators will be well-positioned to guarantee excellent QoE.
5G’s silver lining
Looking ahead to 5G, the quality of performance data will not only depend on the granularity, precision and accuracy of the performance management system, but also on the ability to dynamically measure network and service slices on-demand ‘per customer’. It will also be vital that operators have the ability to process that data before it is fed into the orchestration model.
Without the right tools, operators will struggle to extend visibility to the performance of services and infrastructure typically outside of their control. This will have a direct impact on how customers view and interact with an operator’s brand. In an age where good service and ease of use are some of consumers’ top priorities, failure to guarantee maximum QoE will inevitably detract from operators’ bottom line.
As Chief Marketing and Chief Strategy Officer at Accedian, Richard is responsible for our strategic planning process and investment priorities, ensuring we create and develop a consistent brand communications and marketing strategy, and drives our commercialization efforts in the areas of global product pricing, solution marketing, and business development. Richard began his career at Nortel Networks in 1992 as a test engineer for their public carrier switching division. From there, he segued into focusing on the wireless industry, taking on a variety of senior roles at Nortel within sales, operations, and supply chain during his 17 years at the company. After Nortel, he was vice president and general manager for BlackBerry’s North American business, and general manager of Viavi’s Visibility, Intelligence and Analytics (VIA) business unit.