opinion


On the 5G edge, you must automate to accumulate

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece, Sue White, head of strategy and portfolio marketing at Netcracker explains why a high level of automation is the mobile network operator’s only hope for tackling the unprecedented complexity of edge computing on 5G networks.

Is it possible to get more from less? Sounds like a contradiction, but in fact this brand of alchemy has driven human progress since the dawn of the industrial revolution. And it hasn’t stopped. In his book – called More From Less – writer Andrew McAfee argues that industrial production is still becoming more and more efficient every year.

He says: “We use less metal, fertiliser, water, paper, timber and energy year after year, even as output grows. This phenomenon is known as dematerialization of the economy, and it’s bringing us into a second enlightenment.”

So what has this to do with 5G? Well, the driving force of the efficiency gains of today is, of course, the Industrial IoT. When devices go from ‘dumb’ to ‘smart’, they make better decisions and can refine these decisions over time. As a result, they make every kind of production process run faster and more smoothly. So much so that the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates the industrial IoT alone could add $14 trillion of economic value to the global economy by 2030.

5G: oiling the wheels of Industry 4.0

But there’s no Industrial IoT without 5G. High speed, low latency and massive connectivity, 5G is the secret sauce needed to connect millions of devices in real time. In most cases, wired wi-fi just can’t compete.

Mobile network operators (MNOs) know this. Much has been written about the huge commercial opportunity they can unlock by facilitating what has become known as Industry 4.0. Thanks to 5G, they can play an active role in exciting new verticals such as connected transport, telehealth, smart agriculture and more.

But turning this aspiration into reality won’t be straightforward. This is not simply a question of ’build the network and they will come’.

Why? Because of multi-access edge computing (MEC) – the key ingredient needed to maximise 5G value. But it comes with the unprecedented operational challenge of making it work. Edge computing moves data processing closer to the source of where the data is generated. This gives enterprises the ability to reduce latency and speed up tasks.

Let’s take the example of computer vision. When a machine ‘sees’, it can perform real-time analysis and decision-making – and become far more efficient as a result. But machine vision generates huge quantities of data, which must be processed almost instantly. It is simply not feasible if the data has to be transported via backhaul to a central server and back again.

A new architecture that opens up the edge

Now, the good news is that standalone 5G networks fully support edge computing. This is because standalone 5G virtualises the core enabling all or parts of it to be distributed to the edge of the network or on-premise. With this new architecture, developers can build applications with cloud computing capabilities and an IT service environment at the edge.

For most enterprises, this is new territory. For the first time, they have to make decisions about:

  • The choice and location of edge cloud platform
  • Connectivity options
  • Security considerations
  • The distributed 5G core
  • The choice of MEC applications

And even when they have made those choices, they then have to embark on extensive design, testing, validation, deployment and continuous assurance.

Most enterprises simply cannot deal with this complexity. They need support. And MNOs are perfectly positioned to provide it. Here is a chance to remove complexity for their customers and deepen their engagement with new vertical markets. It’s a significant opportunity.

But it is not straightforward. For more than 30 years, cellular services have been delivered from a centralised location hosted in a mobile packet core. Edge computing changes this. It brings in multiple vendors each with their own diverse hardware and software solutions. It introduces a range of devices with different KPIs. This could be power consumption, latency, thermal stability or many other variables.

In all cases it generates an explosion of data that needs to be crunched locally. And there are also different flavours of local: processing on the device itself, on the premise (home, car, enterprise, etc), on the cell site or access point of presence (POP) and even on the metro edge (via upstream aggregation centres etc.).

The manual processes that MNOs have used across previous cellular generations simply cannot support this complex ecosystem. So what can they do? They have one option: embrace the path towards zero-touch automation.

Automating every step of the service experience

From ordering to activation, problem solving and payments across multiple parties, all aspects of edge services need to be automated.

An effective automation solution needs to unify the orchestration for all resources on the edge platform – including the edge platform itself. It needs to intelligently place the right resources on the right edge to fulfil the service SLA requirements. Once deployed, it must gather data from events, metrics and telemetry across the network and multiple cloud platforms. Together with artificial intelligence and machine learning It can perform service-level root cause analysis, impact analysis and operate all lifecycle management functions in a single closed-loop. And it can then use the insights to optimise service models, service policies, forecast mechanisms, service performance and operational processes.

What’s more, a well-designed orchestration solution will present all of this on a single pane of glass to provide a comprehensive view of the many disparate systems.

That’s the operational layer. But what about the business layer? Enterprises want the same easy access to services as consumers. But they want more too. Services need to be made available for purchase from an intuitive portal, and additional measures need to be provided for them to visualise, configure and manage their own services. This is an essential part of an overall service offering when digging deeper into the enterprise and vertical markets. And there is an additional complication. Edge services will require an ecosystem of partners to come together necessitating the management of many processes such as cataloguing, product management, pricing and settlements.

Automation has a significant role to play here too. It can manage backend processes such as partner management, product management and revenue management and streamline them with the front-end intuitive portal. This helps MNOs to give their enterprise customers an easy way to purchase services with full visibility and control.

If the new world of 5G edge computing sounds like a complicated ecosystem of diverse players and systems, well yes it is. But it is also a historic opportunity for MNOs. Here’s a chance to turn the coming complexity to their advantage – and bring value to current and future enterprise customers. With an effective automation platform, this future is entirely possible.

 

Sue leads strategy and portfolio marketing at Netcracker responsible for defining the marketing strategy and executing marketing initiatives across Netcracker’s BSS/OSS and Orchestration portfolio. She brings over 20 years of experience in the telecoms industry, spanning a variety of leadership roles including product management, strategic planning, product marketing and technical sales. Her expertise encompasses a wide range of technologies including cloud, 5G, SDN/NFV and BSS/OSS with a strong focus on generating business growth. Sue has a Bachelor of Engineering honours degree in Electronic Engineering with Communications from the University of Sheffield in the U.K.

 

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