What does it really take to manage 5G service quality for enterprises?

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Richard Piasentin, Chief Marketing and Chief Strategy Officer at Accedian, looks at the all-important enterprise use-cases presented by 5G.

In all the noise and excitement surrounding 5G, we must remember that the majority of use cases and revenue opportunities for communications service providers (CSPs) are in the enterprise space, rather than for consumer-facing services.

5G’s faster speeds, extra capacity, ultra-low latency, and powerful distributed compute capabilities offer new ways of working for enterprises across a range of vertical industries—as long as service providers can deliver what they’re promising.

That promise underpins an entire (potential) subset of business value, in which enterprises across a variety of verticals use 5G’s capabilities to evolve their own business models and create new services. Possibilities abound:

  • 5G network slices or dedicated virtual networks with low-latency performance guarantees can power internal business-critical applications for enterprises. For example, logistics and shipping firms could spin up a ‘5G network slice’ to drive real-time routing and optimization systems using edge cloud infrastructure.
  • Manufacturers could deploy 5G to automate production and remotely control equipment, introduce augmented/mixed reality for factory workers and sensors in manufactured products.
  • Retailers are looking at 5G to drive a more engaging and personalized in-store experience using artificial intelligence and real-time streaming analytics to power virtual fitting rooms and real-time avatars in their computer vision systems.

The success of these services will depend on CSPs’ ability to collaborate with enterprise customers and third-party vendors and partners outside the telecom industry.

5G changes the game for service quality management

Such collaboration presents the significant challenge of how to manage, monitor and monetize a network architecture that’s increasingly virtualized and distributed. 5G’s elements, applications, and service functions are not confined within a provider’s own core but are instead spread across the entire network—and beyond to the customer end-point or edge data center. Third-party networks and cloud partners are part of this ecosystem.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but traditional network and application performance monitoring systems are simply not fit for purpose in 5G’s decentralized, virtualized, service-focused architecture. Partly this is due to the extra density and complexity of 5G networks. But it’s also because of the level of data quality these systems must now collect to monitor and uphold 5G network and service reliability.

Ultra-low latency is one of 5G’s defining features, which means network and application performance management (NAPM) solutions must measure data at never-before-seen levels of data granularity, accuracy, and collection frequency.

Almost certainly, the standard set of KPIs used by CSPs—delay, packet loss, delay variation, and mean opinion score (MOS)—are no longer adequate, especially to effectively assure the type of low-latency and packet loss-sensitive applications that differentiates 5G.

Being able to analyze and correlate performance data is a prerequisite to revealing the kind of previously-invisible problems that can bring 5G to its knees. Such performance issues, when they occur in isolation, may not have a noticeable impact. The complexity of 5G services—especially those involving third-party networks and clouds—create much potential for these to intermingle, significantly impacting service quality.

Expanded boundaries for 5G service quality metrics

Metrics from ecosystem partners—beyond the boundaries of the provider’s own network—are necessary to capture a truly “end-to-end” view of service quality across the entire extended 5G service value chain.

For example: a city authority wants to roll out a citywide IoT sensor-based system to monitor and manage traffic congestion and provide real-time public transport alerts. The system will rely on low-latency, sub-millisecond wireless connectivity to remotely control traffic management systems across the city, in response to the continually changing conditions and amounts of traffic.

A telco can strike lucrative contracts with system integrators or directly with the municipal authority to provide 5G connectivity — assuming service quality can be guaranteed.

But this type of arrangement raises the question: who ‘owns’ the responsibility for the citywide system if it malfunctions? Is it the telco? Is it the systems integrator? Or is it another third party provider responsible for collating, analysing and reporting the IoT sensor data together? The municipal council certainly won’t care; they just want service that works, and an easy fix if there are connectivity or quality issues.

Avoiding the service quality finger-pointing game

If service providers and third party partners don’t figure out a way to work together, they undermine 5G’s development as a practical and commercially viable service-focused technology.

5G network reliability and service availability depends on complete, unrestricted end-to-end visibility of the performance of each link in the service value chain – the network itself, the application, plus the Quality of Experience (QoE) for the user.

Making this granular visibility available to each partner involved in delivering an application or service, means they can all agree on a shared SLA and decide which network, service and application KPIs and KQIs to manage up front – and who is responsible for managing them.

For service providers, having a complete end-to-end view of the full 5G service value chain is essential if they want to generate new revenue streams by creating a new level of value. If they don’t, and instead focus solely on 5G as a transport technology, they risk repeating the same mistakes made with 3G and 4G: letting over the top (OTT) and other service providers push them down the service value chain and reduce their offerings to an invisible marginalized commodity.


piasentin accedianRichard Piasentin is Chief Marketing and Chief Strategy Officer at Accedian. He is responsible for the company’s strategic planning process and investment priorities, plus global product pricing, solution marketing, and business development.

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