5G is a major initiative that will continue to gain momentum for tier 1 telecoms and a significant concern for network managers. The term “5G” refers to fifth-generation cellular technology that provides faster connections and lower latency than the previous standard, 4G.
5G presents additional revenue opportunities to communication service providers, as it is expected to become the backbone of smart cities, the Internet of Things (IoT), ultra-low latency gaming, autonomous vehicles, and advanced artificial intelligence (AI) applications. According to Gartner research, 66 percent of all organizations have plans to use 5G networks by 2020.
Tier 1 telecoms will be the first to roll out 5G networks, and network and service operations center employees will be tasked with ensuring their long-term viability and high-quality service. However, that could be a challenge for NOC staff since 5G networks will significantly change existing network operations and management practices.
How Network Management and Operations will Change with 5G
While 5G will require a number of shifts from operation staff depending on internal processes, there are six key changes that will affect most, if not all, NOCs and CSPs regardless of their unique operating methods.
1. Shorter Incident Response and Resolution Time
Customers already expect high service quality with the existing 4G standards, but 4G networks still provide some leniency in incident response time. With 4G, it’s even possible, if not probable, for telecoms to be unaware of some issues until customers notify them.
5G will change that. 5G rollouts will include a shift to edge computing and low latency networks. As a result, any network interruption or degradation will greatly affect performance. Furthermore, since the high-speed connections provided through 5G networks are raising customer expectations, any problems will also affect the customer experience.
To ensure performance and keep their customers satisfied with 5G networks will necessitate shorter incident response and resolution times. To meet exceptional end-user expectations that 5G promises, network teams will need to learn to incorporate and work with new tools, including predictive analytics, machine learning and automation that assist with intelligent decision making to improve support service assurance and customer SLAs.
2. Increased Data, Data Collection and Intelligent Data Processing
5G networks generate substantial volumes of data. To adequately manage the increased data flows, companies need to eliminate data silos and implement the latest technologies, especially machine learning and automation. Data silos in 5G networks will exacerbate the challenges of using cross-domain data to improve services and maintain service level agreements – an imperative with 5G.
Once data silos are eliminated, CSPs will need tools that leverage data to feed artificial intelligence that provides insights that can improve service levels and enhance the customer experience. Without AI, 5G network providers won’t have the ability to intelligently process data. That means they also won’t have the speed they need to handle event storms, quickly identify the root cause, and proactively resolve issues. That, in turn, will lead directly back to the performance and customer experience problems discussed above.
Better data processing and AI solutions is also essential for automating workflow. The intelligent analysis of data produces more accurate insights, helping increase efficiency and further improve response and resolution times.
3. Shift to Containerized Workloads and Virtualization
Network functions virtualization (NfV) and containerized workloads are key components that come with 5G.
NfV enables the virtualization of various network functions and applications. More specifically, the introduction of network slicing, i.e., the creation of multiple virtual networks on a shared physical infrastructure, will become a core offering with 5G meaning that the real-time management of Quality of Service (QoS) for each slice will be critical. Container technology provides an alternative method for virtualization in which a single operating system can run different applications from the cloud.
CSPs that implement 5G will need management solutions that can support virtualization and containerization. They’ll also need skilled staff with modern network systems expertise to handle virtualized workloads effectively.
4. 5G Networks Will Require More Physical Infrastructure and Maintenance
The 4G network was associated with the construction of vast cell towers. 5G networks’ edge computing structure will lead to the installation of numerous smaller antennas and physical devices strategically placed in many locations to increase data capacity and improve network performance.
CSPs that implement a significant amount of additional infrastructure will need to adjust maintenance staff, equipment, and timetables to match geographical expansion of 5G infrastructure.
5. More Information, More Security Challenges
The two biggest elements of 5G, data and virtualization, both increase cybersecurity vulnerability. The more network functions are virtualized, the greater the area for a potential attack. The more data collected, the more data is at risk. And, since 5G is expected to expand the number of connected devices, network managers and operations teams will face more security issues related to any IoT products and services they provide. Network providers will need to scale up security accordingly.
5G networks could also be exploited by attackers to conduct distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. While solutions aren’t clear in this area, the use of 5G networks to carry out attacks is an area for CSP staff to watch.
6. Network Performance Monitoring Needs to be Adjusted
Quality of service management will be key to the viability of 5G networks and a positive customer experience. Network slicing, as a major feature of 5G networks, will help by allowing companies to provide customized network services based on the specific needs of each user.
For instance, a part of a network can offer little throughput but ensure ultra-low latency. To provide adequate monitoring, monitoring needs to be adjusted to reflect the growing number of network slices. In this case, optimal 5G performance will require each slice to be managed in real-time, something CSPs will need to incorporate into their processes.
Put 5G Staff and Management Solutions In Place Proactively
Rolling out 5G networks is a major undertaking in itself, but to create a successful deployment, Tier 1 telecoms need to consider management solutions that are designed to cater for the specific demands of 5G networks.
For NOC staff, that means upskilling in the fields of virtualization, containerized workloads, and cybersecurity. For network management tools, 5G will necessitate a move away from point systems toward 5G solutions that unify cross-domain data and leverage AI to generate actionable insights in less time.
Those changes will not only enable effective 5G deployments and management, but will help CSPs develop and deliver new services leveraging 5G, expanding the already considerable potential for competitive advantage.