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As 5G Connections Grow, Automation will be Mission-Critical

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5G data center
(Image by ADMC from Pixabay)

Today, global 5G connections have reached 343 billion, and by 2025 there will be a forecasted 1.8 billion connections. Enterprises around the world have increased, and accelerated digitization plans and are now looking to make the most out of their investments and advancements by increasing automation.

Automation of business functions and network operations needs to be a mission-critical directive today. Operators should look to rapidly mature and scale software to maximize the speed and agility of 5G deployment and operations.

As 5G networks come into being, this will be critical, as the sub-millisecond/enhanced broadband and ultra-reliable connectivity will revolutionize the industrial enterprise, and network slicing will transform the service of multiple customers or markets through 5G networks.

A recent survey conducted by OMDIA and Oracle Communications revealed that 5G core automation will play a critical role in telco transformation. Ninety-two percent of operators surveyed agree that 5G core automation is integral to any successful automation strategy, which underpins telco transformation for 5G (and beyond).

The pre-requisite to successful automation involves selecting the right architecture with the right availability of data and insight. Previous carrier efforts at automation proved to be challenging without having cloud-native infrastructure in place. To succeed, there is a need for a scalable foundation on top of which the architecture and data work to achieve the right insight. Cloud-native is the standard for speeding the delivery of digital products with scale, resiliency, security, and agility. The cloud-native services-based architecture in the 5G core network enables cloud services to be easily integrated and used in different services. This leads to more frequent and higher quality software releases, as well as full test automation and operations.

This is where DevOps and the "three Cs" of Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery/Continuous Testing (CI/CD/CT) will open the door to new operating paradigms and to networks built to act on insights. The Oracle Omdia survey results underscore operators' desire for these benefits. While 100% of respondents to the survey believe 5G core automation is important, almost 40% consider it to be critical to their partner choice and overall 5G strategy. The need for efficient use of CI/CD/CT tooling increases the requirement for operators to address the growing complexity of managing workloads and applications in multiple cloud environments. Operators with 50 million or more subscriptions tend to be further along in adopting CI/CD/CT in the 5G core than operators with 20 to 50 million subscriptions.

Survey results show that 48% of all operators surveyed are currently trialing CI/CD/CT tooling in the 5G core. This number rises to 61% for operators with 50 million or more subscriptions and falls to 33% for those operators with 20 to 50 million subscriptions, indicating that it is the larger Tier 1 operators that are leading the charge in 5G core automation.

All in all, the fabric of the network has changed in fundamental ways, and that change is accelerating. While networks still have boxes and cables, the nature of those boxes, and the control systems and apps running them, are changing to software. Edge compute and low latency services will require automation for rapid redistribution of network elements in both real-time and long term. Operators who want to remain competitive in the marketplace will be challenged with updating their networks and bringing in more software, virtual, and cloud technologies to gradually phase out legacy infrastructure and siloed operations.

The push for agility and automation is time-sensitive for three reasons:

1) For the first time, the right architecture is in place for 5G: Open source, webscale, service-based approaches will be critical to delivering anonymized, secure services to enterprises, whereas quality, performance, and efficiency are crucial factors to the achievement of sustainable service delivery. There will be a steep learning curve since carriers previously were doing something entirely different than what they must do now. Changes to culture will be as important as changes to technology to succeed.

2) Webscale is fully automated, and this has changed our lives and networks: The success stories are, for the most part, webscale cloud companies that have set the bar high by being able to automate and measure everything spanning from infrastructure, domain, and application lifecycle. For telcos wanting to compete in the enterprise space, they must focus on improving agility through automation. There are also new competitive dynamics at play. In the consumer space, Amazon, Uber, and others have trained us to believe instantaneity is crucial, and carriers now must rise to meet consumer expectations.

3) The business model transformation is underway, and it will unlock innovation and optimize 5G monetization: Proven by the major cloud players, there is an economic benefit to adopting cloud-native architecture and accelerating automation. Automation can provide significant cost savings.

Competition, customers, and technology, the three existential drivers propelling 5G connections, are aligned and are poised to accelerate automation and innovation. The study also revealed that operators are not planning to embark on telco transformation alone. Operators recognize that transformation can be accelerated with the help of partners to achieve better programmability across the network, support for multi-vendor applications and services, and cloud-based operations. Despite notable progress, operators still find that overcoming traditional organizational barriers and tech-related silos for their IT and network teams remains a challenge. From a recruitment standpoint, talent with both IT and network experience is extremely rare. In this case, partner expertise is needed to manage 5G core complexity and streamline the decision-making process around 5G core automation and tooling. By working together, the telecommunications industry can recoup its investments, upskill employees and reap the benefits of 5G automation.

Shirin Esfandiari is Senior Director, Product Marketing at Oracle Communications.

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