A closer look at network automation investments from T-Mobile
The complexity of 5G network management and service delivery will require network automation. In turn, network automation and the ability to develop and launch services on the fly will require operators to re-orient their workforces, merging some network and IT functions and bringing software development capabilities to the forefront.
Network automation is currently in relatively early days with investment going toward things like customer support and self service, OSS, firewalls and onboarding virtual network functions, for instance. But the long view would contemplate an end-to-end, cloud-native 5G network with AI-powered software systems delivering on-demand network slices across a generic, IT infrastructure.
In a report from the MIT Technology Review and Ericsson, the authors wrote, “The immediate imperative is technological: enabling network management that can efficiently address the demands being placed on it by the burgeoning growth of data, devices and new technologies. This serves a bigger imperative: enabling the business to understand and meet customer demand for services, and to scale quickly and flexibly as needed.”
But, they continued, “People challenges are far tougher than the technology ones. Operators are making structural changes to capitalize on automation. These often involve merging or redistributing responsibilities across network and IT teams. However, retraining existing staff and trying to instill DevOps principles are by far the toughest challenges.”
As highlighted in the report, T-Mobile US is focusing automation efforts on accelerating continuous testing and validation of vendor software updates and patches. Instead of taking up to three months to analyze software patches, network automation greatly simplified the process, according to Grant Castle, vice president of engineering and quality assurance.
“We’re doing more testing per cycle and more cycles per release than we’ve ever done,” Castle told report authors. “Instead of getting a release every six months, we’re getting releases every couple of weeks.”
T-Mobile also uses automation for more effective password testing. “How many wrong types of passwords might you want to test? How many different versions of hacking or spoofing would you like to subject your system to in order to see how secure it is. A human would stop after two or three obvious scenarios. With computers, we can send hundreds and thousands of negative test cases at a system to see if it misbehaves…That’s improved security, and improved reliability.”
“There needs to be an IT DNA. We call it a cloud DNA,” VMware Vice President of Solutions for Telco NFV Gabriele Di Piazza told RCR Wireless News in a recent interview, noting that operators need to reorganize to better reflect a move towards cloud-native and multi-cloud operations.
He continued: “We are finding a major dynamic right now where we start to see the organizational dynamic happening in a telco, in a carrier right now, bringing together the IT aspect, the network aspect, the B2B aspect, the business services aspect, in a way that we’ve never seen before. It’s like the cloud technology is influencing the operational transformation in carriers.”
For a closer look at network automation, including the human impacts, network technologies, monetization outlook and service assurance, download the report, “Network automation: Getting to zero-touch.”