Network Automation: Moving to Zero Touch

Today, the world is considered to be a global village. At its heart is the telecommunications sector, which supports all other industries by providing reliable and secure means of transmitting data, messages, and signals. As more industries and organizations adopt digital business models, there is a greater need for communications service providers to improve their network automation capacities and capabilities.

Why is GPON SaaS the best option? During this 40-minute webinar, we discuss the challenges that GPON activation presents and how to solve them quickly and efficiently with a Cloud-Native SaaS solution.

In addition to offering reliable services, they must now innovate and offer agile solutions to meet the needs of web-scale institutions. With the 5G rollout ongoing and projected to have 1.9 billion subscribers by 2024, there is cause for excitement. However, for CSPs to offer such services and capitalize on 5G, there is a great need to improve operational efficiency through automation. This need is further compounded by the accelerated shift to digital working arrangements catalyzed by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

To meet evolving client needs, communications service providers need to transform into Digital Service Providers (DSPs). It is, therefore, necessary to ensure B/OSS systems are primed for transformation, innovation, and optimization.

This whitepaper explores the need for CSPs to adopt an automated and dynamic service delivery model and the solutions necessary to achieve this.

Moving Towards Zero-Touch

The objective of automating is to allow network providers to simply accelerate and make the process of delivering new services more agile. Fully automated management and service orchestration facilitate this by eliminating the need to significantly scale up the workforce and infrastructure to cater to next-generation service needs. 

Up until the recent past, lack of sufficient operations support systems (OSS) capabilities translated to delays in service creation and onboarding for over a year. Service enablement and orchestration is now just as focused on accelerating time to market (TTM) as it is on enhancing operational efficiency and stability.  

On top of the traditional management and network orchestration (MANO), operators are now building an E2E 5G ready service environment. This increases their ability to orchestrate and enable services as they can capitalize on federated artificial intelligence capabilities. For this, there are three vital E2E functions:

  • Transparency in network resource domain orchestration and management- Facilitates efficient allocation of resources.
  • 5G service orchestration and automation- To make underlying challenges transparent
  • Using E2E service orchestration for the federation of domains- Facilitates service enablement, delivery, and assurance.

Where to Begin with Network Automation

Many factors play a role in achieving zero-touch capabilities. Other than the necessary infrastructure and systems, there must be organization-level coordination.

1. Designing and Testing

For new network components and services to meet clients’ needs, they must be designed to address those needs and be fully functional and reliable. This is why design and testing are important. Results for both must be accurate and satisfactory before moving to the next phase. If the network components and services are functional but are not ideally designed, they will not meet user needs. On the other hand, if the design is great but the solution is not reliable, it will not serve its intended purpose.

Though designing and testing new solutions for deployment is time, resource, and capital intensive, it must be done effectively without compromise. Otherwise, it will be necessary to repeat the process, resulting in delayed deployment and increased costs. 

2. Deployment and Orchestration

Automation often begins with the deployment of components of the network on a virtualized infrastructure (NFVi). Using an orchestration system, CSPs can automatically deploy Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) and Cloud-Native Functions (CNFs). This also allows them to scale depending on demand fluctuations.

3. Monitoring and Assuring

The primary objective of automation is to allow CSPs to add agility to functionality and reliability in the solutions they offer. As such, it is integral to ensure that components function optimally at all times. This requires constant monitoring to ensure faults are identified and addressed before they impact clients. This is made more efficient by developing Self-optimizing networks (SON). 

With SON, operators can analyze network performance and execute solutions for issues such as outages in real-time. Such automation improves operational efficiency and increases customer satisfaction. 

Understanding the Lifecycle of Network Automation

It is essential for CSPs to understand the lifecycle of automating network operations and service orchestration to yield positive results. Whereas traditional product and service development was slow and expensive, automation allows operators to develop, test, and deploy it in a fraction of the time and cost.

Change is constant in such dynamic networks and is facilitated by a process known as continuous integration, continuous testing, and continuous deployment (CI-CT-CD). In such a dynamic ecosystem, monitoring networks and services is automated, and deployment is done in-demand. Also, through continuous monitoring and real-time issue resolutions, networks achieve a state of self-healing.

Key Features of Elevated Network Automation

Network automation capabilities can serve as a tool for transformation for CSPs. However, the level of functionality achieved, which will translate to the reliability of the network and services deployed, varies from one provider to the next. Therefore, it is essential to consider the following during automation:

  • Orchestration- The domain orchestrator should be able to handle multiple domains to ensure seamless NFV infrastructure (NFVi), VNF, NFV orchestrator management. It should also support physical network functions (PNFs) and multiple SDN controllers and provide network slice orchestration.
  • Assurance and analytics- The effectiveness of automation hinges on a system’s ability to gather and collect insight. Therefore, a closed-loop network that offers expert analytics and provides AI/ML insights is essential to facilitate network automation decisions.
  • Continuous delivery and deployment- To support multivendor VNF onboarding and Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI-CD) of products and services, Continuous Deployment and Delivery (CDD) is vital.
  • Service order management- Achieving end-to-end service automation across multiple cloud and network domains is essential. Service order management facilitates this by streamlining the lifecycle management within and across virtual, physical, SDN, and cloud networks. This allows vendors to view the entire service from end-to-end in real-time.
  • Pre-built packages- One of the key objectives of automation is to reduce the time it takes to reach the market. One of the best ways to achieve this is by selecting a provider that offers a comprehensive suite of pre-built packages. Instead of starting from scratch to create workflows and connectors, CSPSs can launch new products faster using the packages. 

Bridging the Gap Between Network and IT

One of the major hurdles that providers face is the gap between network and IT that affects efficiency. With automation, it is much easier to integrate business functions with multiple network variations. This reduces the need for extensive training for operating personnel as it is possible to operate such mixed environments with close to zero changes to processes.

Also, the management of various services and networks can be handled from one point. Such services and networks include wireless, fixed, business services, residential, OTT subscriptions, SDN/NFV, and 5G.

If there are behavior differences after switching platforms, vendors, or firmware, automation will address the differences to ensure seamless transitions. 

What Benefits Does Network Automation Offer?

The telecommunications sector is projected to continue growing steadily in the coming years. However, competition has also been increasing, making it necessary for providers to capitalize on any competitive edge available. As the need for telecom companies to offer more comprehensive and dynamic solutions, automation serves as the ideal launch pad.

1. Reduces Time to Market

Due to manual processes, the process of designing, testing, and deploying new services takes telecom companies a year or more. Automation streamlines such processes, significantly reducing the time it takes to design and deploy solutions and innovative services such as 5G, eSIM, and SLA-Based Dynamic Provisioning. A reduced duration for reaching the market also means that potential revenue sources can be unlocked much faster.

2. Lower Operating Expenditure

Increasing costs of operation have been a thorn for telecommunications companies, reducing profitability and the ability to scale operations. By automating, operating expenditures will decrease significantly. This is achieved in two ways. First, automation eliminates errors, thus eliminating repetitive tasks and reworks. There are also pre-built templates that can be used to initiate the rollout of new services and networks. The reduced workload translates to lower OPEX. 

3. Reduced Complexity

Service control is often marred with complexities associated with managing vendor-specific NMS and multiple siloed OSS systems. However, by orchestrating service orders from a single platform, such complexities are eliminated.

4. Unlocks New Streams of Revenue

With costs rising, one of the ways telecom companies can increase, or at least maintain profitability, is by unlocking new revenue streams. This is exactly what automation offers, as it allows providers to capitalize on solutions such as 5G. The increased speeds, functionality, and stability then allow them to unlock value in the finance and energy sectors, where high levels of functionality and network stability are required.

Luxury or Necessity

In recent years, automation in the telecommunications sector has rapidly evolved from a luxury to a necessity. Without automating, CSPs face the risk of losing market share as they are outcompeted by rivals. Also, as costs continue to rise, the efficiency and cost-effectiveness that automation offers will become a crucial factor in the future. 

Why is GPON SaaS the best option? During this 40-minute webinar, we discuss the challenges that GPON activation presents and how to solve them quickly and efficiently with a Cloud-Native SaaS solution.

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