Automation Service Orchestration

Autonomous Service Operations – Reaping the Benefits Early

By Ronan Bracken on May, 22 2024

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Ronan Bracken
Autonomous Service Operations Guide | Incognito Insights

According to PwC's global telecom outlook, service providers' capital investment in fixed broadband will remain largely flat. However, some pockets of software investment are going to grow fast. Investment in network automation software surged by 40%+ between 2020 and 2022 and is predicted to grow to a staggering US $28 billion by 2032. The good news is that 2024 promises to deliver some of that growth, with automation fast emerging as a pivotal component in service providers' strategies.

These findings shouldn't come as a surprise. Improving and enhancing network automation translates to operational efficiencies, reduced likelihood of errors (and expensive outages), and a better return on operational expenses. I see this every day, talking to global service providers of all sizes who are also looking for ways to accelerate service introductions and take the risk out of network upgrades.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of automation within the network relies on data quality, with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) also eventually playing a critical role. At MWC 2024, AI was a key theme and created a significant buzz with new announcements, such as progress from the Global Telco AI Alliance led by SK Telecom, Singtel, Softbank, and Deutsche Telekom. It all sounds very promising!

This blog aims to provide a level set around autonomous networks, specifically the area of service operations. It explores how standards development organizations, like TM Forum, are approaching this new technology, where service providers are in terms of automation maturity, the role of autonomous networks and autonomous service operations, and the benefits this technology can deliver. I will also give you some perspective on what I'm hearing about the top challenges and use cases that deliver value today.

According to the TM Forum, autonomous networks powered alongside other technologies, such as AI, big data, cloud, and edge computing, will make services quicker, cheaper, and simpler to deploy and manage. Service providers will also be able to unlock over $700 billion of new revenues from industrial 5G and B2B2x opportunities that require automation to manage the billions of devices connected to the Internet, as well as deliver on the ultra-low latency and high reliability many 5G use cases require. Autonomous networks will also enable service providers to offer users a "Zero X" (i.e. zero wait, zero touch, zero trouble) experience, simplifying the process from the users' perspective while handling the complexities behind the scenes.

The TM Forum is at the forefront of frameworks around autonomous networks and operations. They provide a solid set of resources to get you acquainted with the topic, which includes a model to measure maturity. How advanced are you with implementing automation? Where do you want to end up, and when? What do you care most about? These questions help evaluate an organization's readiness and advancement in implementing autonomous network capabilities.

  • Level 0: Manual Operation and Maintenance
  • Level 1: Assisted Operations and Maintenance.
  • Level 2: Partial Autonomous Networks.
  • Level 3: Conditional Autonomous Networks.
  • Level 4: Highly Autonomous Networks.
  • Level 5: Full Autonomous Networks

Let's take a deeper dive into the aspect of service operations.

To navigate the shift towards autonomous service operations, understanding where the opportunities for efficiencies and cost reduction lie is essential. Today, the bulk of operating costs are related to the actual workforce and the need for manual interventions in network configuration, maintenance, and outage resolution. Transitioning to automated configuration processes, remote recovery, and implementing proactive prevention measures to reduce outages not only brings about considerable efficiency gains but also will help reduce OpEx. These advantages could be seen in Levels 0, 1, and 2.

However, introducing automation is not without risk. Considerations need to be made around impacts to organizations, processes, and the holy grail – how to get to a closed-loop state with service assurance. Therefore, it's unsurprising that according to a industry survey, 56% of service providers stated they were at a Level 1 maturity. In 2024, the TM Forum published a paper that highlighted that 55% of service providers have an OSS/BSS evolution strategy that includes service orchestration and assurance within a single system to achieve closed-loop automation, among other things.

Many service providers are striving to advance on the maturity scale. One development that has shown promise in moving the needle is the TM Forum-led Catalyst series, which included the Converged Access with ODA project, featuring service provider champions and vendors, including Incognito. In 2022, phase 1 of the project focused on substantially reducing the number of EMS/NMSs and offered a model to simplify, converge, and reduce the costs of managing multiple access networks. The 2023 showcase of phase 2 explored leveraging closed-loop automation to ensure business continuity for small to medium-sized businesses.

In the 2024 TM Forum catalyst, we shake things up with our project coined CABOOM (Converged Access for B2B2C Over ODA Marketplace), a joint Incognito initiative with Future Connections for service assurance, Oryx Gateway for 5G CAMARA APIs and Event Driven Architecture, and Red Hat OpenShift for OSS virtualization. Use cases to be explored in the project include sports stadium fan immersive experiences with 5G quality on demand and how this architecture can be re-used for live entertainment, festivals, and more. Stay tuned for more on this project in the weeks ahead.

So, where do you begin?

I spend significant time on the road talking to Incognito's global customers about the benefits of autonomous operations for service efficiency. When it comes to service operations, software tools that provide advanced automation now top the list of service providers' requirements. Here is a summary of what service providers want to achieve with autonomous operations, along with some examples.

  1. Service providers want to protect their B/OSS investments. The industry is changing quickly, and there is a great opportunity to provide configurable service options, especially for B2B and enterprise customers. Service providers and standards development organizations are looking at ways to squeeze more out of current B/OSS and network investments. At the same time, they want to be able to offer premium services while also looking at the longer-term implications for current B/OSS and network investments.
  2. Converged architectures are top of mind. Service providers want to be able to leverage investments across multiple access technologies. The good news is that industry working groups like the TM Forum, Broadband Forum, and CableLabs are all invested in network convergence. Specifically, the Broadband Forum Wireline-Wireless Convergence (WWC) working group is examining the convergence between fibre and mobile at the network level, including network agnostic standards such as TR-069 and TR-369 User Services Platform (USP). Additionally, CableLabs has several working groups dedicated to convergence, such as FTTP, Optical Operations, and Maintenance.
  3. Service intent is key to understanding requirements and implementing automation solutions. The TM Forum and service providers are high on this agenda, looking to meet customer needs by abstracting them from network technology implementation. This offers a new and refreshing way to look at adding value for end customers.

Let's break down some autonomous operations use cases that, when put together, provide an end-to-end view of managing the customer experience using an intent-based approach. The focus is on provisioning a service.

Use Case 1: What is it that the customer wants?

The customer may request a fast, reliable connection, with a certain number of users having a priority connection for a specific application (ex. gaming). Whether via a sales agent, marketplace, website, chatbot, or other channel, the customer communicates their service 'intent' with their provider. The product catalog is then used to translate this intent into a customer-facing service (ex. 1G upstream/downstream speeds, five users, low latency, 5G, priority for gaming traffic). Now that we have translated the customer intent into a service, it can be provisioned as highlighted in the following use case.

Use Case 2: Provisioning the service

To provision the service, we need to translate the customer-facing service to resource-facing services. The resource-facing service provides details on how it should be provisioned on the specific network domain so that the customer service is delivered (i.e. they get what they want). Domain-specific information, such as network selection (ex. fibre, cable, 5G, metro), vendor mapping, standards alignment, and so on, are extrapolated from the resource-facing service by the service orchestrator. The service orchestrator then proceeds to provision the service on the network domain(s). This process is a key focus of phase 3 of Incognito's catalyst project in 2024.

Once the service is provisioned, the service orchestrator pushes the service-level agreement (SLA) definitions to the assurance platform so that the SLA and objectives are met. For the higher levels of autonomous network operations (levels 3-5), the service orchestrator should know if a particular provisioning action will be a problem (ex. insufficient bandwidth capacity is available on a port).

Use Case 3: Closing the loop

The data collection and assurance platforms are now configured to monitor the SLA. Any discrepancies detected in the customer-facing service will result in remedial action. To get to levels 3-5 of autonomous networks, automation in the detection and reaction to customer service problems is mandatory. AI/ML may be built into this detection to find anomalies and trigger remedial actions. There is much discussion about the levels of autonomous networks, especially around the level of control that the 'machines' have. That said, we are already seeing major progress in providing intent-based service delivery and autonomous networks delivering focused customer requirements across many network domains.

In summary, much progress is being made in autonomous operations, with significant value for service providers' operational effectiveness in service management and for the end-user with the introduction of "service intent."

Stay tuned for more posts from Incognito, which will focus on additional autonomous operations case studies and the TM Forum 2024 catalyst work that brings these concepts to life.

If you would like to explore how Incognito can help you achieve autonomous operations for your broadband services, contact our team today.

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