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When 5G is fully implemented, it will be set to supersede the old generation of network connectivity by powering groundbreaking technology including AI, cloud computing, smart cities, and autonomous transport. 

Construction of 5G infrastructure is already well underway and the new network will help spearhead the fourth industrial revolution. Nokia is at the forefront of this revolution, providing an end-to-end portfolio that offers operators and enterprise customers a simple and efficient path to 5G.

Telecom Review secured an exclusive interview with Henrique Vale, Head of Software at Nokia MEA, where he explained how Nokia is helping service providers through the challenging and disruptive process of upgrading their networks in readiness to deliver on this 5G vision.

The industry has had new technologies introduced almost every five to eight years. In the past decade, we have added 3G and 4G to 2G, so what is the big deal about 5G?

The answer is simple. 5G is fundamentally different from previous technologies for three key reasons.

First, in 2G, 3G, and 4G technology, radio parameters are optimized to provide the best experience to a set of customers connected to a cell site, while 5G optimizes parameters to provide the best experience to the individual customer with the introduction of complex radio beamforming.

Secondly, 5G technology introduces automated network slicing with dynamically controlled end-to-end quality of service (QoS) whereas 4G allows only manual network slicing with static QoS.  While QoS in 4G was primarily focused on mobility and throughput, 5G adds reliability, latency, and security as primary QoS parameters. These are key drivers supporting new revenue streams such as connected cars, robotics, factory automation, e-health services, AR/VR, etc. further adding to the complexity.

Thirdly, 5G business services are tailored to the customer rather than a consumer product defined by CSP in traditional service. The business service is underpinned by a customer-specific contracted Service Level Agreement (SLA), supported by end-to-end (E2E) performance of radio domain, and virtualized core functions running at central or edge location connected through software-defined transport networks. Delivering on the SLA despite varying traffic profile, given the multitude of customers and discrete SLAs be complied across domains, brings added complexity.

So, with the advent of a 5G future, there will be more networks carrying out more complex tasks and delivering an entire range of new, state-of-the-art services. To what extent do you think analytics and automation will help deal with the complexity that comes with 5G networks?

5G brings exciting new revenue opportunities for telcos in the B2B and B2C sectors. Almost all 100+ commercially launched operators have seen incremental consumer revenue with services like enhanced mobile broadband, fixed wireless, and video surveillance services, while new revenue segment drivers like AR/VR,  industrial automation, healthcare, transport, supported by low latency and ultra-reliable networks, are in trial phase, bringing added complexity to network operations.

The telco world has used automation and analytics to handle complexity for some time and most operators have already introduced  service  operation center (SOC)  and  self-optimized networks (SON) to automate repetitive tasks but fresh thinking is required to manage the complexity and scale that come with 5G technology. Operation is based on two key principles that eliminate human errors by removing the human element from analytics and then shifting to autonomous operations power by machine learning (ML) to address the scale.

Nokia introduced Cognitive SON which uses machine learning (ML) algorithms to monitor the radio network, detect and categorize network problems into cell type and problems, label them, and resolve the problems through closed-loop automation. SON is context-aware and can evaluate the outcome of its actions and fine-tune them for the optimum solution. It goes a step further towards predictive analysis to predict an anomaly.

Bell Labs made an interesting study around network complexity and the total cost of operation (TCO) as the 5G network is transformed from a few manual slices to multiple automated slices to support new revenue streams. As the network is transformed to deliver complex services, it requires a greater degree of automation to address TCO and the associated profitability challenge.

Nokia recognized the market demand and delivered a flexible platform controlling costs at a time of growing network complexity around 5G operation with its recently launched Digital Operation Center. This combines service design, orchestration, assurance, and analytics into a single modular system delivering and overseeing network slices at scale and speed through closed-loop automation.

For CSPs to comply with discrete customer SLAs and predict potential degradation, analytic platform correlates network performance and business SLA information into actionable insight, or as Nokia calls it connected intelligence which drives automated changes across network domain proactively. It is built on Nokia's Common Software Foundation (CSF) that enables customers to use their choice of deployment strategies making it easier to deploy, integrate, and upgrade using a variety of cloud-native principles.

They say that customer is King. Tell us about Nokia's customer experience management solutions.

The world is transforming, with technology breaking broadband connectivity throughput every 3 years.  The industry is going through three important trends – the OTT momentum, new 5G driven applications with AR/VR, and customer touchpoint data analytics with AI. This is shaping the way CSPs evolve their customer experience journey and supporting systems.

Nokia is leading the market with deep domain expertise in customer experience, rated as number 1 by Analyses Mason on device management, insights & AI/ML.  Nokia processes more than 82+ terabytes of data daily to train AI/ML models and has differentiated itself through developing cognitive customer experience platforms deployed with more than 300 CSPs.

Nokia's Bell Labs developed analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence algorithms to generate insights for a personalized experience, proactive care, and streamlined engagements.  Nokia partners with CSPs to connect intelligence and insights from across network and business to help in monetizing revenue opportunities, improve operational efficiency, and customer loyalty.

Of course, many things will have to be done differently while 5G is gaining more and more traction with many operators already launching 5G commercial services. What should service providers bear in mind when considering their 5G security approach?

5G is serving as a catalyst for Industry 4.0.  More and more factories and machines are transforming into autonomous operations using the intelligence of connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Three important attack vectors drive the security aspect in 5G:

  • Exponential devices growth with an extension of network perimeter towards customer premises increases security threat vulnerability;
  • End-to-end slices terminating in private networks will increase the attack surface; and
  • Human error can be a threat as all core network elements are cloudified and in a multi-vendor environment.

With 5G technology becoming a mainstream economic driver in industry 4.0 and supporting mission-critical applications, operators need to take care of four important aspects:

  • Plan for security from day zero and have a well thought in-built security architecture supported by 3GPP standards;
  • Build a holistic end-to-end approach to detect, protect/prevent, and predict the risk while implementation could be in phases;
  • Design for an in-depth defense model addressing all 4 layers supporting a programable 5G network; and
  • Security remediation should follow standards laid by 3GPP.

Nokia believes that Analytics and ML-based automation is vital for timely response to security threats in 5G enabled applications like autonomous vehicle driving, healthcare services, or a factory robotic arm machine. This addresses three important aspects of a Security Operation Automated Response (SOAR) for 5G security:

  • visibility of the entire network chain;
  • graded real-time response; and
  • prediction of risk to detect a malicious real threat.
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