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Digital transformation is everywhere — literally. From the way we make conversation up to how we make transactions, leaning towards the automated approach is convenient and inevitable. This is applicable as well to the telecom industry as a whole; particularly on the backend.

In this regard, telcos face challenges to optimize their services and operations continuously. Otherwise, facing the risk of being in a saturated market exists with many competitors and vendors vying for the same consumers. The goal then is obviously to deliver the highest levels of connectivity and improve customer service. What’s the best way to do this? Network automation.

With emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), IoT, and 5G, telcos have no choice but to embrace a fully digitalized ecosystem. Automation is one of the driving forces in the telecom sector, influencing both tower operators in their infrastructure management and carriers’ duty to the end-users.

The latest data shows that the orchestration and network function virtualization (NFV) market is projected to surpass $70 billion by 2024. Moreover, by 2025, telco investments in AI will reach around $11.2 billion and 80% of mobile network operators (MNOs) are expected to have automated 40% of their network operations.

Why automation matters

Four words. It makes things better. Considering the emergence of 5G in a smarter world, telecom infrastructure must adapt to automation now (not later). “I think in the coming years worldwide, 5G will be exhaustively developed. This will demand more productivity, more operations, and more coordination in terms of extending the reach of the coverage of 5G, particularly in big cities, where there will be more density,” said Luis del Valle Alemán, chief revenue officer at Atrebo.

Building faster and scalable means of running the business is what telco infrastructure automation brings to the table. Technology is being applied to replace legacy systems and customers become at the core of the environment.

No doubt, the need for seamless, never-ending connectivity, increased competition, and corporate accountability made automation mandatory for the telecom industry. Some key benefits this will bring include efficient data flow, increased asset security, and improved revenue per user.

Compared to orthodox, automation can process information at a much higher rate. With this smart method, a successful digital transformation may take place. With telecom infrastructures being physically present and susceptible to risks, automation can enable fraud-proof control of assets and increase the protection of equipment. By automating telco infrastructure, companies can also develop a data-driven business model leading to an increased market share and reduced cost, energy, and waste.
As we continue to move toward a more interconnected world, investing in connectivity infrastructure becomes critical. People’s lives have become digital-centered with 5G, IoT, and cloud applications propelling the demand for connectivity further.

Hence, carriers and service providers are especially working toward delivering expansive, uninterrupted connections with lightning-fast speeds which rely on a robust tower infrastructure. To make this new generation of connectivity a reality, tower operators must have a targeted and strategic approach for modernization and expansion.

To remain competitive with carriers, carefully monitoring performance and providing a pathway for additional 5G expansion will become increasingly important for telco towers in the coming months and years. Particularly as smart cities develop and mature, small cells, distributed antenna systems (DAS), and rooftop sites can help enhance the network density in heavily populated urban areas.

This type of infrastructure plays a larger role in connectivity moving forward, and to ensure the best coverage and performance of these deployments, automation is requisite.

Several major trends also determine why automation is indispensable. Tower companies need reliable real­time visibility into what’s installed on their structures and what capacity for installing additional equipment to accommodate the rapid rollout of 5G. Also putting pressure on tower companies to continue delivering strong returns are new competitors, higher investor expectations, and a rise in M&A and tower restructuring deals.

With relevant assets and tech-focused resources, the coveted shift from traditional to digital will constantly happen.

How automation works

With automation, the network has the groundwork for more innovation, improved efficiency, sustained success, and a sustainable structure. Tower Automation Alliance emphasized the two most important automation ingredients: intelligence which drives change and programmability which coordinates the responses and adaptations.

Some of the key technologies towercos must focus on are AI/ML, tower asset monitoring, robotic process automation (RPA), digital twin, and infrastructure security.

  • Telecom tower companies should take advantage of AI/ML-led intelligent tools for functions such as automated dispatching, preventive maintenance, and optimized field visits.
  • By leveraging drone-led tower inspection, for example, improves the efficiency of operations by tracking your tower devices and assets in real-time.
  • Various tasks such as invoice processing, event-based maintenance, backup and recovery processes, and dispute handling with landlords and vendors can be resolved by RPA.
  • Through the digital twin technology, towercos can leverage operational efficiencies in planning, design, deployment, along with network optimization and insights into new and innovative business models.
  • To deliver and maintain an effective, end-to-end network security strategy, threat analyses and security assessments must be adapted to an evolving threat landscape, avoiding any colossal damage.

The current model of telecom network operations needs to revamp to keep up with a more advanced and digitized world. Automation will therefore be a vital step for the new operating model of not only towers but the transformation of communication service providers (CSPs) to being digital service providers (DSPs).

In the journey from CSP to DSP, many network operators today have orchestrated network and IT domains but few have the capability to orchestrate end-to-end (E2E) services. Thus, the implementation and provisioning of automation use cases across all radio access network (RAN) types and vendors must be done. Only then can E2E orchestration happen. In line with this, building 5G standalone (SA) architectures in the next couple of years delivers the full promise of network slicing and tailor-fit connectivity for telcos.

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