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Telecom operators are on a constant quest to update their offerings and networks in order to meet rising customer expectations and growing needs. With digitalization being a major goal, network automation is the key to delivering diversified digital services while maintaining low OPEX.

Automating a network facilitates efficient configuration and monitoring. The network will be able to adapt to the business environment and will leverage AI and ML in line with the operator’s specific operational goals. This will, in turn, introduce self-repair and self-optimization capabilities.

Mobile networks have traditionally required continuous monitoring and follow-up by engineers in order to intervene and troubleshoot any issues. With 5G, this type of human intervention will no longer suffice. 5G networks are highly dynamic and support an ever-increasing number of connected devices that collectively generate huge amounts of data traffic. In this context, network automation is ideal for operators to have a complete awareness of their network’s status.

As part of the virtual panel “Network Automation & SD-WAN in the Era of Virtualization” organized by Telecom Review, Khaled Al Belooshi, VP of Fixed Networks at Etisalat, conveyed that automation has become critical for operators – that it’s not optional anymore and, instead, is poised to usher in more of a transformational process. “Automation, along with network virtualization, can bring clear value to the operators. It touches all stakeholders, whether it’s from HR, technology, or commercial, and needs to be handled with a clear strategy and standards for APIs and domains as a complete strategy,” he explained.

Gradual Transition

The vast majority of operators still have to contend with maintaining legacy systems, and this constitutes the main challenge for operators aiming to automate their networks. It is, in fact, a long process that includes design, planning, assurance and maintenance. For operators to initiate their network’s automation, they have to simplify their operations processes and integrate AI and ML systems.

A fully automated network is still a lofty goal; however, a hybrid model is currently being adopted by operators who have already started their automation journey. This composite approach entails a combination of human and automated systems.

Pillars of Automation

Operators that plan on investing in automation should look first for intent-based automation with advanced analytics capability enabled by AI and ML.

In addition, an automation solution should be future-proof and allow interoperability with major 5G network vendors. An effective automated environment should be able to manage a heterogeneous, multivendor landscape that includes multiple layers of underlying legacy infrastructure.

The Next Phase

While a complete automation of the network will happen gradually, the best approach is to start by automating parts of the network now, one at a time, until reaching a complete transition. A significant step on the path to complete autonomy is the introduction of self-learning capabilities in the network and, with it, adaptation.

Autonomous networks are the future. They will be crucial to achieving operational agility and, thus, lower OPEX, and this is exactly what operators need in the 5G era. They will be in a favorable position to launch new digital services and diversify their portfolios, all while improving efficiency and fostering innovation.

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