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Bharti Airtel CTO: ‘5G is a tough use case’

Mobile network operators must view the shift to hybrid cloud and automation amid 5G deployments as a journey that won’t return benefits quickly, Bharti Airtel CTO Randeep Sekhon said at Red Hat’s Open5G event.

Automation and hybrid cloud infrastructure are no longer a choice, but a necessity, he said. This requires patience, deliberation, and commitment.

“It is not an off-the-shelf thing,” Sekhon said. “It’s a journey. You will keep fixing things, keep automating things.”

The global operator, which has service in 18 countries and the second largest mobile network in India, worked with Red Hat to build a hybrid cloud architecture that allows it to simplify operations and “drop in capacities and capabilities on the go,” he said.

Hybrid cloud also equips Bharti Airtel with the resources to overcome challenges resulting from global supply chain shortages by automating network management as it works through plans to deploy 5G services, according to Sekhon.

Bharti Airtel limits complexity with automation
Every tower that Bharti Airtel operates in India today runs four layers of 4G LTE on four different frequencies, and 5G will add another layer of complexity, he explained. Automation is a critical capability in this scenario because it increases speed to deployment, testing, accuracy of that testing, and energy efficiency, he added.

Sekhon also offered a reality check on the state of technologies that fuel automation. “We are not there at artificial intelligence yet, it’s not cognitive, I mean it is still more machine learning than AI,” he said.

“With so much data being thrown in by the network elements and the devices, correlating them and finding meaningful ways to either improve customer experience or costs to serve, I think this is where we are using” machine learning currently, Sekhon explained.

The executive also encouraged other operators not to conflate technological advancements with business challenges facing the wireless industry at large.

The biggest challenge facing all operators around the world today is that “5G does not have a no-brainer business case, to be fair. It takes a lot of investment, not just in capex,” but also spectrum, and opex, Sekhon said. “5G is a tough use case, or a business case in the early years of deployment.”

5G enterprise use cases will take even longer to develop than enhanced mobile broadband, he added.

‘Don’t be a copycat’
Operators should look inward as they embark on a cloud journey and identify the problems they need to overcome, according to Sekhon. “Don’t be a copycat,” he said.

Once those problems are determined, the tough work begins. Developing a plan with the right set of partners to solve these problems may not come easy, Sekhon said. Operators should also be selective with the vendors they choose to avoid confusion and stick to the objectives, he added.

“Be patient. There is no magic wand in this journey. It will take time. For the first six months to nine months, you may not see any benefit,” Sekhon said. “You just have to stick to the journey, you have to have the right metric, and you have to have the right baseline of the problem which you defined earlier, and then you see whether the needle is moving or not.”

This journey can’t be avoided, he concluded, adding the longer operators delay these decisions, the longer it will take to realize the benefits. SDxCentral

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