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Zero-touch autonomous networks achievable only by collaboration

Zero-touch autonomous networks are a major goal for the telecoms industry and the only way to succeed is by embracing collaboration at new levels. This was the common theme across three presentations on how to make autonomous networks a reality from a recent session at Digital Transformation World Series.

Dr. Che Haiping, Chief Digital Transformation Officer at Huawei, called for industry partners to develop “deeper and broader collaboration” to push the autonomous network initiative forward” by defining a reference architecture using a common technology approach and unified language.

He highlighted the importance of cooperation between standard development organizations being based on shared business objectives, and defining an assessment system for autonomous networks and domains from a production perspective.

Che added that to be effective collaborators with vertical industries, CSPs need to transform their networks and service offerings to maximize collaboration with both enterprises and each other by adopting an ‘as-a-service’ or ‘as-a-platform’ model wherever possible.

Rakuten onboard
Collaboration and ecosystems are pillars of Rakuten Mobile’s 5G strategy, according to Tareq Amin, its CTO and Group Executive VP. “5G is about collaboration,” he said. “Open innovation is a must, as well as a new way of collaborating to achieve the results that everybody is looking for, whether you are a supplier or a mobile operator.”

Amin added that automation “is really the underpinning of everything that we’re going to do in the network,” pointing to Rakuten’s cloud-native 5G architecture with its containerized virtual network elements and open RANs. They are all critical to Rakuten achieving its goal of a Level 4 autonomous network in the next two years, he said.

However, Deng Lingli, Lead Researcher and Technical Manager at China Mobile, warned that for any operator to achieve Level 4 or even Level 5 network autonomy, the industry needs to address a serious and all-too-familiar roadblock: fragmentation.

Reaching levels
Deng said that progress from Level 0 to Level 5 will likely happen in two stages. First, improving functional requirements for specific, high priority use cases. Second, scaling those functional requirements to cover all remaining scenarios. She said the problem is that the activities in stage 1 are leading to fragmentation, which makes it difficult to scale autonomous functionality across all scenarios.

“If operators are prioritizing autonomous functions…for select use cases, you end up with different operators, running different types of business, for different groups of customers, under different regulation guidelines,” she explained.

Deng said the industry needs an open collaboration platform to “build, test and certify a common, case-agnostic, functional architecture with open implementation and open standards”. Such an architecture, “Could be used to identify common requirements from different use cases that can be applied to different operator scenarios,” she added.

Market power
Michael Lawrey, Vice Chair of the board at TM Forum, commented that it was encouraging to hear CSPs in particular pushing for collaboration and open standards because they have the market power to ensure that suppliers follow their lead.

“No one knows all the answers, not even the suppliers. They need to collaborate with the industry, with other partners, and obviously customers they’re selling into to get the right outcomes from this,” Lawrey said. “If we don’t focus on that collaboration, that clear line of communication and that openness, then we won’t succeed.” Disruptive Asia

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