Autonomous network technology isn’t simply for enabling telecoms networks to run with no human intervention – it can also enable communications service providers (CSPs) to offer ICT services that provide the same capability to vertical enterprise customers.
At Digital Transformation Asia in Kuala Lumpur last week, speakers from Orange and Huawei’s research arm Futurewei outlined a vision for standardized autonomous network services – or “automated ICT services”.
“Everybody knows all the verticals today are undergoing digital transformation, so what they need from the ICT industry is more simplified, easy-to-use, automated ICT services,” said Dr. Dong Sun, Chief Business Strategist, Digital Transformation, Futurewei Technologies. “We want to take the complexities within our industry and make it zero touch, zero risk and zero toggle for ourselves, but also to support automated ICT infrastructure services for all industries, as well as consumers. This is where we are going with autonomous networks eventually.”
This raises an obvious question: What kinds of ICT services could be automated? That depends on customers’ needs, which TM Forum members are considering as part of their collaborative work on autonomous networks. Toward that end, they have created ‘user stories’ for specific verticals and for CSPs.
“We defined some use stories, and then from there, we distilled some common capabilities and common services from those stories,” Dong Sun explained. “And those common services can be customized into specific services to serve your business model.”
Growth and efficiency
The initial user stories that will drive autonomous network services include smart cities, smart manufacturing, autonomous vehicles, media/entertainment (including sports events, gaming and remote productions), public safety (information broadcast, disaster recovery), as well as two user stories for efficiency: automated operations and maintenance (O&M) and innovative operations services.
Others will be added later as more companies join in the project, said Dong Sun, “but these are the starting points.”
Autonomous network services can be divided into two categories, according to Sun:
- Business growth for verticals such as smart cities and smart manufacturers
- Operational efficiencies for CSPs
Both categories could be applied to legacy services as well as new innovative services. For example, verticals could leverage autonomous network capabilities for legacy services like virtual private networks, software-defined wide area networks and 5G network slicing, as well as new ICT services. CSPs, meanwhile, could apply autonomous network services to automate existing pipeline operations or enable flexible, agile operations such as platforms and dynamic processes.
The goal is to develop fully automated zero-touch ICT services, but it will take a while. “It’s not there today,” Dong Sun said. “I think it’s at least three to five, maybe ten years away from full automation.”
What’s the hold up?
One significant barrier is that there are several approaches to autonomous networks, said Christian Maître, Director of Global Operations Transformation Deployment, Orange Group.
“There are lots of different definitions for autonomous networks, which is why TM Forum is working on an initiative to harmonize the vision of autonomous networks,” he explained. “Otherwise it will lead to non-interoperable platforms or initiatives everywhere from different telcos and vendors.”
To that end, TM Forum members are applying the Open Digital Architecture (ODA) to develop a standardized approach to autonomous networks. But it will take more participation and collaboration to realize the vision of fully automated ICT services.
“We need to collaborate with all industry organizations and standards bodies to develop this vision,” Dong Sun said. “TM Forum is the first to develop a blueprint, but we would like to share it with others and reach a consensus on this.”
This article was first published on TM Forum’s Inform