Complexity is like quicksand: when you get stuck in it, all you can do is try to avoid sinking deeper. That's what telecommunications service providers have been dealing with for years now. Caught in the quicksand of layered technologies, siloed processes, multivendor ecosystems and compartmentalized operations, they've been limited in their ability to offer much value beyond connectivity alone.
5G will bring abundant opportunities for service providers to create new kinds of value and reap the rewards. But to seize those opportunities, they need to minimize complexity by transforming their network and service operations. And, it's going to be up to the CIOs to lead the way — by making that critical connection between their networks and their customers' businesses.
Automation is the answer
As a multidimensional network technology, 5G enables a new paradigm of opportunities while also introducing new kinds of complexity. Performance requirements will be in the territory of sub-millisecond latency and five-nines reliability. Internet of Things (IoT) deployments will generate massive amounts of continuous data that has to be monitored, analyzed and acted on. The network will become an open platform for innovation instead of a closed mechanism for connectivity — meaning other parties beyond the service provider will have access to resources to develop services and solutions for their own customers, overwhelmingly for the enterprise market.
The dynamics associated with these changes will make it more or less impossible for human teams and manual processes to keep up. And "keeping up" itself won't be enough. Service providers will want to establish a whole new approach to service design and delivery suited to the capabilities and potential of 5G. As a result, automation and AI will be indispensable.
Toward "intent-driven" operations
Traditional telco service development has been based on what the network can and cannot do: a "define-and-push" approach that ultimately leads to services with limited customer value.
With 5G, service providers have the chance to flip the paradigm so the business needs of customers determine what the network has to do: a "demand-and-pull" model that embraces how services and content are actually consumed. This is where the role of IT systems will change.
In this model, the customer's need produces a business or experience intent: a specific goal to be achieved. That gives rise to a service intent (a way to achieve the goal), which must then be pulled from the network and fulfilled by the operations layer.
If you imagine a smart factory that wants to deploy a robotic production line, you can see how this works. The business intent of the factory is to establish a machine-based manufacturing environment. That spawns a service intent (on the part of the provider) to assign a portion or "slice" of the 5G network with certain performance characteristics. That service intent is underpinned by a network intent to guarantee specific levels of capacity, reliability and latency, managed across domains so the service is delivered as promised and the business intent is met.
This intent-driven approach will require the breaking down of silos and automation that is laser-focused on business outcomes. By focusing on intents, telcos can turn the capabilities of their networks into something meaningful for consumption, especially by enterprises.
A gradual evolution
Tackling the complexity problem — getting out of the quicksand — will take some time. CIOs who want to get started now can begin by consolidating systems, flattening out operations, optimizing processes and shifting investment from legacy technologies to new ones. That will make it easier to manage the transition to 5G, which will require ongoing 4G services in parallel for at least another decade. Getting that step right will set telco service providers on the path to creating new and unprecedented kinds of value.