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First steps for mobile network automation: A discussion

By
December 12, 2023
5
minute read

Achieving telecom network automation at speed starts with a new mindset around team building, network staffing and engineering team management. That’s the conclusion of a recent STL Partners webinar featuring industry analysts, Rakuten Symphony and Ooredoo Myanmar’s Chief Technology & Information officer.  

Is your network a commercial airliner or a fighter jet?

Commercial airliners are built to be stable and fly themselves once they’re in the air. Automation reduces pilot responsibilities to make these planes safer and easier to fly.    

As STL Partners managing director Philip Laidler points out, this corresponds with the closed, hardware-based telecom networks in operation today.  

Compare this to a fighter jet, which moves incredibly fast but is not stable. Without significant automation, a human can’t react quickly enough to fly a fighter jet, demanding more pervasive automation. This corresponds with modern open, virtualized networks that require complex system integration.  

Automation is not new in telecom networks, but it is changing as these networks become more complex. This is why it is so important to inject new organizational thinking ahead of big technology changes as operators evolve from commercial airliner to fighter jet levels of automation, says Laidler.  

New role for ops engineers

How does this mindset manifest itself? The first task is to shift the skill set and thinking of the operations engineer – the ground level implementor of network change.  

Laidler explained that a traditional ops engineer monitors the network for faults, then locates and fixes them. Their KPIs are the number of faults fixed and how much time was spent addressing them.  

Modern networks require an automation-driven ops engineer that can implement new automations for fixing faults and monitor to ensure effectiveness. The KPIs for this job are automation outcomes and the number of automations created or submitted.  

Laidler showed how Rakuten Mobile has pioneered this automation ops engineer position with great success, including a 30% reduction in open trouble tickets, 95% of network elements automatically hardened and 70% decrease in configuration mistakes.  

In a brownfield network, the network team must maintain its legacy networks while also embracing this automation mindset.  

The webinar panelists discussed how to achieve this, with Jose Sierra, Chief Technology and Information Officer at Ooredoo Myanmar emphasizing three pillars for his network engineering team: networks, ICT and data engineering, and automation. To make this new organization effective, the team is building a centralized data repository to create a single data format that allows Ooredoo to better automate data functions.

Sierra shared that this has required a cultural shift.  

While everyone on the team has traditionally used unique tools, the goal now is to migrate to common tools that automate systems across the organization. Sierra is focused on incentivizing innovation and helping teams understand how this will positively impact their long-term career planning.

Top down or bottom up?

As a former mobile network CIO/CTO, AERA Digital Consulting’s Dushko Kantardjiev has seen how cultures have been changed across many operators, noting that the approach has to be based on technology, corporate culture, and whether an operator manages its own infrastructure or utilizes a managed service agreement.  

This culture change can be bottom up – initiated by workers that must manage the network every day. It’s also effective to manage as a strategic initiative from the top down.  

The optimal strategy will be different for each company and depends on the technology intricacies.  

Greenfield automation success

Rakuten Mobile’s journey building an automation-focused organization was highlighted by Perivoye Stoyanovski, head of technical sales of OSS for Rakuten Symphony.  

Stoyanovski said Rakuten Mobile integrated an automation mindset from the beginning because it understood speed’s role in success and software’s ability to power it.  

The company had the sponsorship of its parent company, Rakuten Group, but there were challenges in its path. The company started as an MVNO and then became a full operator.  

Having overcome the challenging experience of moving from MVNO to MNO, Stoyanovski says, it brings a valuable perspective when it works with other MNOs – particularly brownfield MNOs, helping to better guide them through the team building and sponsorship process.

Laidler then introduced independent analyst Charlotte Patrick to talk about her research on the quality and decisiveness of decisions which she has found is another important key to success. Patrick says one thing that stood out in her recent research report was the need for managers to make closed loop decisions.  

Too often there are a massive number of systems and processes that need to be automated which can stall decision making as managers are trying to prioritize each project by its financial return or necessity for the rest of the network. Establishing feedback loops and monitoring the performance of the automations provide the foundations for effective closed loop decision making and automation governance.  

There’s much more information available in the on-demand version of the webinar including an audience poll on what’s holding back automation and audience questions and answers.

Watch for yourself here so that you are up to date on the state of the art of automation.

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Automation
Network Automation
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