In today’s ever-changing telco landscape, the need of the hour is to simplify hardware and shift towards software as much as possible. Telcos are having to introduce ever-increasing levels of automation, simplification and industrialization into their network operations. Moving away from the old ways of component-level automation, we are entering a new era of system-level automation. This will give telcos the speed they need to thrive and survive.
Guy Daniels, Director of Content, Telecom TV, sat together with industry experts Geoff Hollingworth, CMO at Rakuten Symphony, Caroline Chan, VP of Network and Edge Group at Intel and Mory Lin, VP of IoT, Embedded and Edge Computing at Supermicro, to explore the past, present and future of automation in telecom.
Telecom automation is all about reducing supply-side SKUs, removing the need for manual intervention, and introducing workflow digitization. The discussion began with Hollingworth talking about Rakuten’s approach to building mobile networks, which was completely cloud-native, open and automated with the help of our partner ecosystem.
Lin highlighted that for Supermicro, it all started with the industry’s push towards Open RAN hardware, and they had a chance to present to Rakuten the idea of using x86 platforms to support Open RAN. During the journey, Rakuten and Intel helped Supermicro optimize their off-the-shelf services and hardware for live deployments. It was a unique segment for Lin and team as they had the opportunity to bring cutting-edge data center technology, extend it to telecom and redesign more reliable systems for every application in the field.
Chan talked about Intel being a part of this ecosystem for the past 14 years – transforming the network from purpose built into a disaggregated, virtualized and containerized one, much like the cloud/hyperscaler/enterprise world.
“We quickly realized how automation is becoming a huge part of the network. We are very grateful to work with industry-leading companies like Rakuten Symphony and Supermicro in this journey.”
- Caroline Chan, VP of Network and Edge Group at Intel
The discussion next moved onto how the first thing that telcos need to embrace in existing operations is the sheer complexity, scale and history of those operations. The fundamental principles for achieving system-level automation are to start small, manage your automation, run old alongside new, challenge engineering mindsets, design for automation at scale and own the knowledge.
“I think the operators definitely want to see Intel, Supermicro and Rakuten Symphony together to lower the total cost of operations and virtualize the target area.“
- Mory Lin, VP of IoT, Embedded and Edge computing at Supermicro
The most important factor required for operators to crack the code on optimizing their operations is knowing where to start. Rakuten Mobile faced a unique challenge — starting from scratch and needing to move swiftly while maintaining a small operations team. In contrast, existing operators already have large teams managing highly complex networks spanning multiple generations.
Introducing a holistic automation approach involves technology, but it also requires considerations regarding the organization and the processes in place. Therefore, as Hollingworth explained, one key initiative Rakuten always introduced in engagements was the concept of an automation center of excellence – a centralized focused group of people who work with the existing domain owners to understand what's required to be surfaced and what the priorities are. It is also essential to prioritize and execute based on the use cases deemed most important.
Chan spoke about how Intel worked closely with Rakuten and Supermicro to address various business challenges, including closed-loop automation, security, debugging, reliability assurance, and collecting telemetry data at the silicon and software levels. For example, the achievement of running an Open RAN system and setting up a cell site in minutes instead of days.
Lin highlighted the collaboration in addressing challenges related to form factor, application-wise automation processes, thermal issues, and capacity. While Rakuten Symphony took charge of deploying and managing reliable networks for operators (both brownfield and greenfield), Intel’s technology ensured that accelerators like the Intel vRAN Boost, as part of the 4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processor, helped Supermicro find a position to contribute to the system.
Automation is the key strategic imperative of the industry, suggested Hollingworth. To compete at a different level, the industry must automate. Open RAN, artificial intelligence, and cloud technologies feed the ability to simplify automation in operations. Moving beyond the buzzword stage, Hollingworth noted that we need to ensure operators actually benefit from advancements in these areas.
"Significant operational hours can be saved by automating the detection and resolution of network issues. Whether it's through telemetry data, KPI performance data, or alarms, all information is automatically correlated to find potential solutions. The right team is then allocated based on the gathered information. If it's a recurring issue, the system offers a closed-loop solution, allowing for automation without human intervention."
-Geoff Hollingworth, CMO at Rakuten Symphony
To make informed decisions, you must have access to the necessary data to understand real-time events. The provision of data in an industrialized and accessible manner is the initial step in transforming the entire operation. The cloud serves as a programmable interface, allowing remote control of hardware. Open RAN similarly offers a programmable interface for remote control of radios by anyone, and this integrates seamlessly with all data-related activities. This enables human decision-making with data and AI, ultimately leading to automation cycles.
Automation currently exists in localized, domain-specific ways, but the big opportunity now is to transition to cross-domain system-level automation. If you want pragmatic help with the following, please contact us:
To explore more about our partnerships with Intel and Supermicro, as well as Rakuten Symphony's real-world use cases and more, please watch the entire webinar on demand by clicking here.