“In order to build a network at scale, regardless of how cheap your labor is, you need to fundamentally change your operating platforms for digitization. Jio would have north of 100,000 people a day working in the field, deploying sites. How do you manage them — give them tasks, check on the quality of installation they do, and audit the work before you turn up any of the bay stations, sites, or radio units?”
5G and metaverse may steal the headlines. But the core of all telecoms is building, operating and maintaining a distributed collection of interconnected sites and locations at scale with intelligence and efficiency. Yet these processes never get the attention they deserve.
In many ways, the digitalization of telecom starts right at the beginning, with the digitalization of the build, commission, operation and maintenance of all the sites.
In a recent podcast with The Verge, Tareq Amin, CEO of Rakuten Mobile and Rakuten Symphony, indicated he realized this when previously working at Reliance Jio in India. It was there he first drove the entire digitalization of all workflows associated with sites, connecting everybody involved, whether Jio employees, contractors or distributed organizations.
“Up to 400,000 people at any instant of time would come to the systems that my team has built. That changed everything. It changed the mentality of how we drive cost efficiency and how we run the operations.”
Some in the industry are trying to adopt horizontal enterprise workflow management tools such Rakuten Service Now. This misses the point.
Telecom operations is a highly complex, vertically integrated system. It has to be since all elements of the system have high interdependency with all other elements of the system. It is no different than a modern car. Common commodity elements with standardized interfaces can be sourced from many places but the total operation of all components together is the car. Having the brain of that car being a generic workflow manager would never make sense. It doesn’t make sense for telecom either.
In telecom, site management is a result of coverage planning. Coverage planning is a continuous process of expected coverage quality versus actual coverage quality. Coverage quality is a continuous process of setting customer expectations and meeting those customer expectations.
The interplay between all aspects of the operation is where a vertically integrated domain specific approach is so important. When Tareq joined Rakuten Mobile, he started with site management digitalization and created the end-to-end Symworld platform to support the total operating model of telecom. This has nothing to do with generations of technology, but is rather 100% focused on moving the management complexity out of people and into software and data.
The data from coverage planning leads to the creation of data describing needed sites and leads to data with a Bill of Materials and inventory for each site. When the site is commissioned all materials are automatically scanned and collated. The site is powered, discovers itself in the database and undertakes zero-touch provisioning.
The site is then fully provisioned, secured, configured for observability and brought online. Coverage is monitored, measuring expected change versus actual and any needed adjustments loop back into the next closed-loop planning cycle. This system is what has enabled Rakuten Mobile to roll out 275,000 cells, achieving 97% population coverage years ahead of schedule with only 250 operational people.
Such a system is the only way to realize the dream of a fully autonomous network. And this is why the core process all telecom companies need to change starts with site management and builds from there.
This is what is truly exciting in telecom. Let us be proud of what we do, how hard it is, and how we can be the best in the world at it.
One last closing statement from Tareq Amin:
“My ultimate dream is the enablement of a fully autonomous network that is able to run itself, fix itself, and heal itself.”
Listen to the full history of Tareq Amin’s experience on “The Risky New Way Of Building Mobile Broadband Networks, Explained By Rakuten Mobile CEO Tareq Amin” podcast at The Verge site.