In the second of a three-part series, we look at network technology advances and how they influence strategies for operators as they transform their networks and positioning for the digital era. See here for part one.
The vision of a digital world comes with new complexities, particularly when operating networks to accommodate an increasing breadth of services, applications, devices and users with ever-more demanding performance requirements. This is underpinned by the computing intelligence in the network, enabling operators to make networks more demand-centric, resource-orchestrated, value-bundled, programmable and adaptive to complexity.
Intelligence is important for creating closer synergies between IT, cloud, edge and communications networks, and for service creation and orchestration. For example, operators can now exploit their strengths in connectivity to redefine their enterprise strategies to encompass synergies between the cloud and networks to differentiate their services, using the cloud as a unified platform and portal for enterprise customers.
This entails migrating communications capabilities to the cloud to provide faster and more-flexible services; innovating services like the Internet of things on cloud platforms to provide a broader service portfolio; and using cloud and network capabilities to develop ecosystem partners, focussing on popular industry scenarios, such as remote education, industry video and enterprise collaboration, to provide flexible solutions that help enterprise customers implement digital transformation.
Indeed, having a cloud-native, software-centric network with distributed intelligence means operators can exploit relevant network resources and present them as a service platform to enterprises and Internet service providers.
Network-as-a-service is an emerging cloud-based model for such customers to consume network infrastructure — including hardware, software, management tools, licences and life cycle services — without owning, building or maintaining their own network. Instead, it is delivered by telecom operators as a flexible, usage-based, service subscription — an operating expense rather than capital expenditure, which can replace the cost of buying hardware-centric virtual private networks, load balancers, firewall appliances and multiprotocol label switching connections, among other network elements.
For example, Orange Business Services offers enterprise customers a cloud-native platform that brings together local and wide area networks with multicloud environments, as well as software defined networks including SD-WAN and secure access service edge services through its own infrastructure, citing customers such as Siemens and BNP Paribas.
Network-as-a-service also allows customers to scale usage as demand changes and rapidly deploy services; a traditional IT network needs planning, deployment time and expertise to install and configure hardware, ensure security and access policies, and test the network, not to mention monitoring software updates and security patches, provisioning new services (often a manual process, potentially at multiple locations) and troubleshooting performance issues.
Network-as-a-service represents a major opportunity for operators to employ their network resources to offer high-value services, build new revenue streams and strengthen relationships with customers — elements recognised by Huawei’s GUIDE blueprint, which makes the case for intelligent, multicloud connectivity as a means for operators to make the most of their network resources. The blueprint specifies how operators’ competitiveness needs customizable and higher-value user experiences built on top of connectivity, to support usage scenarios in enterprise and consumer markets.
This is the future of connectivity and digital services offered by operators in the 5G era. How we use networks is fundamentally changing, with greater demand for high-capacity, low-latency performance on a large scale, so network operators must change their operational models — how they respond to different service demands from customers, in ways that enable them to create new revenue streams and recoup their investments in technology.
Building on the network intelligence concept is the requirement for operators to offer differentiated experience on demand, that is, diversified experiences in a range of industries, moving toward customized experiences for individual uses of connectivity underpinned by service-level agreements (SLAs). For instance, 5G connectivity on high-speed trains, 360-degree immersive video, or self-driving autonomous vehicles, among many other exciting prospects.
One recent example of this in the enterprise space is an announcement by South African mobile operator MTN of private 5G network contracts for 14 mining and port companies. The networks will offer dedicated capacity, guaranteed coverage, cloud computing and improved security — a differentiated service experience based on MTN’s 5G network, enterprise unified communication services, cybersecurity and machine-to-machine communications. The private mobile network market is a great opportunity to deliver a network as a valued service to enterprises.
Other examples include Deutsche Telekom’s various livestreaming services, from its LiveStream enterprise video platform that enables high-quality streaming of live content, complete with user engagement analytics, to its streaming of events such as the Rock am Ring music concerts over 5G.
Delivery of unique, customer-driven services is a journey for operators, travelling from a best-effort experience to a guaranteed one, with the final destination being on-demand experience. This could include immersive applications such as the metaverse, for instance, in which the high value placed by the user is on their individual, customized experience, but the building blocks for the operator are SLA-based connectivity, network intelligence and flexibility, plus service orchestration and automation.
The final destination is not only a long way from best-effort service, but arguably an environment in which the network becomes the competitive battleground for operators. This battleground will be measured not by the traditional metrics of speed and coverage over-used in marketing campaigns, but rather by the quality of experience driven by network performance, and this is at the heart of value creation for operators — from meeting high expectations from mobile users streaming video to the critical communication needs of Industry 4.0.
This requires user-level data on the quality of experience, so that operators can react to network problems before they become customer problems. Managing users’ quality of experience from a service operations perspective requires network artificial intelligence, ultra-automation and advanced data analytics to give quality of experience “scores” for customers, to manage the user troubleshooting queue, to target customers with poor quality of experience, and to personalize new service offerings for customers with high quality of experience, for instance.
Catering to the individual customer must become a focal point for operators. It takes time and investment to get there, but delivering user-level quality of experience will become a primary differentiator for all network operators.
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