Telco Transformation: Intelligent Network Computing and Differentiated Experience

In the second of a three-part series, we look at network technology drivers and assess how they influence strategy for operators as they transform their networks and positioning for the digital era.

The vision of a digital world comes with new complexities, particularly with regard to operating networks to accommodate the increasing breadth of services, applications, devices and users with increasingly demanding performance requirements. This is underpinned by computing intelligence enabling operators to improve networks through being demand-centric, resource orchestrated, value-bundled, programmable and adaptive.

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 use their strengths in connectivity to redefine their B2B strategies around cloud-network synergy to create service differentiation, 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 IoT 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 use relevant network resources and present them as a service platform to enterprise and ISP customers. Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) is an emerging cloud-based model for such customers to consume network infrastructure — including all necessary hardware, software, management tools, licenses and lifecycle services — without owning, building or maintaining their own network. Instead, it is delivered by the telecoms operators as a flexible, use-based service subscription — an operating expense (OpEx) rather than capital expenditure model that can replace purchasing costs of hardware-centric VPNs, load balancers, firewall appliances and Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) 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 (LANs and WANs) with multi-cloud environments, as well as software defined networks (SDNs) including SD-WAN and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) services through its own infrastructure, citing customers such as Siemens and BNP Paribas.

NaaS also allows users to scale use as demand changes and rapidly deploy services, whereas the traditional IT network requires planning and deployment time and expertise to install and configure hardware, ensure security and access policies and test the network. This isn’t even mentioning monitoring for software updates and security patches, provisioning new services — often a manual process, potentially across multiple locations — and troubleshooting performance issues.

NaaS represents a major opportunity for operators to exploit their network resources to offer high-value services, build new revenue streams and strengthen key relationships with customers — something recognised by Huawei’s GUIDE Business Blueprint, which makes the case for intelligent, multi-cloud connectivity as the means for operators to use their network resources and achieve service scale. GUIDE specifies how their future competitiveness requires customizable and higher value user experiences built on top of connectivity, to support more compelling digital use cases for enterprise and consumer markets.

This is the direction of travel for connectivity and digital services offered by operators through the 5G era. How we use networks is fundamentally changing, with increased demand for high capacity, low latency performance, at 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 monetize technology investments.

Building on the network intelligence concept is the requirement for operators to differentiate experience on-demand: diversified experiences throughout industries, moving toward SLA-driven, customised experiences for individual uses. For instance, 5G connectivity on 350 km/h high-speed trains, “360-degree view” immersive video or even self-driving autonomous vehicles among many other exciting prospects.

One recent example of this in the enterprise space is South African mobile operator MTN announcing a private 5G network contract for 14 mining and port companies in the country. 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 livestream services, from its Hivestream enterprise video streaming 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 — exploiting connectivity and network intelligence to deliver differentiated experiences.

Delivery of unique, customer-driven services is a journey for operators, travelling from best-effort experience to guaranteed experience with the final destination being on-demand experience. This could include immersive, experience-led 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 — capacity, latency, reliability and so on — network intelligence and flexibility and service orchestration and automation.

This is not only a long distance from “best effort” service, but arguably from an environment in which the network becomes the competitive battleground for operators. However, this would not be based on the traditional metrics of “speed and coverage” over-used in marketing campaigns; instead, quality of experience (QoE) driven by network performance would be 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 QoE data so that operators can react to network issues before they become customer issues. Managing user QoE from a service operations perspective requires network AI, ultra-automation and advanced data analytics to give QoE “scores” for customers, managing user troubleshooting queue prioritization, targeting customers with poor QoE and personalising high QoE customers with new offers, 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 QoE will become a primary differentiator in competing on value.

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