Six key speakers at our FutureNet World Asia event answered a rapid round of questions on everything from the edge and ecosystems, to multi-cloud strategies and winning use cases, but put customer experience at the heart of them all.
Making quality of service as transparently visible as the clear sky
The profound changes underway in operators’ networks and operations have been propelled by the twin drivers of meeting customers’ evolving needs and ensuring healthy returns for stakeholders, says Asif Rashid, CIO, Robi Axiata. He sums up the dilemma operators are in as they strive to transform: “Many telcos have not been built over the years to switch gears just like that”.
He muses, “An ad hoc approach may not work. The preferred approach seems to be creating a new target operating model and carefully balancing the legacy and the new digital businesses through separate playbooks.”
“The optimum model for running a 5G business would vary market to market. For many Asian markets, the NSA-based [non-standalone-] overlay model may work quite well as cost of 5G SA [Standalone] may not have immediate payback. So telcos may opt for organic addition of a 5G-focused operating and organisational model, Rashid notes.”
“A 5G world is a service-oriented one,” he stresses and warns against operators committing to value propositions they cannot deliver because users will not be fooled. He states, “The QoS [quality of service] would be as transparently visible as the clear sky”.
Rashid continues, “If a telco leaves out AI and automation from its transformation model, it will most likely end up having a model that won’t sustain. The telcos that leverage cloud, AI and automation as their key enablers for supporting their transformation model are more likely to keep their costs and efforts at optimum level, have more diversified offerings for their customers, achieve their goals faster, and be able to tweak their models as they experiment with them in their markets of operation.”
Randeep Sekhon, CTO, Airtel believes that the rapid digitalisation of customers’ lifestyles is already revolutionising how they view telecom providers. He says that tomorrow’s customer will see unlimited and ubiquitous connectivity as ever more critical as they navigate more areas of their life digitally, from socialising to study and work.
He reckons, “Customers will expect a simple, converged service provider that can take care of all of their digital lifecycle requirements [and] stitch together journeys across different access networks and on different engagement channels – on-line or off-line.” The question is, can operators meet these tough demands?
Sekhon says operators need “to build converged network which can be orchestrated through APIs”. He adds, “Ecosystem partners need to leverage each other’s strengths and stitch business process [between] themselves to give users seamless experience. APIs from the telecom network would enable network exposure and configuration as needed by the application provider or user’s preferences.”
He continues, “Telcos must look at taking the lead in building the partner ecosystem to enable all these current and new age services” and insists that “Customer centricity is the guiding principle for any successful business. How comprehensively are we able to listen to the end customer and efficiently translate those needs into products and services will be key drivers of success in the market.”
AI key to translation
Nathan Bell, Chief Digital Officer at M1, thinks AI centred on the network will be a “gamechanger” when it comes to translating customers’ needs into the products and services they want. He says, “The real key will be the ability to leverage network systems that can learn, assess, adapt and recommend to meet customers’ dynamic requirements.” He sees AI working hand-in-glove with automation, which he describes as “critical”.
“The opportunity lies in being able to aid businesses [by] matching their own elasticity needs facing events like the current the global pandemic, a financial crisis or natural disasters – [they have] an increasingly global impact, and businesses in particular face the greatest challenge,” according to Bell.
He continues, “Businesses need to be able to adapt to their environmental, market and business demands whether that is shifting from office working to remote working, operating at scale or being able to reduce capacity and scale only when demand validates it, or shaping the network from supporting applications to supporting large scale video for conferences.
“Some of this is possible today but bringing this to life across fixed and mobile networks with no human intervention and teams focusing on the strategic planning and preventative fixing will represent a big change in the future.”
Finding your feet at the edge
Everyone agrees that the edge will play a big part in meeting customers’ demands, supporting entirely new services, based on its low latency, and high capacity, at speed, close to where it is required. Exactly how 5G and the edge will play out is less clear, from the use cases that are most likely to succeed to the role of telcos, among other things.
Zaif Siddiqi, Global Head of 5G, IoT Enterprise Business at NTT DOCOMO says operators are well placed and “can leverage [network and services] to their advantage and choose to collaborate with ecosystem partners including hyperscalers. CSPs should ramp up their capabilities with highly skilled talent at the edge so they can advise clients how to optimise the infrastructure and develop new business models with lower costs. This will bring in new revenue streams and open more doors for the CSPs to further capitalise on the infrastructure and the solutions they provide”.
Siddiqi also thinks operators need to adapt a dynamic, distributed cloud-based model to deliver much better user experience because the model means “data can literally be anywhere whether on premise, public cloud or edge. From a user standpoint, it may not matter what the mix is as long as user experience is not downgraded nor security compromised. [It] also allows easier management of the clusters [so] you pretty much end up with a true ‘open cloud’ that executes services at any point and operates with full customisation,” he says.
Where does an operator start to build intelligent operations to support 5G and the edge? “A solid foundation is key. Intelligent operations require the right tools and culture, from efficiently extracting and understanding network data to taking intelligent action,” says Miro Salem, Global Head of Artificial Intelligence & Autonomous Networks at Rakuten Mobile.
He adds, “Without a stable ecosystem of tools (for example, a data platform, AI platform, use case backlogs and so on) and full synchronisation across the organisation (including the RAN, core, cloud, security, DevOps etcetera), intelligent operations will be siloed, duplicated and inefficient. They require alignment and buy-in from all stakeholders. Only with this clarity can true intelligent operation across various layers and elements of the production network flourish.”
Salem is in favour of CSPs having a multi-cloud strategy for delivering immersive, multi-access edge (MEC) computing services and use cases, and also when considering inter-operator edge clouds. As 5G, “has much lower latency requirement all the way to the physical layer – [it] has a much shorter transmission time interval (TTI) than 4G,” he explains. “This means processing and round-trip delay must be carefully considered, especially for mmWave use cases.
“Pixel streaming gaming…demonstrates the need for edge computing services. More and more applications will need to use edge for low latency, such as virtual and augmented reality (AR/VR).”
M1’s Bell says for high-bandwidth applications, “It’s all about lowering my spend as a consumer, but with the option to leverage higher value services, such as lower latency, when I need it for gaming, VR or other future-defined services.
“Some of these aspects are already available but it will be about immediacy: ‘I want to consume something now and I don’t want to wait because I might not want it later; I might want something else’. This is similar to how we consume new apps or content: if we can’t use it when we want to, we are likely to delete it or forget about it all together.”
Kim Krogh Andersen, Group Executive – Product & Technology, Telstra, says, “Mobile broadband for low latency streaming is already here, and [Telstra has] AR and VR for enhanced sports and entertainment experiences – for instance, Telstra’s AR AFL app – is now hitting the market.
“AR and VR will also be a significant benefit to the training, manufacturing and maintenance industries, especially when combined with digital twin technologies that we are developing. For emergency and protective services, we will see dedicated private 5G network slices with enhanced audio, video and data capabilities.”
Step towards slicing
Telstra has taken a step in this direction, releasing its Network Optimised Products which enable some customers to dynamically switch on certain enhancements as required for some use cases, such as increasing speed or lowering latency. He adds, “With the advent of Standalone 5G, we look forward to being able to spin up slices for customers dynamically, providing personalised feature enhancements on the go.”
Krogh Andersen says, “APIs will also be a way [we can] innovate and monetise at the pace of technology, tapping ecosystems as a platform and with pure digital programmable engagement with hyperscalers, enterprises and developers.”
Airtel’s Sekhon adds, “Service providers need to build converged network which can be orchestrated through software APIs. Virtualization of network would be key to configure the network as per customer’s requirement and applications based on time of the day and their geographical locations. With IoT devices increasingly interacting with the network, network security would be very critical to ensure secure and uninterrupted services to the consumers.”