EXFO discusses the step-by-step move toward network automation

The complexity of future 5G networks, simultaneously handling consumer, enterprise and machine-based data transmission, requires investments in network automation. But, as operators take a step-by-step to automating operational processes, the rewards are clear but the risks are myriad and speak to both technology-facing decisions as well as a shift in internal structure and culture.

In an interview with RCR Wireless News, EXFO VP, SASS Division, Abdelkrim Benamar said, “Automation is extremely powerful if you make the right decisions but if you start to make wrong decisions, automation only increases the damages. This is why I believe there will be a mix of open loop automation for some elements of the network coupled with some closed loop automation.”

He continued: “To be able to have real meaningful building blocks for powerful automation, it’s not enough to just have the right data from probes…It’s also to have a deep knowledge of the underlying topology of the network so not only you can asses issues related to signaling on the control plane or issues related to usage of services on the user plane but be able to correlate those issues.” 

From the service assurance perspective, operators are currently focused on adding capacity to networks and then thinking about assuring the services that ride on increasing capacity levels. But, as we move to cloud-native 5G networks able to provide network slices likely tied to stringent SLAs, service assurance is imperative to creating new 5G revenue streams.

Benamar gave the example of automated troubleshooting and called it out as an automation use case that’s working today but is one step in a multi-step process. “I think the zero-touch thing…that’s an end goal. All of this ca start to be automated so we help…engineers flag issues and identify the most impactful  and take action and then implement that next best action as an intermediate step toward fully self-healing networks.”

So, given the complexity and opex management improvements network automation enables, at what point do operators become comfortable enough with closed loop systems that they take their hands off the wheel so to speak?

“That’s the $1 billion question,” Benamar said. “I think it depends on the culture of the service provider. Some are a bit more conservative, they’re not early adopters, they go step by step. They will take on non-vital parts of the network and automate things. It really depends on the culture of the service provider.”

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