How Integral Is Telco Network Assurance for 5G Enterprise Deployments?

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4Q 2021 | IN-6344

Generally speaking, telco network assurance solutions are provided by three types of companies: independent software vendors, such as NETSCOUT and EXFO; network equipment vendors, such as Huawei, Nokia, ZTE, and Ericsson; and in-house solutions developed by Communication Service Providers (CSPs) themselves (e.g., AT&T using their own in-house testing solution).

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A Diverse and Rich Ecosystem for 5G Network Assurance


Generally speaking, telco network assurance solutions are provided by three types of companies: independent software vendors, such as NETSCOUT and EXFO; network equipment vendors, such as Huawei, Nokia, ZTE, and Ericsson; and in-house solutions developed by Communication Service Providers (CSPs) themselves (e.g., AT&T using their own in-house testing solution). For telcos, network assurance typically consists of policies, processes, frameworks, and software for monitoring and alerting; however, more comprehensive solutions to manage the lifecycle of network functions, perform root cause analysis of network failures, enable self-healing mechanisms to meet Service Level Agreements (SLAs), and eventually improve Net Promoter Scores (NPSs) as an outcome.

Traditionally, network assurance has been done in silos where the fault, configuration, accounting, performance, and security systems are domain specific (i.e., a vertical approach where assurance and automation are only done on a per-domain basis), but solution providers are moving toward providing interdomain solutions that deliver network assurance for the telco stack across multiple layers (e.g., Internet protocol and optical), multiple domains, and multiple clouds. One such example would be Nokia’s Digital Operations Center software solution that aims to combine the siloed approaches toward Operations Support System (OSS) assurance into a new cloud agnostic assurance stack. Other vendors are also taking the same route to build a singular platform to handle cross-domain and cross-layer assurance.

Increasing Relevance for Assurance in Enterprise 5G


The importance of network assurance for 5G enterprise deployments cannot be understated. ABI Research believes that a majority of 5G Standalone (SA) networks will require performance guarantees, with many networks requiring real-time service assurance. As CSPs bring 5G into the enterprise market, they will compete not only on the value of their bundled products, cost efficiency, and time to deploy but also on their ability to provide the guaranteed SLAs for existing enterprise use cases and for new mobile use cases enabled by 5G. This will be crucial in providing managed connectivity for enterprises as these companies traditionally do not allow CSPs to have a huge degree of involvement in their data and business use cases.

Further, each industry vertical and each use case will have different networks and thus different assurance requirements. Some industry verticals, such as logistics, will require the connection of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of devices across a wide geographical distribution, whereas some life-critical applications such as remote surgery will require deterministic networking and a high reliability of up to six “nines.” Network assurance will thus be crucial to meet demanding 5G enterprise use cases, and it can be argued that it will be the key value driver that CSPs bring to the market through 5G.

Network assurance will increasingly become more relevant in the relationship between CSPs and enterprises and will eventually provide end user device visibility, session and event tracing, correlated user experiences with network performance, real-time visibility of control and user plane, and data integration of multiple data sources that will include 5G containerized network functions and enterprise end-device telemetry. These requirements will be increasingly handled by CSPs’ network assurance platforms for advanced troubleshooting, Artificial Intelligence (AI)–powered analytics, and feedback for closed-loop control to ensure 5G SA SLA assurance and quality customer experience.

CSPs Must Prepare Now for the Future of Assurance


However, it is prudent to consider the current market dynamics when talking about network assurance for 5G SA enterprise deployments. First, in the enterprise space, CSPs derive most of their revenue from deploying private networks and edge infrastructure, such as mobile edge computing, and from providing managed connectivity and services. Second, many large enterprises are still in the trial and experimental phase for 5G, and there is not yet any mass-scale commercialization of enterprise 5G and wide-scale adoption of heavy duty 5G-enabled use cases. As such, network assurance currently exists as an afterthought for enterprise 5G and has predominantly been more relevant in cellular networks where scale exists and customer NPS is paramount.

CSPs should take note of the following when selecting a network assurance platform or when building their own capabilities. First, enterprises are not concerned with complex telco-related lingo or with the technical details behind network deployments and management. Instead, when selling to buyers, CSPs should understand that enterprises are only concerned with the business outcomes that use cases can enable. Network assurance platforms should be positioned as a back-end capability that can enable these use cases and that can assure enterprise buyers that certain SLAs can be guaranteed.

Second, CSPs need to understand enterprise requirements for their use cases, and this includes understanding network requirements such as latency needs, the reliability required, and expected peak bandwidths. CSPs will need to work closely with enterprises and sometimes with system integrators and take a smart approach to use cases to ensure that individual use cases can be enabled through their 5G network—CSPs’ value as a key enabler of wireless and mobile enterprise 5G use cases will become very important.

Lastly, CSPs will need to value-add to their 5G proposition through additional network assurance capabilities. This means enabling additional services such as AI-based analysis of enterprise end devices, improving customer experience, and customizing network slice management. This is a long-term strategic move that will pay off in the long run if CSPs can prove that their network assurance solutions will be able to drive business outcomes for the enterprise. These additional services provided by network assurance not only can demonstrate to enterprises that CSPs can bring value beyond connectivity but also can play an integral role in the way enterprises operate and digitally transform. However, before these additional services can be achieved, CSPs will have to overcome certain challenges: CSPs will have to make use of the latest cloud native technologies to enable on-demand network slicing, create new operation-expenditure-driven business models such as network slicing or network as a service, enable multicloud capabilities to interwork with existing enterprise cloud and applications, and develop core competencies that can receive data from different end devices on the enterprise front.



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