5G and the cloud will have a profound impact on each other. Together, they will usher in an era of automation, reassignment -- and often retraining -- of personnel and a host of other changes, according to Chris Antlitz, telecom senior analyst for Technology Business Research.
Antlitz, in the first part of a two-part conversation with Telco Transformation, said that some people see 5G as simply a new air interface. He suggests, however, that it is a far more profound innovation that will deeply impact network architectures.
Telco Transformation: How important is automation for the buildout of 5G networks, services and applications?
Chris Antlitz: Automation is extremely important. The big reason is that the telcos need to reduce spend, both the capex and the opex. They need to figure out how they can operate more cost efficiently as we move into the 5G digital era. Automation is the next evolutionary step for the telcos to leverage these new technologies and processes to significantly reduce costs. Automation also speeds up innovation. It is really fundamental to realizing the opportunities in the 5G digital era.
TT: How will automation be implemented?
CA: Automation is a very broad umbrella. There's a lot that falls under it. It's mostly software automation, [automating] things that now are manual, like checking trouble tickets or alarm management within the network. It's automating those functions so that you're taking out the need for having as many or any manual interventions in those processes.
Once you start talking about leveraging the network on a programmable basis in near-real time and supporting a broad range of use cases, it's not cost effective to have full labor teams supporting all of that. There needs to be a level of automation in that support model, the operational model, so that it's cost effective for the telcos to do this at scale. Automation features very prominently in this, and so does analytics and AI and machine learning.
The end stage question is, "How do we do it faster, better, cheaper?" When I think about these new technologies and migrating into this new evolutionary phase, it all comes back to those three things. You could dub it telco transformation.
TT: Where are we in the transition?
CA: The reality is we're at the very early stages. There are a bunch of challenges. One is the people challenge: How do you start to implement institutional changes? How do you migrate different skill sets into different roles in the organization? How do you deal with the transitioning out of people whose skills are no longer required at the telco?
On a technical level, this requires software engineering. It requires advanced algorithms. It requires access to vast amounts of unstructured and structured data. It requires the stars to align on a variety of fronts to start getting critical mass in these new technologies to the point at which you're actually leveraging automation horizontally across the telco organization. That's when we truly get to a software-defined network that is programmable, that is able to configure itself and provision itself in near-real time.
TT: 5G in a sense is just another networking technology along with wired, WiFi and so on. But it also seems that there's a difference. What's your perspective on what 5G represents?
CA: I've heard 5G characterized in two main ways in the industry. The first way is that 5G is a new radio interface that is a step up from LTE-Advanced. I've also heard 5G characterized as a new architecture for the network.
What we've been talking about in terms of NFV/SDN, automation, all of these other new technologies and new ways of doing things shows that it really is more on the latter. It's more about the new architecture of 5G. Call it next-generation network architecture. 5G is just a component of that. In my mind and in the RAN world 5G is really just a new radio interface. It's an enhanced access technology.
When we start talking about the architecture, then you're starting to talk about how do we seamlessly leverage multicloud environments, how do we leverage mobile edge computing, how do we leverage cross-domain NFV/SDN with these robust MANO layers? That's really what we're getting at here, and that's really how the service providers are going to evolve in this digital era.
TT: 5G seems to be disruptive because of its combination of high capability and low cost.
CA: Wired and wireless are converging, and you're absolutely right that it's getting more cost effective to do, and the performance is getting really good on wireless. Nothing will beat all fiber. Even with 5G, nothing beats a full fiber connection from the core network to the endpoint. With that said, 5G is changing the economics of delivering access and is making the cost point more on par with advanced, fixed access technologies.
That's a radical statement. What we're seeing in the industry is AT&T, Verizon, some of these other operators, why are they being so aggressive with fixed wireless? It's because the economics are that much better to deploy this technology, and it's as good as some of these fiber configurations. When you have fiber to the curb or fiber to the node, 5G can beat those in some cases.
— Carl Weinschenk, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation