Unlocking the True Potential of 5G: How a DevOps Mindset Can Revolutionize Telco Innovation
July 18, 2023

Franco Messori

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As the world becomes increasingly connected, the demand for faster and more reliable mobile networks continues to grow. 5G is the latest mobile network technology that promises faster speeds, lower latency, and higher reliability. However, implementing 5G requires mobile network operators to transform their organizations and adopt a DevOps mindset.

5G is a Network and Organizational Transformation

The transformation operators require is not limited to just upgrading their existing infrastructure. 5G requires a complete overhaul of the network architecture, meaning they must adopt new technologies and processes to support this change.

Planning, deploying, and operating a new mobile network used to be a case of "build it, and they will come." The new networks would deliver greater speeds and capacity, opening up new services. But fundamentally, the network was still about smartphones and delivering better, faster coverage. The same linear models still broadly held true.

But 5G is architecturally very different, designed to offer faster speeds, lower latency, and higher capacity than its predecessors. This is important for applications that require real-time response, such as online gaming, multimedia remote working, or industrial applications, such as Augmented Reality and connected robotic machinery.

The higher capacity of 5G networks means they can support more devices per unit area than 4G networks. This not only enables more devices to become connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), it also fundamentally changes the old service model. It’s no longer just subscribers reporting problems to a customer contact center. The operator is now looking to monetize new service and revenue opportunities in enterprises and vertical industries. Private 5G networks now sit alongside public 5G, with connected applications, remote control and automation transforming industries including mining, shipping, utilities, and manufacturing.

The complexity of 5G, with cloud-native automation at its core, means operators must themselves digitally transform and work differently. Traditional manual processes and siloed ways of working are no longer fit for purpose if operators are to monetize their 5G investments effectively.

They must embrace a more agile and flexible approach to network design, deployment, and operations.

Developing a DevOps Mindset to 5G

To support 5G, MNOs must adopt a DevOps mindset, with collaboration, automation, and continuous improvement at its core. While the DevOps methodology originated in the software development industry, the cloudification of the mobile network now means its principles can be applied to network operations as well.

DevOps Mindset 1: Collaboration and communication

DevOps encourages teams to work together more closely and to share knowledge and ideas across disciplines. However, in a traditional network operations environment, different teams such as network design, operations, and maintenance, work in silos, leading to communication breakdowns and inefficiencies.

The technology and business teams speak different languages. But only by working together can they form a common understanding of the impact of CAPEX on their operational and business metrics and develop a holistic business case for network investments based on a common expectation and understanding of how network investment drives revenue growth. Each participant in the lifecycle of planning, testing and operating a 5G network shares a common interest in ensuring they can capture revenue opportunities while controlling costs. The language barriers between teams need to be broken down to identify the optimal ROI plan balancing TCO and QoE and churn impact.

This is where a DevOps mindset, which promotes collaboration between different teams within an organization, can help. DevOps encourages these teams to work together collaboratively and iteratively, which can help to reduce errors and accelerate the deployment of new network services.

DevOps Mindset 2: Automate

Another critical benefit of DevOps is its emphasis on automation. As mobile operators continue to invest aggressively in 5G network rollouts, they must better optimize planning, deployment and operations to meet ambitious ROI expectations. Many are turning to Network Lifecycle Automation (NLA) as a new, systematic approach to realizing multi-phase and multi-silo automation use cases.

This means introducing new cross-phase processes that automate tasks and workflows spanning multiple applications in network planning & optimization, testing & deployment, and automated assurance & operations. It means moving these operational functions from one-off activities to continuously improved lifecycle management processes and giving disconnected but related teams — like network planning, deployment, operations and revenue management — a shared view of their responsibilities, processes, tasks and outcomes. And it means creating a data feedback loop across these operational functions to drive collaboration, observability and continuous optimization.

Against this backdrop, it is clear that manual processes are no longer sustainable. They lead to incomplete monitoring, manually intensive correlation, and prolonged time-to-resolution, limiting the ability to automate workflows and remediation actions.

Automation can help to reduce the time and effort required for network operations, freeing up valuable resources for other critical tasks. Automation enables faster troubleshooting and root cause analysis and underpins the ability to undertake real-time automated management and assurance of essential services in a single pane of glass.

DevOps Mindset 3: Continuous improvement

Finally, DevOps promotes a culture of continuous improvement, which is essential for staying competitive in a rapidly evolving industry. By continuously testing and refining network processes, MNOs can ensure they deliver the best possible service to their customers.

In a DevOps environment, teams always look for ways to improve their processes, tools, and workflows to increase efficiency and deliver better software more quickly. The same is true for mobile operators embracing a DevOps mindset. By putting the customer and the end-user experience at the heart of everything they do, processes, data, and workflows can be streamlined and automated across different teams and across end-users and vendors. This DevOps mindset holds the key to optimizing the investments and maximizing the outcomes expected from Implementing advanced cloudified network architectures like 5G.

Monetizing 5G with a DevOps Mindset

To truly leverage its benefits, 5G requires new ways of working. We have the technology and the cloud capabilities, but a DevOps mindset is needed to leverage them to their fullest. DevOps, a cultural and operational framework that promotes collaboration and integration between development and operations teams, can facilitate faster and more efficient deployment of 5G networks.

Adopting a DevOps approach will breakdown the traditional silos between different teams within a mobile operators’ organization. With the complexity of 5G networks, which are characterized by multi-layer, multi-vendor, and multi-domain environments, traditional siloed approaches can lead to increased operational overhead, higher costs, and delays in addressing network issues. This can result in delays, inefficiencies, and misalignment of goals, hindering the rapid deployment of 5G networks. Embracing a DevOps culture promotes cross-functional collaboration, communication, and shared ownership of the entire 5G deployment process, enabling faster, smoother — and more profitable — network rollouts.

As the world becomes increasingly connected, adopting DevOps is not just a competitive advantage but a necessity for MNOs looking to succeed in the 5G era.

Franco Messori is Chief Product Strategy and Transformation at Infovista
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