5G ROI at risk as operators take it slow with automation

Nick Wood
By Nick Wood

Jul 31, 2019

via Flickr © Randy Robertson (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Randy Robertson (CC BY 2.0)

  • Rethink suggests telcos may have been too optimistic about automation...
  • ...or that projects have hit snags or are harder than they seemed at first
  • Rollout targets have been pushed back until the mid-2020s

5G return on investment is at risk because telcos are holding back on automating their networks, according to Rethink.

A mere 14 percent of operators surveyed by the research firm said they expect to have automated 60 percent of their network processes by the end of next year. That's down from 21 percent of the same operators surveyed last year.

According to Rethink, this suggests one or some combination of three things: that telcos were too optimistic about time frames, or that projects are hitting unforeseen snags, or just that network automation is more difficult than first thought.

Whatever the precise reason may be, Rethink found that network automation targets have been pushed back to the mid-2020s, and this delay could create some significant challenges further down the line.

"If operators fail to automate fully, their business case for 5G in the period to 2024 will be severely compromised, resulting in higher costs, less network flexibility, lower ROI on 5G RAN and on virtualisation," Rethink warned.

The reason is that standalone 5G networks will be so complex that it will simply be too difficult for humans alone to operate and manage them effectively, and therefore they require automated processes and machine learning.

Things like densification, complex antennas including massive MIMO, and the virtualisation of the packet core and gateways are all important elements of 5G, and all could do with some degree of automation, Rethink said.

On a more broader level, as Kailem Anderson, VP of portfolio and engineering at Ciena-owned Blue Planet, explained to TelecomTV at this year's Digital Transformation World, automation is a key enabler of digital transformation for a telco.

It helps operators adopt more efficient processes and de-risk the business, while also enabling them to go after new revenue-generating opportunities more quickly and effectively, he said.

In order for automation to deliver on its promise though, it needs to show a compelling ROI, avoid vendor lock-in, and be deployable in multiple domains, he added. That's no mean feat, judging by some of the travails detailed by Rethink.

It's not all been doom and gloom on the automation front this week though.

Telecom Italia's Sparkle division on Monday took the wraps off Genome, a set of platforms and tools for network automation, programmability, and virtualisation.

It consists of Genome.VNF – which will gradually evolve Sparkle's physical network functions into virtual ones – and Genome.SDN, a network automation solution for both physical and virtual networks.

"The introduction of Genome sets the path towards the Autonomous Network of the future," said Daniele Mancuso, Sparkle's VP of ICT engineering.

Email Newsletters

Sign up to receive TelecomTV's top news and videos, plus exclusive subscriber-only content direct to your inbox.