The evolution to 5G is off to a strong start among communication service providers (CSPs) and momentum is building. As of March 2020, 84 CSPs have announced plans to launch 5G, and 57 have already done so, according to Omdia’s 1Q20 report. These announcements represent CSPs in all part of the world. The scale of 5G networks is rapidly becoming apparent. China will deploy 500,000 5G base stations in 2020. Nearly 16 million small cells for 5G will be shipped and deployed from 2020 to 2024.
With the demanding characterisics of 5G services (scale, low latency, network slicing), service delivery will be complex and varied across a great number of different network elements and IT services. Both service and network inventory will be a critical capability to help service providers deliver outstanding customer experiences for both consumer and business applications.
Density of 5G networks demands autonomous inventory
5G networks will be dense, much more so than other network technologies. Some estimates suggest that 5G will require on the order of 20 base stations in the area that 4G could serve with one. The interference presented by the physical world coupled with the number of connections and bandwidth requirements will mean that 5G network antenna will need to be more ubiquitous. The typical range of a 5G wavelengths is 300 meters, whereas the average range of a 4G wave lengths is around 16 kilometers – less than 2% of the range.
In order to optimally deploy and maintain these dense networks, the service provider must be able to accurately understand where all of these network elements are. A dynamic inventory system that discovers and reconciles network topology in cooperation with intelligence provided by increasingly software-driven network domains will give service providers three key benefits.
- It will enable network and performance optimization by helping element management systems maintain up-to-date configurtions, even across multi-vendor networks. A modern automated inventory management system can be the foundation of a federated network management system.
- It assists in service assurance. Service assurance will increasingly rely on predictive analytics to identify and proactively avoid problems before they occur in a “closed loop” fashion. The data provided by inventory systems is fundamental to an effective service assurance system and will give network engineers a faster route to fault resolution or prevention.
- It will provide up-to-date asset tracking for finance. Maintaining accurate and current asset valuation is critical for tax accounting and procurement. This has traditionally been a highly manual and somewhat inaccurate process. An automated and integrated inventory system will help to simplify this process, freeing up resources for other priorities.
5G networks are complex: Dynamic inventory accuracy is key
At its most basic, 5G promises ultra-high bandwidth as a broadband replacement. However, as the standards are finalized and networks get deployed, the more advanced use cases promised by 5G will rapidly become a reality. Autonomous vehicles, remote haptics, dynamic network slicing will be very real use cases within a few years. Ensuring that services are delivered quickly, reliably and efficiently is critical.
Use cases that are dynamic in terms of geography, scale, time, and throughput will require network and IT resources to be allocated dynamically as the conditions change. CSPs need to be able to keep track of resource utilization in real-time so they do not get tied up, allocated statically or for for longer than required. Effective resource reuse is vital to efficient service delivery and network slicing.
Let’s look at a network slicing use case to examine the new demands on inventory systems. Autonomous vehicles will need the highest levels of service continuity and reliability to ensure safety. Real-time, automated inventory is foundational element to ensure that service and availability are orchestrated effectively.
When the slice for autonomous driving is instantiated, the service will need to ensure that the network capacity, IT systems, and service elements are available for the vehicle to begin driving. Service elements may include: (1) network capacity that must support signaling, telemetry, routing, as well as in-car communication and entertainment, (2) compute resources, and (3) any pre-packaged service elements for autonomous vehicles provided by the service provider, auto manufacturer, insurance company or fleet owner. Then as the vehicle moves between cells and even roams onto other networks, service must be continuous. Orchestration and network automation will rely on dynamically updated inventory data to ensure this service is spun up quickly and reliably.
This type of dynamic inventory is further complicated by the fact that user plane, mobile edge computing or central unit functions may be co-located with the antenna at the base station or reside at the access network level data center. Service continuity will require that these functions are orchestrated efficiently and in real-time dynamically, again requiring real-time, automated inventory systems. Traditional static inventory systems cannot adequately support this type of service.
What should service providers do?
Current inventory systems, many of which have served us well, are coming up on their useful limit. Scale and service requirements of 5G networks and services will need a new, dynamic approach to inventory. Service providers should be looking at inventory system evolution as a key component of the IT systems to enable 5G services – in addition to monetization, order management, assurance, network automation, etc.
This also gives service providers an opportunity to deal with another inefficiency. Inventory systems are often fragmented within a single service provider, either as a result of corporate consolidation or piecemeal purchasing for specific services or use cases. Investing in modern inventory systems give service providers clear benefits: the ability to deploy and configure massive 5G networks quickly while consolidating inventory or prior services and technologies from fragmented systems into one unified end-to-end inventory. This will enhance speed, agility and continuity for advanced, mission-critical 5G services – and help CSPs take the promise of 5G to the next level.