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RAN automation is central to the 5G case—but is it a distant dream? – EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Free Download

Automation and SON deployments and trends 2018-2025

Plans to implement advanced machine learning based automation in 5G networks are grinding to a halt, with operators slowing investment and reducing their ambitions. This comes from a report out this week from Rethink Technology Research in its RAN Research service entitled, “RAN automation is central to the 5G case – but is it a distant dream?” Automation and SON deployments, trends to 2025.

Failure to properly see through the full automation of 5G will mean much of the business case for installing it in the first place will be lost.

Operators surveyed for this report are now less ambitious in planning automation, and yet in 5G it is not an option – the network is so complex that it can no longer be properly managed by humans.  Delay Automation and SON and you delay 5G.

Automation targets for completion have now fallen back into the mid-2020s, and without it 5G will not deliver the huge reductions in operating costs that it needs to.

Most of the issues holding operators back relate to fear of organizational upheaval; immaturity of the technology; and an overall lack of urgency from operators.

Some operators, notably in the US and advanced parts of Asia are making good progress, but others are only making limited investment in Automation and their timescales to adopt it at scale have lengthened since our survey on this last year.

“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 virtualization,” concludes the report.

Operators are taking a cautious approach in the near term. When asked what percentage of their RAN planning, deployment, management and optimization processes they expected to automate at various time points up to 2025 most plans had gone backwards. Globally, only 18% expect to have more than 40% of functions automated by the end of this year.

Last year 21% of the same operators said they would have more than 60% of processes automated by the end of 2020. Those hitting this 60% mark fell to 14% in this year’s study, suggesting respondents had been over-optimistic previously or that projects are snagged, or harder than they seemed.

There are three key operational benefits of running 5G which change the economics of the network, but which make RAN automation more critical to the mobile business case.

Those three are, densification; use of complex antenna arrays, including Massive MIMO to place 5G in high frequency spectrum; and virtualization of the packet core and gateways.

But these trends all introduce a vast complexity in the network with a huge number of new elements. This means modern networks are becoming hard for humans to understand, predict or manage and hence need machine learning driven automation. Although operators acknowledge this, they are now sliding backwards on previous plans.

Failure to prepare automation will result in lower OPEX reductions than predicted, and could potentially completely derail 5G.

Who should Buy this Report?

This report is critical to anyone involved in planning the automation of any cellular network or any part of a network. This may be for network providers, technology partners, implementers, equipment suppliers, software providers and investors, at C Suite level down to product marketing and product planning. The RAN Research arm of Rethink Technology Research is essential reading for anyone who wants to stay on top of current trends and thinking among MNOs. It’s like being a fly on the wall in their planning meetings and is based on questions MNOs have answered about their planned and future expenditure.

This report will;

• Give you a spreadsheet from which you can compare where you are in automation with other major MNOs

• Help you understand how major tier one operators are going about the job of automating their networks using machine learning, and highlight the obstacles they are encountering

• Show why current plans for automation may be potentially disastrously behind schedule, and help you devise a plan that will make your transition smoother It will help you understand costs and timescales for 4G and 5G automation

For more information contact:

John Constant : [email protected]

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Table of contents 2

Table of figures 3

Introduction 4

5G will make automation a necessity 5

So why are operators stalling on their decisions? 6

Will RAN automation be deployed in time to support the optimal 5G business case? 7

Timelines for full automation are lengthening 8

End-to-end automation will come even more slowly 11

Virtualization projects will be a trigger for automation 12

The drivers are strong but the barriers may prove higher in the short term 13

Will 5G network transformation accelerate uptake? 14

A gulf remains between aspiration and reality 17

MNOs should start with less visionary use cases 19

Some barriers are more serious than natural caution 20

Investment will come, but only when it delivers ambitious returns 22

Some MNOs believe AI/ML is essential to make the automation case 24

MNOs which have made SON investments can reap the rewards now 25

SON evolves beyond housekeeping 26

Conclusions 30

Methodology 31

The Rethink RAN Research process summarized 32

RAN Research: Forecasting disruption in wireless 33

Contacts 34

About Rethink Technology Research 35

Figure 1 Are you engaged in RAN automation projects now, or are you planning to be? (i.e. replacing manual processes with automated ones in commercial networks) 9

Figure 2 RAN automation projects and timelines by region 10

Figure 3 Level of automation expected in RAN planning, deployment management and optimization 11

Figure 4 % of MNOs expecting to automate 60% or more of their RAN processes (in planning, deployment, optimisation and maintenance) by 2020, 2022 and 2025. Comparison of 2019 and 2018 survey results 12

Figure 5 Level of automation expected in end-to-end planning, deployment, management and optimization 12

Figure 6 % of MNOs expecting to automate 60% or more of their end-to-end processes (in planning, deployment, optimisation and maintenance) by 2020, 2022 and 2025. Comparison of 2019 and 2018 survey results 13

Figure 7 For those embarking on automation in less than 3 years, areas to introduce automation (more than one response allowed) 14

Figure 8 Number of projects or major upgrades initiated by MNOs per year, automated processes compared to all RAN projects 15

Figure 9 In which areas will RAN automation be most important to the 5G business case? (% of MNOs rating each factor ‘very important’) 16

Figure 9 In which areas will RAN automation be most important to the 5G business case? (% of MNOs rating each factor ‘very important’) 16

Figure 10 For which anticipated changes to your network do you believe RAN automation will be essential or valuable by 2022? 17

Figure 11 % of MNOs which believe automation will be ‘essential’ or ‘valuable to each change in their RAN – comparison of 2018 and 2019 survey responses. 17

Figure 12 MNOs’ top four drivers to deploy RAN automation 2019 survey. 18

Figure 13 MNOs’ top four drivers to deploy RAN automation 2018 survey 19

Figure 14 Timescales to start to implement automation in specific areas (% of MNOs) 20

Figure 15 MNOs’ top three barriers to deploy RAN automation 2019 survey. 21

Figure 16 MNOs’ top three barriers to deploy RAN automation 2018 survey. 22

Figure 17 What % of the RAN planning, deployment, maintenance and optimization capex and opex budgets do you expect to spend on automated vs manual tools? 23

Figure 18 Consensus targets for key RAN automation KPIs 24

Figure 19 Plans to harness AI/ML for network optimization and automation 25

Figure 20 Installed base of macro and small cell sites with centralized or hybrid SON capabilities, by region 27

Figure 21 SON use case priorities – number of MNOs placing each key use case in top 4 priorities to support by 2022. 2019 Survey. 28

Figure 22 SON use case priorities – number of MNOs placing each key use case in top 4 priorities to support by 2022. 2018 Survey 29

Figure 23 Critical MNO requirements for SON by 2023 30

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