In this interview, Parag Shah, SVP & Customer Business Executive at Amdocs, talks about the challenge of 5G evolution—in particular, how service providers will need to rethink how radio access network (RAN) deployment will work in the future. Considering the scope and scale of 5G New Radio (5G NR) deployment, service providers will need to think carefully about software infusion, data analytics, and the importance of heterogenous know-how.
Fierce Wireless: We know the 5G rollout is happening in phases, with 5G NR deployments happening first with the LTE core, and then the 5G core coming later. What challenges do service providers face in this first stage of 5G deployment?
Parag Shah: Think of the scale and scope of updating and deploying 5G NR across the globe. There are millions of RAN sites worldwide that will need to be updated to 5G, and when you think about using millimeter wave for 5G to deliver higher speeds, there’s a significant amount of network densification that needs to happen. Many new sites need to be deployed, and in many cases those will be small cells. In addition, 5G is accelerating the move to multi-vendor, modular, open-RAN networks, so there’s increased complexity in planning, designing, commissioning, and optimizing the 5G NR infrastructure. In light of all that, the traditional approaches to deploying RAN would be too slow, would not scale, and would not be economically viable.
Fierce Wireless: What do service providers need to do differently in the approaches they take to rolling out their 5G RANs to meet the market windows and timelines for 5G service launches?
Parag Shah: Globally, service providers will need to rethink how they do RAN launches, and they’re going to have to ensure that the organizations and suppliers that perform these tasks have the expertise, the processes, and the tools to operationalize these new RAN sites twice as fast as before, more efficiently, and much more cost-effectively. There are really three main capabilities that form the ability to drive this kind of change in RAN deployment duration and efficiency. First, the solutions need to be software-automated. Second, they need to be analytics-driven deployment solutions. Third, they need to be cross–equipment vendor and cross-technology solutions for planning, design, acceptance, and automation. Automation will drive activities in a much more streamlined manner and eliminate manual tasks, for example, and taken together with data-driven decision-making—and the ability to work across a host of vendors and technologies—will ensure that these 5G deployments can happen much more quickly and more efficiently than before.
A lot of this is already occurring—some amount of automation, some analytics—but we need to see much deeper infusion of both into the process. In terms of cross–equipment vendor and cross-technology solutions, that’s going to be new. Most of today’s networks are fairly monolithic, characterized by one technology from one vendor—say, Ericcson, Huawei, Nokia. Deploying a RAN that will cross multiple vendors and multiple technologies is a very different proposition.
Fierce Wireless: What are some ways software-driven automation can help streamline and simplify RAN deployment activities?
Parag Shah: It starts with ensuring the use of software tools for end-to-end project orchestration for planning and building out these networks. For example, multi-organization tracking systems can enable operators to ensure visibility across a team that includes technicians, engineers, managers, and executives. These systems eliminate unnecessary paperwork; today, there’s a lot of emails and spreadsheets still being used. These tracking systems provide timely notifications and reminders for completing the next task in a deployment project. They enable teams to ensure that there are no missed service-level agreement (SLA) obligations. They also have guided processes for error-free execution of all the deployment steps. So that’s one area of software automation that comes into play.
There’s also a host of automation tools that can be leveraged during the integration and commissioning of a RAN site itself that eliminate the need for multiple visits by field technicians. For example, there are mobile and web-based applications that allow trained personnel to rapidly validate the NR site, verify performance, conduct all the necessary checks, ensure that the technology is working, and check for alarms. And there are all kinds of automated reports that service providers can use to turn on new sites faster, and all kinds of dashboards for validation and checking to make sure that a radio site is ready.
Fierce Wireless: How do data analytics tools and methodologies better enable network rollout?
Parag Shah: A holistic data-driven approach for network planning and design—an approach that involves customer geolocated data, network KPIs, and other related metrics, all taken together and used for network planning and design—can help minimize operational and capital expenditures for the infrastructure, help improve network performance, and help improve and deliver enhanced customer experience. And the reason analytic tools support better deployment of radio sites that are involved with coexistence of the 5G NR and LTE is that they allow better design and planning for new things that are coming, such as active antenna systems that have beam forming and beam steering. Big data analytics and visualization help simplify the viewing of complex data sets, and all of this taken together can significantly improve and enhance the efficiency of 5G RAN planning, design, and deployment.
Fierce Wireless: How does Amdocs address the 5G deployment challenge, and what differentiates your services and solutions from what the network equipment vendors provide?
Parag Shah: As far as our current approach, I’d go back to that group of capabilities I mentioned before—both the software-driven/software-automated and analytics-driven/analytics-infused capabilities. We’re already offering solutions that have delivered superior results in terms of speeding up RAN deployment. But the most significant differentiator going forward is the fact that we have capabilities that go across vendors and technologies, so customers get a great breadth of skills and toolsets. This is extremely important considering the direction of 5G. Future networks are going to be heterogeneous and cross-vendor, and so when you think about the deployment skills and expertise needed, it’s going to be vendors like Amdocs that can cross equipment and technology stacks. There’s going to be a need for coexistence between multiple technologies and a need to support parallel heterogeneous networks during a time of transition from 4G LTE to 5G.
Fierce Wireless: Based on this conversation, it’s clear that traditional mobile services companies can benefit from what Amdocs provides. But we are curious as to whether your network deployment and services capabilities are applicable and relevant to other types of companies. Can you comment on that?
Parag Shah: There’s a growing interest in the concept of private wireless networks, whether these are intended to be used by enterprises (including manufacturing sites and campuses) or other organizations like sporting venues, transportation hubs, smart cities/utilities, and others, these private networks allow these organizations to customize their network for mission-critical operations, minimize delay, and support specific SLAs, all without interference from public network traffic. Now, these organizations that are looking to build out and deploy and manage their own private networks, they still need help planning the RAN, designing it, integrating it, making sure it all hangs together, optimizing it, and these are the kinds of capabilities that Amdocs has expertise and experience with today and delivers to mobile services providers. And these same capabilities will be applicable to the organizations building these private networks going forward as 5G and Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS)take hold.
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