By Eva Andren, head of Managed Services – Ericsson Middle East and Africa
In the past, all networks around the world were managed by people. Engineers monitored thousands of alarms that appeared daily on screens in network operations centers in order to create trouble tickets and eventually solve the underlying issues. In the fourth industrial revolution, this is no longer feasible – and the industry is in the midst of an automation revolution.
The digital economy depends almost entirely on the performance and reliability of networks, which places huge demands on operators to deliver future-proof network capabilities while facing a slew of challenges. Today, more devices are connected to the network than ever before and this number continues to escalate as new technologies like 5G, IoT and Cloud gain traction. Operators are grappling with the complexities brought on by the coexistence of all the technologies that are working in parallel.
The Middle East and Africa (MEA) is on the verge of massive digital disruption, which is being led by consumers who, today, have access to more devices and are more connected than ever. This is driving the complexity quotient higher than ever before. According to the Ericsson Mobility Report, the MEA region, which encompasses more than 66 countries, faces extreme market variations in terms of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) maturity; nonetheless, the report predicts a region-wide growth in mobile subscriptions from 1.59 million to 2.030 million by the year 2023. Further, the MEA region will witness a nearly five-fold increase in LTE subscriptions, from 190 million to 860 million, in the same timeframe.
Moreover, the first 5G subscriptions in the Middle East and North Africa are expected from 2020, reaching around 17 million subscriptions by the end of 2023. The network is at the heart of 5G, and operators have to evolve their networks, solving challenges today and preparing for the 5G era. Network intelligence and automation are crucial to the evolution of 5G, IoT and industrial digitalisation. As 5G-enabled technologies develop, operators will need to increase their network capacity. But with additional capacity, comes additional complexity.
In isolation, 5G technology is not very complex, however, the coexistence of all the technologies that are working in parallel, in addition to multiple frequency bands, many more devices connected to the network and an increasing number of 5G use cases, put incredible pressure on the network.
Ericsson has been exploring automation, driven by machine intelligence, in our research labs since 2007 and today we hold hundreds of patents in this area. To meet these new challenges, we have introduced engineering solutions that combine machine learning and human ingenuity across our portfolio to enable networks to self-learn, self-optimise and deliver an optimal user experience, allowing operators to capitalise on the opportunities of 5G. In fact, by 2026, we expect operators globally to be able to address up to USD 619 billion in business opportunity by leveraging 5G technology for industry digitalisation.
By boosting automation with machine intelligence technologies – such as advanced analytics, deep learning, machine learning and artificial intelligence solutions – predictions and models can be provided that could not be created by humans alone. That's why we call it "Intelligent Network Operations". By taking advantage of the data available in the network – as well as various other forms of external data such as weather conditions and adding the intelligence of machines – network operations can be performed in a smarter way.
Applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to automation takes it to a new level – intelligent automation. The objective is to predict events before they happen and take preventative or corrective action to ensure incidents do not occur. We will continue to invest in machine learning and machine reasoning to fully exploit the opportunities inherent in new networking technologies. With our global presence, industry insights, domain expertise and thought leadership in machine intelligence, we are in a unique position. We are bringing Intelligent Network Operations to life and automating the MEA telecom industry.