Kuntal Chowdhury, SVP and GM, AI and Analytics Business Unit, Mavenir

As 5G paves the way for new internet of things- and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven applications, different areas of opportunity are opening up for telecom industry players. With the roll-out of 5G, a more open network is ushering in a wave of innovation to enable the evolution of many sectors such as manufacturing, automotive, logistics, healthcare and agriculture.

Communication service providers (CSPs), vendors and governments are working together to define the role of open standards and how they can help evolve 5G networks. Driving openness in 5G and beyond to foster new application development and new business is critical. Open­ne­ss is the key to faster progress, lower costs, gr­eater simplicity, more choice for CSPs and enterprises, and a connected world th­at can harness the full potential of next-gen­eration networks. Also, by enabling innovations such as AI and machine learning (ML) app­lied to RAN, open RAN will create many benefits. These include im­prov­ed network performance; accelerated time-to-market of new ser­vices and functions; more flexible and agile networks; and capex and opex efficiencies.

The value of innovation

One of the most interesting aspects of 5G is that it enables a “fusion of minds” from various sectors into telecom. This environment of innovation has the potential to catapult societies into the future.

The end-user ultimately reaps the benefits of innovation, which dramatically im­pacts user experience. The benefits include new apps, faster service, high availability, low latency and a plethora of exciting future services yet to be conceived. In addition, innovation offers CSPs the ability to generate new, profitable revenues from a differentiated service offering. For the industry at large, openness and innovation together forge a new and better way forward in a bu­siness that has experienced the perfect storm of low ARPU and high opex and capex due to closed solutions supplied by a handful of vendors. Open RAN offers programmability for network optimisation and stimulates innovation through open interfaces and open platforms such as a RAN in­telligent controller (RIC). There are some key issues like interoperability and life cycle management of new and existing network functions, as well as the willingness of RAN developers to embrace this new open platform that needs to be addressed to en­able its adoption.

Fostering innovation through collaboration

One example of innovation through community collaboration is crowdsourcing, which has been wildly successful in various industries both from a business and marketing perspective as well as from the technology development perspective. Another example is the potential collaboration bet­ween engineers from different domains with unique perspectives and a set of problems that can be elegantly solved with 5G and open platforms such as RIC.

Overcoming barriers to innovation

Without openness and collaboration, barriers to innovation will emerge. For instance, vendor lock-in for mobile network infrastructure could lead to a much smaller community to develop solutions with, discouraging people with bright ideas to innovate with CSPs, and resulting in slow progress and artificially elevated cost. On the other hand, open innovation is the freedom to execute big ideas, essential for 5G to fulfil its promise of intelligent connectivity sol­utions for enterprises. Openness will be key to CSPs’ success in an age of hyper-growth and mega opportunities.

Enabling the network of the future

One example of how open innovation helps CSPs is the availability of AI, ML, and analytics to innovators through open interfaces and open platforms for AI/ML such as RIC. Analytics-powered network automation applications (such as xApps and rApps) en­able the quick roll-out of differentiated services and allow granular control to tap new opportunities such as parameter tuning and traffic steering for private mobile networks with industry vertical automation support using edge AI.

To achieve the full potential of 5G and the innovation it offers, mobile networks re­quire end-to-end automation to reduce ma­nual tasks, improve service experience, en­able efficient network resource utilisation, and allow faster roll-out of innovative services. As the industry shifts from virtualisation to automation of the network lay­er, more advanced operations support systems are required to address the automation and orchestration challenges of complex networks.

Using advanced AI and ML models to enhance network performance will help CSPs deliver superior customer experience while scalable automation will reduce manual tasks to lower maintenance costs and lower the risk of human error.

There is no better time for the industry to embrace openness than now as 5G starts to lay the groundwork for new applications, services and business models. With new entrants in the mobile ecosystem and unfettered collaboration, we do not know all the use cases yet to emerge, but the possibilities are exciting. However, one thing is sure – openness breeds opportunity, opportunity breeds innovation, and innovation breeds intrinsic value for consumers.