Telecom Talent Pool Drying Up as Standalone 5G Heads to the Cloud

Who will build it? Who will manage it? How will they manage it?

Telecom Talent Pool Drying Up as Standalone 5G Heads to the Cloud

Moving to the cloud with 5G standalone (SA) networks promises a lot of good things for mobile operators and the enterprise customers they serve—including ultra-low latency and reliability, ultra-high bandwidth, and device density to support new enterprise services and devices, along with best-of-breed network infrastructure moving to the cloud for increased agility. But as with any new technology, there must be folks who understand it to deploy and operate the technology.

Next-Gen Talent Shortage

Experts have noted that the telecom talent pool is alarmingly drying up in an industry that is expected to generate $2.47 trillion in revenues by 2028. With the move to the cloud for 5G SA, telecom has an aging workforce dealing with an evolutionary network technology change. The rapid shift to the cloud requires a different set of skills, including knowledge of virtualization, cloud, containerization such as Kubernetes, Open RAN, network slicing, new network protocols, artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML), and big data analytics.

5G Technology Is Not for Dummies

In the radio access network (RAN), technicians must understand the real-world propagation properties of 5G New Radio (NR) and the optimal placement and positioning for new cell towers. RAN optimization is a continual process because demographics, topography, and traffic patterns are continually changing. With 5G SA there now is the disaggregation and cloudification with Open RAN. Getting the different vendor elements (CU, DU, RIC) to all work in harmony will be a challenge. Network operations and engineering teams must deal with the variety of “5G in a box” combinations for private 5G along with co-resident edge computing (MEC/MEAC) implementations. In the core, there is a new service-based interface (SBI) with a new communications protocol (HTTP2). Last but certainly not least is the sea change of introducing automation into the orchestration process to manage cloud computing resources.

Old with the New

4G networks are still in operation and will be for some time; they are forecast to last until 2030 and beyond. For many services and devices, the latency and bandwidth afforded by 4G is sufficient. Mobile operators still need to recover their investment in 4G while they make a massive investment in 5G. These older networks must interoperate and play nicely with 5G. For example, the expected challenges with EPS failback and handovers between technologies have already been seen. (EPS failback is the mobility procedure in which the network triggers the procedure for user equipment [UE] to change radio access from 5G to 4G based on the availability and signal strength of 5G NR.)

Indeed, traditional services such as voice must still be served along with a plethora of over-the-top (OTT) streaming services that everyone is consuming these days.

Workplace Automation Is an Answer

If telecom operators must make do with current (or lower) staffing levels while the volume and variety of traffic increases, then they must put the “work smarter, not harder” cliché into action. Employing AI/ML routines is part of that answer, but simple applications of AI will not reduce workloads. Crunching through every subscriber and device session will likely lead to a 1,000-fold increase in the discovery of discrete outlier problems in the network and services. Guided analytic chains driven by expert network domain knowledge for expected and unexpected service anomalies for voice, Wi-Fi, RAN, and so on look to provide actionable intelligence on priority business-impacting problems that must be addressed.

Visibility in the Cloud

Never has end-through-end visibility been more essential to achieving service assurance. “You can’t manage what you can’t see!” is a simple adage but a foundational concept to communications service provider (CSP) service assurance practice. Visibility in the cloudified 5G network means overcoming the challenges of 5G SA cloud implementations with virtualized microservices in containers—with ephemeral time spans, Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption turned on control plane signaling, and IP addressing no longer identifying the 5G network functions. Having what NETSCOUT calls Smart Data constructed from this continuous holistic visibility to automate service assurance and feed the orchestration layer must be objective in this new network environment with limited human resources. Advanced analytics can deliver automated intelligence for real-time visibility into the performance of key applications and services. By removing barriers to user plane visibility, CSPs can open the door to new 5G use cases and resulting revenue streams. Additional benefits may accrue toward sustainability by using Smart Data to feed AI routines to drive decisions on network configuration for saving power or improving efficiency.

Find out more about how NETSCOUT observability solutions can help with workforce automation for 5G standalone networks.