Telefónica UK Gets a Tighter Grip on Automation

Ray Le Maistre
1/23/2019
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As they figure out how to be more flexible, efficient, in tune with the needs of their customers and prepared for the traffic flows that fully-functional 5G architectures are expected to generate, operators around the world are looking for ways to make better use of the vast volumes of data at their fingertips and mine that information to embrace automated processes and, generally, develop smarter operations strategies.

Telefónica is one of those operators, as this Light Reading coverage from the past year shows:

As part of its shift towards the promised land of automated process management and intelligent operations, and as part of its efforts to gain better insights into the service experience of its customers, Telefónica UK is to deploy evolved Service Operation Center (eSOC) monitoring and analytics technology from Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK).

The move makes Telefónica UK, the country's second-largest mobile operator with more than 25 million customers (and better known as O2), the latest unit in the Spanish operator's global empire to shift its focus from network-centric operations to service- and customer-centric operations.

In general, the Telefónica group is making a concerted effort to focus more on service performance metrics, and the real-time experience of its customers, rather than network performance metrics. It has already started to deploy so-called Service Operation Center (SOC) technology -- alongside long-established Network Operations Center (NOC) technology -- to support that new focus in a number of markets (Argentina, Chile and Germany).

In those three markets, the operator has turned to Huawei, using the vendor's Smartcore platform. Ericsson has also been identified as a preferred supplier of SOC software.

Now Nokia, via its Software division that was formed about two years ago under the presidency of Bhaskar Gorti, is getting a piece of Telefónica's SOC action. (See Telefónica UK to Deploy Nokia's eSOC.)

The vendor is to provide Telefónica UK with its Data Refinery system (which came from the acquisition of Comptel) and associated common information model tools that, according to Tim Smith, European head of sales at Nokia Software, will enable the operator to collect and aggregate data from multiple sources and systems (network elements, BSS platforms, social media etc), make collective sense of the data, and present it to the operator's SOC team in an easy-to-understand and flexible way. One of the systems that will feed data in will be the analytics platform from specialist vendor Cardinality, which provides the insights that feed the operator's NCX (network customer experience) score, a measurement that is proprietary to O2. (See Nokia Eyes Bigger Software Role With €347M Comptel Bid.)

Data pertaining to individual users, or groups of users, in real time or retrospectively, can be analysed using the system, claims Smith. The eSOC system even enables operatives to be proactive, looking at what is likely to happen in terms of service performance and customer experience and pre-empt any issues: "This is where the machine learning kicks in," adds the Nokia man, ticking the "AI" box that is all the rage these days.

Shift in skills
But a SOC platform isn't a zero-touch plug-and-play toy: It requires operations staff to use it efficiently and help identify trends, challenges and opportunities, and that requires new skillsets.

"Network engineers are becoming service performance engineers, watching for trends and enabling automation," says Brendan O'Reilly, CTO at Telefónica UK Ltd. "Automation is a big part of the SOC strategy," he notes.

The operator is just starting the process of deploying Nokia's software and envisages an 18-month project to reach full functionality, though O'Reilly expects to be working with some "important statistics" by the end of this year. Some of the software will be able to run on cloud platforms, but some of it will be running on in-house IT platforms.

Brendan O'Reilly, CTO at Telefonica UK (O2).
Brendan O'Reilly, CTO at Telefónica UK (O2).

"We're always looking at how we can get more out of our NOC tools -- that is the day-to-day work of the NOC team. The SOC deployment will take that to the next level … and it's just the next step, not the end game," says O'Reilly. "Some of the NOC staff will be trained on the SOC system, which is an overlay, and manage both SOC and NOC systems, while some will be dedicated to the SOC. Through the level of automation we will be able to implement, we will be able to provide a better experience for our customers using the same number of staff," added the CTO.

The next step will be introducing automation to a broader set of Telefónica UK's data systems, especially as the operator heads towards the launch of 5G services. "5G brings huge opportunities and will change the landscape -- devices will not be just smartphones and tablets but IoT devices too," says the CTO, adding that there will be a particular focus in the near future on how the management of, and interaction with, IoT devices can be made more efficient and automated.

Another goal for the CTO is to further refine the data that the operator gathers and improve the accuracy of the data that is held and analyzed. "Our data is pretty accurate currently and our low churn rate is testament to that … [data veracity] will become even more important as we get to 5G and automate more," he added.

So are there any cost benefits from implementing a SOC? O'Reilly says there "could be in the future, but this is not an exercise in cost-cutting… this is more about improving customer experience. This project is outcome-led -- this is not a case of deploying technology for technology's sake."

And as the SOC gets up and running, Telefónica UK's plan is to link it with its self-organizing network (SON) platform. "Using the SOC in conjunction with our SON will allow us to make real-time decisions about how best to optimize the network and make those decisions based on what customers are seeing, feeling and experiencing," stated the CTO.

With that in mind, the UK operator is currently re-evaluating its incumbent SON capabilities, which had initially come from specialist vendor Cellwize: O'Reilly confirmed that Nokia is one of the vendors being evaluated for a next-generation SON system.

So the automation wagon rolls on at Telefónica, but could it even be behind the times? Should it be thinking about being NOCless and even SOCless? Some would say so… but one step at a time, eh? (See The Trendiest Telcos Don't Wear SOCs.)

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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