The Zero-Person Network Operations Center Is Here (in Finland)

Iain Morris

Telecom engineers continue to make speedy progress on phasing themselves out of the workforce, with the revelation this week that Elisa, Finland's biggest mobile operator, is now operating a zero-person network operations center (NOC).

The absence of humans has been well received by other humans, it seems. Customer complaints are down 15% since Elisa Corp. fully automated the NOC. And the number of "incidents" (macchiato spilt on circuitry, perhaps) has fallen 50%.

Elisa began automating its systems nearly a decade ago to cope with surging levels of mobile traffic. It recently began selling its automation tools and expertise to other operators, as Light Reading reported earlier this month. (See Finland's Elisa Is Selling Its Automation Smarts to Other Telcos.)

But the news that its NOC is an entirely human-free zone was met with surprise at this week's Zero Touch & Carrier Automation Congress in Madrid. While some other telco facilities have been unmanned for a long time, the NOC has been the one place where people still keep an eye on the machines.

Humans are not yet entirely out of the frame. Unwelcome at the NOC, they can still be called at the local sauna or vodka bar if the machines get stuck, it seems.

"If there is a major issue in the network the robots call them and they can check it and deal with it straight away, but the tickets and alarms are automated in the network and the machine [usually] reboots the basestation or does changes automatically," said Snorre Nordrum Solvang, a business manager at Elisa Automate (the division selling to other operators), in Madrid. "We are also implementing this so that the machines follow the key performance indicators."

Automation has worked its magic in other parts of the organization, too. Elisa's own self-optimizing network (SON) system -- the tool it is selling to other operators -- carries out more than 3 million configuration checks and 3,000 network changes every day. It is supervised by just one optimization engineer.

For all the latest news from the wireless networking and services sector, check out our dedicated mobile content channel here on Light Reading.

Getting rid of humans in planning and deployment is proving tougher, but Elisa says it can now automatically set up basestations and carry out "drive tests" from smartphone applications.

For the Finns and Estonians who do want telecom jobs, the good news is that Elisa still employs around 4,600 people in total, including many on the networks side.

Thanks to automation, though, it has been able to carry on running networks with the same manpower it had in 2007, despite a 20-fold increase in mobile data traffic since then.

Elisa has been retraining its network engineers to be able to code in Python, a popular programming language. But the number of people that are actually building the core algorithms from the ground up is fewer than ten, according to Solvang.

Elisa is not yet making use of artificial intelligence in network operations, but that looks set to change. "We're investigating it as a way of improving decision making," said Solvang. "How to improve the network further is getting increasingly difficult and this could help to adjust and increase the automation impact."

— Iain Morris, News Editor, Light Reading

(0)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Featured Video
From The Founder
John Chambers is still as passionate about business and innovation as he ever was at Cisco, finds Steve Saunders.
Flash Poll
Upcoming Live Events
September 12, 2018, Los Angeles, CA
September 24-26, 2018, Westin Westminster, Denver
October 9, 2018, The Westin Times Square, New York
October 23, 2018, Georgia World Congress Centre, Atlanta, GA
November 6, 2018, London, United Kingdom
November 7-8, 2018, London, United Kingdom
November 8, 2018, The Montcalm by Marble Arch, London
November 15, 2018, The Westin Times Square, New York
December 4-6, 2018, Lisbon, Portugal
All Upcoming Live Events
Hot Topics
Telecom Jargonosaurus Part 1: Repeat Offenders
Iain Morris, News Editor, 7/13/2018
AT&T's Stankey Serves Up a Stinker at HBO
Iain Morris, News Editor, 7/10/2018
Broadcom Buys CA – Huh?
Mitch Wagner, Executive Editor, Light Reading, 7/11/2018
Verizon Taps Malady as Acting CTO
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 7/12/2018
FCC's Rosenworcel: US 'Falling Behind' on 5G
Iain Morris, News Editor, 7/13/2018
Live Digital Audio

A CSP's digital transformation involves so much more than technology. Crucial – and often most challenging – is the cultural transformation that goes along with it. As Sigma's Chief Technology Officer, Catherine Michel has extensive experience with technology as she leads the company's entire product portfolio and strategy. But she's also no stranger to merging technology and culture, having taken a company — Tribold — from inception to acquisition (by Sigma in 2013), and she continues to advise service providers on how to drive their own transformations. This impressive female leader and vocal advocate for other women in the industry will join Women in Comms for a live radio show to discuss all things digital transformation, including the cultural transformation that goes along with it.

Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed