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Network Operations Modernization via Automation & Intelligence

James Crawshaw

Axiata (MYX: 6888) is a telecom operator with extensive operations across Asia including Malaysia, Nepal, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand, and Pakistan as well as stakes in operators in India (Vodafone-Idea) and Singapore (M1). Axiata’s Malaysian mobile operation, Celcom, generates around 26% of group revenue but generated 52% of profit after tax and minority interests last year and 58% in the first half of 2018. As the main profit center, what happens at Celcom is key for the Axiata group.

Although some might think of Malaysia as a developing country, as a mobile market it is relatively mature with 132% population penetration as of 3Q17 and smartphone penetration around 70%. Axiata noted in its second quarter results that despite operating in a “saturated and mature Malaysian mobile market”, Celcom increased service revenue by 3.0% versus the prior year on the back of improved prepaid momentum. Axiata noted that Celcom was the only operator in Malaysia to record growth in service revenue last quarter, highlighting the tough market backdrop. Even more impressively, Celcom grew its EBITDA by 6.8% in 2Q18, largely due to lower direct expenses. Axiata noted that “Celcom’s core focus ahead is to continue to improve its margins through cost efficiency initiatives”.

A key factor in Celcom’s cost efficiency plans is its partnership with Huawei to improve network operations. In August Celcom signed a deal to use Huawei’s cloud-based Operation Web Services (OWS), Software as a Service solution, to bring together Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning technology to enhance Celcom's capabilities in managing increasingly complex networks and services. Through this partnership, Huawei aims to leverage its Digitized Operation AUTomation & INtelligence Services Solution (AUTIN) and share its global experience with Celcom to achieve an automated and intelligent network operation.

OWS is an open, programmable, software-driven platform that helps manage networks in real-time and on-demand, across both communications and information technology domains, thereby improving operational efficiency and performance. According to Huawei, the platform enables operations engineers with no coding background to become application developers with little training, allowing them to design, develop, deploy and maintain their own applications for unique capabilities not available in traditional OSS systems. They can also use third party APIs to extend their applications’ capabilities. Furthermore, their custom apps can be made available for other operators to use via the OWS APP store, which currently holds more than 1000 apps.

AUTIN builds on the OWS platform, adding consulting services (operations transformation, skill transformation, and systems transformation), to bring advanced automation and intelligence to networking. According to Huawei, AUTIN leverages big data and AI to help operators move from a reactive to more proactive and predictive operations, eventually achieving an autonomous environment. Huawei says the solution is vendor and technology agnostic and can manage multiple technologies and services in a constantly changing environment. AUTIN comes pre-integrated with workforce and service desk management, operations intelligence, fault and performance management and automatic alarm behavior discovery. According to Huawei, AUTIN has their custom apps that can be bundled together with pre-integrated capabilities to offer operators a range of best practices they are missing for digitized operations.

According to Huawei, there are five main scenarios where operators are using AUTIN today: field operations (real-time, online, information about people, vehicles, sites, materials, and work orders), the network operating center (alarm suppression, fault diagnosis and recovery, work order scheduling, change automation, data logging), FTTH/HFC networks (fault management), billing (anomalous order reduction), high-risk operations (cutovers, emergency recovery, key event assurance, and post-mortem analysis). Celcom is not alone is using OWS and AUTIN. In 2016 and 2017, nine subsidiaries of African mobile conglomerate MTN Group deployed OWS. In January 2017, Kuwait's VIVA launched a digital operations and maintenance project on OWS. As of March 2018, Huawei has deployed the OWS platform in over 130 networks.

Networks have evolved from TDM to IP and from 2G to 4G, yet operations systems and practices have not evolved at the same pace. Manual processes are still used to manage a lot of network activities such as incident handling, and network configuration. With the introduction of SDN/NFV and 5G, network complexity increases further and the modernization of operations will become an even greater imperative. As operators look to modernize their OSS they should consider a number of factors including increased automation through AI, support for virtualized/physical hybrid networks, end-to-end network and service life-cycle management, cloud-native approach to application development, and exposure of the network via APIs (both internally and externally to partners) to support the Network-as-a-Service concept.

This blog is sponsored by Huawei.

— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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