5G is one of the, if not the, most important technologies of the decade. Built for transforming businesses, the benefits of 5G will quickly filter down to consumers through new capabilities, devices, applications, and services – many of which haven’t even been dreamt of yet. Such a disruptive technology has required massive changes across mobile networks, and these efforts are still a work in progress.

Managing Growing Complexity- and the need for speed.

One of the most critical underpinnings of 5G is automation, and network service providers, vendors, and associations like TM Forum, 3GPP and ETSI have been working diligently to improve automation across every avenue. That’s because 5G, and the networks, systems, and business processes that support it, will require lightning-speed decision-making for its benefits to be fully realized.

Many of these decisions will be about how to support and assure a new swarm of mission-critical 5G services and applications – and the service level agreements that come with them. Today, 75% of network downtime is caused by human error. Automation is no longer just about cutting costs and reducing headcount. 5G networks have become too complex, too big, and too critical to be managed manually.

Have it Your Way: 5G and network automation are ushering in a golden age of service customization. 

In 1974 a U.S. fast-food restaurant introduced the concept of customizing your hamburger, telling consumers they can ‘have it your way’. ‘Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us,’ was a line in the Burger King ad campaign jingle. Now, nearly forty years later, telecom services are going the same route.

5G Technology is paving the way and Intent-Based Networking helps by allowing customization of services at the management layer. This new concept for mobile service providers requires complex automated decision-making that decouples the “what” from the “how.” Different organizations, including business operations on the customer side and network service and resource operations on the service provider side, can now specify their intentions for what they want. It involves participation from the business customer to help define their needs: what service or application they need and what properties those services require, such as cost, latency, or uptime. These needs, of course, will vary depending on the use case. A hospital will have very different requirements than a farm, university, or assembly line.

Just like someone stepping up to the counter to order a hamburger ‘their way’ – business customers also want to customize the connectivity services they are buying to fit their needs – and they want it fast. Intent-Based Networking will help us achieve these goals.

Moving a step closer to zero-touch networks

TEOCO is currently involved in a TM-Forum-supported Catalyst called Intent-driven Autonomous Networks – Phase II. We, along with our other catalyst partners, are working towards a “zero-touch” customer experience by creating and using intent interfaces, which we believe will further the self-healing and self-optimization capabilities of networks and services. Achieving this zero-touch goal is still a ways away, but with every advancement it gets a bit closer.

‘Intent’ is the driving force behind autonomous networks because it answers the critical question- what type of service does the customer require? It doesn’t specify how to create the service; it just focuses on the ‘what. This supports the inter-operability of software products that implement the “how” using other autonomous management mechanisms such as closed control loops.

Intent Ontology – a new framework for Network Automation

Our work in this Catalyst focuses on exploring and demonstrating the intent interfaces and models at the business (customer), service, and resource layers. We showcase how service providers can better optimize services and resources by decoupling these layers from each other and creating separate, detailed ‘intents.’ In the Catalyst, we look at:

  1. How to express or define an intent,
  2. How to report on an intent, and
  3. How to negotiate an intent.

Two key characteristics of the ‘intent’ concept are expressivity – defining the intent, and negotiation –allowing intent owners and handlers to agree on how to account for changing conditions without having to return to the owner to get their permission. Returning to the hamburger analogy- it’s akin to knowing a customer will accept sweet pickles on their sandwich if the restaurant no longer has dill pickles available.

The Catalyst also focuses on the importance of having an Ontology – a set of concepts and rules that defines how the layers are interrelated. In essence, it becomes a valuable framework of shareable and reusable knowledge.

Using ontology, you don’t need to start from scratch each time a new service concept is introduced. You can leverage what you already have to help speed up the intent creation process. Other industries use ontology-based knowledge graphs and machine reasoning, but this is a relatively new concept for the telecom industry.

Previously, telecom has focused on domain-specific intents. The TM-Forum approach believes there is a need to create an ontology that goes across domains, allowing the customer to have more of a voice in selecting a solution that best fits their needs and setting the parameters around what they will get in the end. These customer-driven intents will then cascade down to help define what the network service provider needs to do to ensure they can meet customers’ needs. The Intent Management and Control Loop APIs will power cooperation and communication between domains.

Network Automation

Figure 1: Intent-Based Networking

Don’t let your business get lost in translation

5G is a powerful technology that is likely to transform how many companies and industries do business. But first, businesses must be able to communicate their wants and needs in a way that can be translated into what telecom networks and machines can understand. Service providers need to be mindful of this gap and begin using Intent when designing their autonomous networks.