The days of communications service providers (CSPs) developing services and then looking for a market are gone, especially as 5G becomes reality. 5G innovation will be driven by enterprise verticals, and CSPs will need to develop services based on use cases. Mobile operators must be prepared to deliver these services in conjunction with partners who understand the specific needs of manufacturing companies, healthcare organizations, automakers and others, and they must decide which verticals make the most sense for their businesses. Following are steps CSPs can take to leverage capabilities like co-creation, network slicing and multi-access edge computing (MEC) to deliver the customized services enterprises want:
The process of co-creation begins when CSPs realize they are not in control of the discussion about what 5G can do. What the enterprise wants and needs will drive co-creation, and delivering the capabilities will require CSPs to collaborate not only with enterprises, but also industry vertical organizations, suppliers, standards bodies and open source groups.
The cost of collaborating with all these groups can be high, which is why it is important to set goals and expectation for each engagement. To be effective, cocreators need a plan and a specific problem to solve, and they must agree ahead of time how services will be monetized, how all partners will be compensated and who will own intellectual property rights.
While some co-creation is likely to take place in a closed environment at one partner’s lab or the other, all partners must be unencumbered by distance and access. Keep pace with or get involved in efforts to develop open systems, open APIs and rules around multi-party collaboration so that all parties work from the same sets of data and have access to the same systems.
CSPs and enterprises often speak about the application of technology differently. CSPs need to be able to understand enterprises when they talk about their business needs. Enterprises often speak more in IT terms than network operations terms. Begin by setting a baseline for common language to describe technology, data models, goals and how to measure success. TM Forum members’ work on the Ecosystem Business Architecture and business models can help.
The biggest challenge for 5G network slicing will be automation on the back end. Dynamic slicing by nature must be orchestrated automatically, from provisioning the slice to adjusting parameters based on policy, to optimization and monetization. The adage that says, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t bill for it’ applies more than ever to network slicing when the point of it is to monetize custom service levels for various networked applications.
Collaborate on standards
It is difficult to create standard KPIs for service quality when the importance of individual KPIs to one enterprise does not always reflect the importance to another enterprise. CSPs must represent their customers in the effort to standardize KPIs for quality so that enterprises can know what to expect in the real world and have a basis for comparing performance among competing service providers.
Consider 4G slicing
Many CSPs are waiting for Standalone 5G to deploy 5G slicing, believing it is necessary to deliver services end to end – and they are right. However, CSPs that have implemented 4G slicing have learned valuable lessons along the way and feel they can more easily transition to 5G slicing because of their experience. Automating bad processes is not the answer, so working on slicing in a 4G environment can help CSPs improve processes to get ready for 5G network slicing.
Before deploying network slicing for enterprise customers, CSPs need to have service assurance down pat. They need to be able to prove network slices are delivering as promised. If they can’t, they will not be able to monetize them. Worse yet, there is no going back. Once an enterprise is given the capability to customize service characteristics on demand without paying a premium, they are not ever going to pay a premium. Approaching network slicing from a service assurance perspective will help operators determine which attributes and key performance indicators (KPIs) can be guaranteed, adjusted automatically and monetized effectively and reliably.
Focus on vRANs
With CSPs indicating that slicing is at least two years away, they should turn their attention to the radio access network (RAN), in particular the virtual RAN. It is not yet clear that CSPs know how to deliver network slicing across a vRAN or that vRAN makes good business sense. Monetization of slicing could help make the business case.
Weigh MEC options
Most CSPs believe they will need to build their own edge cloud/data center facilities for multi-access edge computing, but it may make more sense to partner to build them. It is too soon to determine whether one approach is better than another.
Instead, CSPs should evaluate each MEC opportunity based on use case, geography, cost and available real estate.
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