5G is a new technology based on new radio standards (5G NR). It follows 2G, 3G, 4G, and their respective associated technologies such as GSM, LTE, and LTE advanced. Some of the claims that 5G technology is making in terms of efficiencies/advantages are:
Download speed up to 1000 times faster than 4G
Latency around 1 millisecond as compared to 4G’s 50-100 milliseconds
It can reduce cost per megabit and support millions of connections per square kilometres
Enhanced power consumption that improves base station energy efficiencies by 30-60%
Reliability of service enhancements based on five 9’s availability
Although shifts from previous generations, like 2G to 3G to 4G, also brought about similar improvements in overall speed and throughput, 5G technology is unique because of its scale, parameters, efficiencies, and variety of applications. For example, it can support connected cars, industrial IoT, and network slicing.
The 5G Business Potential report by Ericsson and Arthur mentioned that 5G will drive 13.6% annual revenue growth for CSPs from 2016 to 2026, and create opportunities of around $1.6 trillion.
With its inherent characteristics, 5G technology can transform many industries and support several use cases which can impact our lives in a positive way. However, 5G alone can’t bring such transformations. To leverage the true potential and realize the benefits of 5G technology, the current OSS/BSS systems must go through massive transformation as well. Three core technologies of 5G, namely 5G NR, virtualization, and network slicing, are laying the foundation for flexibility and delivery of the 5G vision. These technologies also pose challenges to underlying operation support and billing systems. Various use cases like connected cars, smart cities, and Industry 3.0 indirectly promote greater flexibility and scalability to customers and end users. A couple of examples would include powerful dashboards to users, and measurement/monitoring of parameters on per use case/per user basis. These requirements lead to the transformation of current OSS/BSS systems into more open, flexible, and scalable systems, as opposed to current siloed and monolithic applications. OSS/BSS applications need to be virtualized and run as containerized microservices to be able to support massive scale of various use cases.
Fundamental OSS/BSS must be transformed to provide more closely coupled network planning and optimization functions, service provisioning, and fulfilment need to become more closely related and real time. Network management function needs to support multiple domains, both physical and virtual. Service assurance need to leverage big data and AI/ML technologies to use preventive analytics and closed loop automation technologies. Each one of the changes represent a considerable challenge and require new ways of thinking.
New OSS/BSS systems need to become more intelligent, agile, and real-time. Multiple solution providers are working along with telecom operators/communication service providers to demonstrate initial proof of concepts on how OSS/BSS can leverage new technologies to support various value-added use cases. For example, BSS can leverage AI/ML based analytics to determine and recommend upsell offers to end customers. The use case leverages real-time monitoring capabilities for the end user, who is using LTE based broadband service, to determine and recommend FTTH based faster broadband service available in his/her area through user demography analytics and product/service availability per product catalogue.
Another use case is real-time service assurance for hybrid physical and virtual networks where service assurance function leverages KPIs generated by NFI layer and anomalies detected by combining it with QoE and QoS measurements. Anomalies can be detected in real-time and preventive measures can be taken automatically.
The OSS/BSS changes required for realizing the 5G services vision are complicated and significant. Though the changes visualized are mostly theoretical and realization is currently fragmented, TMForum is drawing a blueprint under an initiative called “Open Digital Architecture (ODA)”, which is work in progress. Below is the high-level blueprint:
Source: TM Forum
As 5G use cases encompass multivendor, multi-technology, and hybrid network solutions, the theme of designing ODA is openness, interoperability, and collaboration approach. The emphasis is on componentization and modularization of functions. There will be a need to integrate with legacy systems and third-party systems so that the new OSS/BSS architecture can work on the principle of common data/information models. Componentization can be achieved by following microservices architecture principles.
Integration with multiparty environment can be achieved by defining Open API based architecture. Different components of ODA architecture will provide Open APIs for integration with third-party systems.
TMForum hosts catalyst projects to develop proof of concept solutions for various initiatives. For ODA also, there are multiple catalyst projects that are running these collaboration initiatives where people from Communication Service Providers, ISVs, OEMs, and system integrators participate in developing proof of concepts.
While there are many proof of concepts developed by TMForum and other forums, the real implementations are still in progress and evolving per the need of CSPs.