The world underwent a digital revolution over the past year as a result of the pandemic. We now primarily work online, socialise online, and learn online – a trend that will likely persist for the foreseeable future. While most people have successfully adjusted to this shift, the same can’t be said about our networks. Wi-Fi downtime and sub-par video calls are still common tales 12 months on. While we were heavily reliant on technology for many aspects of our lives before the pandemic, our needs for performance and reliability (and lots of bandwidth) are at an all-time high.
As a result, interest in 5G technology adoption has gone mainstream; hardly a day goes by without mention of it in the news. With the upheaval of office-based work, anticipation for the next generation of network connectivity continues to build. In a future where we envision connected healthcare and autonomous vehicles that will not tolerate network instability or downtime, the speed and flexibility that 5G promises is a necessity, along with unwavering network performance.
Beyond the significant jump in download speeds and the promise of faster, more agile connectivity, 5G’s ability to manipulate the network in real-time makes it ideally suited to meet the unique demands put on today’s networks. Despite the mounting need for 5G, full deployment is still some time off. However, one thing is clear – automation technology can accelerate the rollout.
The inextricable link between 5G and automation
The very existence of 5G depends on intelligent automation. For example, dynamic network slicing relies on automation to ensure that each slice is properly managed and assigned, and that the frequency ranges are reliable.
The infrastructure required to deploy 5G includes a multitude of devices (antennas, transmitters, receivers, etc.), and ensuring that all of these pieces are connected and communicating effectively is a complex job. If any one of those devices has an issue, the entire network is at risk. Automation can streamline device monitoring, identify the probable root cause of any technical snags, and perform proactive health checks to spot problems before they surface, enabling service providers to resolve incidents in the making.
The widescale deployment of 5G and associated infrastructure expansion will introduce many new tools and devices to manage, monitor, and maintain. The antennas for 5G are much smaller (often the size of a fingernail), requiring more power and many more of them to create the network. Estimates indicate that Vodafone would experience a 60% increase in power draw by upgrading to 5G.
The expansive scale of 5G creates higher failure potential, which is compounded by next-gen technologies like Software Defined Networking (SDN) and virtualisation that add further complexity when it comes to management and incident response. Meanwhile, the critical traffic that 5G networks will carry requires continuous connectivity; consider autonomous vehicles and the dire consequences of potential downtime. Solutions like automation mitigate these risks by performing ongoing maintenance and management of the network’s intricate infrastructure, as well as by efficiently pinpointing the root cause when issues do arise.
Automation can also be used to provision the network dynamically in real-time as traffic fluctuates, which reduces latency. By adding in predictive capabilities from artificial intelligence, recurring peaks and troughs in network demand can also be accounted for, and proactive actions can be taken to optimise service.
5G powers the new normal
The conversation around 5G is by no means new, but COVID-19 has been a powerful catalyst for prioritising deployment. While the longer-term impact of the pandemic remains uncertain, widespread remote working is expected to continue, along with broader digital consumption trends. Adapting for this new normal means that businesses must adopt what Gartner refers to as ‘a default-is-digital requirement’.
With 5G predicted to add as much as £120 billion to UK productivity over the next ten years, accelerating deployment should be a priority. In order to reap the potential benefits of 5G, businesses must have a strategy and the right tools to manage this new network infrastructure. Improving monitoring and maintenance inherently lowers the risk of downtime, as well as its associated costs. Leveraging intelligent automation will be key for network teams to successfully facilitate this next generation of connectivity.