While a significant part of world’s population is in lockdown amidst COVID-19 pandemic, the people at home are using connectivity to do more, and to do new things, writes ASHISH NAINWAL.
Earlier people were spending some time on Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime & online streaming platforms, but now they are binge-watching, i.e. consuming a lot more content. People are also using the same connectivity to do new things, which they had not imagined before lockdown. For example, online learning classes, virtual fitness sessions, e-business, working from home, and video calls with families and friends. Which means it is not just about staying safely indoors – but also about staying connected. Reliable and seamless connectivity is turning out to be a necessity, like water and food. This is where the challenge for the communications service providers (CSPs) begins: since the start of the pandemic, network traffic has surged tremendously on fixed & mobile networks. But CSPs know that network outages and degradations in service experience, simply cannot be afforded. In these testing times, CSPs must maintain operational continuity by avoiding issues through intelligent operations, pre-emptive actions and quick resolutions.
With workforce of 9,000+ experts, Nokia’s Global Delivery Centers (GDCs) are helping by remotely supporting more than 600 telecom networks globally, every year. This includes not only managing network operations, but also designing, deploying and maintaining CSP networks containing equipment from Nokia and other vendors.
Business continuity even during adversities
Few years back, amidst a Tsunami warning in the Indian ocean, the operations at Nokia’s GDC in the coastal city of Chennai were seamlessly switched over to another GDC location (Noida, India). This was done as part of business continuity measures undertaken during disaster situations. Since the network operations of many leading global telecom networks are handled through these centers, business continuity is maintained across continents, including Nokia’s Global Delivery Centers in Europe (Lisbon in Portugal, and Timisoara in Romania). These GDCs are capable of handling challenging situations, but this time the threat has been very different with COVID-19. The invisible enemy has been threatening human lives, and as a result risking seamless operations of communication networks across continents. Geo-redundancy of delivery centers is normally planned between locations within a planet, but what happens if the whole planet gets affected by a pandemic? Till now the industry has not planned for geo-redundancy outside our planet! So, what comes to rescue is a strong man-machine collaboration: virtual team of experts supported by robust digitalization, automation & Artificial Intelligence (AI) based tools and processes in these centers, to ensure flexible yet seamless service delivery, no matter what.
New digitalized & automated ways of working
Nokia’s GDCs are noticing a global surge in network traffic. For example, in Europe there has been at least 40 per cent VoLTE traffic increase in one CSP network, while an Australian CSP has also seen a 40 per cent increase in data traffic (on both fixed broadband and mobile broadband networks). Likewise, for an operator in UK, there has been more than 25 per cent increase in data traffic. The SMS traffic has also shown an increasing trend.
The pandemic is increasing loads on network and placing a strain on the workforces that are trying to maintain the health of these networks, without compromising reliability or performance. For the workforce of any CSP, the challenges are many – restricted movements, increased workload, covering for sick colleagues, reduced access to operations’ tools from home, limited on-site visits for hardware repair or replacement, etc.
The experts at Nokia’s GDCs remotely supporting these CSPs, are also facing the same challenges. More than 90 per cent of our experts in GDCs are working from home due to stringent social distancing guidelines across countries. Nevertheless, all operational tickets handled by them have continued to be within existing Service Level Agreements with CSPs. The experts have been ensuring that the key performance indicators like retainability (namely call drop) and accessibility (namely call setup success rate) are fully maintained. Continued commitment along with expertise, combined with digitalization, automation, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) & Artificial Intelligence has ensured that the operations remain unimpacted. What has been crucial is that all the services designed and delivered by Nokia are standardized based on a common underlying digital network architecture. In this, Nokia AVA, the cognitive framework uses a common data lake for pattern recognition and performance degradation prediction, so that issues are predicted, pre-emptive actions taken where possible or resolved quickly if issues still occur. This is particularly crucial as on-site visits must be minimized. Further, our Security Intelligence & Operations Center, within Global Delivery Center, is constantly analyzing the threat landscape to mitigate any malicious cyberattacks including phishing attacks and disinformation campaigns.
To understand the scale of services these centers deliver to CSP networks, it is worth highlighting that annually, close to 200k radio sites are handled remotely, with more than 5 million trouble tickets resolved, and over 1 million software upgrades performed. The value delivered to these CSPs is intelligent automation and digitalization to augment human engineers and ensure top-notch health of networks and services. It is not surprisingly, that more and more CSPs are coming forward to let Nokia’s Global Delivery Centers do managed services for them, in the most effective and trustworthy way.
Paradigm shift – time to go digital and virtual, is now
Communications service providers do have contingency plans, but COVID-19 has called for fresh re-thinking of strategies around their people, operational processes and technology. Over the years, some CSPs have had apprehensions to allow their networks to be designed, deployed, managed & maintained from a far-away location. Today, CSPs are more open to partnering for full or partial managed services of their networks – to handle complexity and maintain operational continuity. Overall, the pandemic has forced everyone in the ecosystem to look at digital and virtual ways of doing things. During lockdowns, people have realized virtual ways of doing many new things which they thought needed physical (on-site) presence earlier. The need for digitalization has never been felt more strongly. In few months we might or might not see a vaccine for COVID-19, and we might or might not see another wave of COVID-19 cases. Till then, we will continue to have a pertinent question in our minds – what will change in the post COVID-19 era? Many things will, including the importance of digitalization and the need for a well-defined digital strategy for the 5G era. The value of a digitalized service delivery has already been noted and has already changed mindsets towards remote working and digital transformation. If not, then the lessons learnt from COVID-19 crisis, for communication networks, will be wasted.
- Ashish heads up Global Service Delivery Marketing at Nokia.