Delivering enhanced connectivity services to rural locations – think about the lifecycle and use automation to reduce operational costs
The events of the past year have increased the need to deliver better connectivity service to rural locations. It has also highlighted two important lessons. First, that businesses need a flexible approach for employees, with hybrid work models. Second, that businesses in remote locations are in need of enhanced infrastructure to support more effective digital processes and systems.
As many have found, basic broadband isn’t enough; faster speeds and consistent agile performance are required. Fortunately, there are better ways of delivering this, because connectivity can now be delivered through a combination of techniques, covering classical fibre as well as new, high-speed wireless based on 5G. Indeed, there are many initiatives – with both public and private funding – to extend network reach to deliver the connectivity users now need.
But even if the cost of deploying infrastructure can be subsidised or is now more affordable, that’s only part of the story. Build and rollout is a large element of the total costs, to be sure, but, once built, new connections need to be managed – which means attention must shift to the complete lifecycle of network infrastructure.
To make these investments pay, operators must ensure that they minimise operational costs – while, at the same time, providing new levels agile performance to meet the changing needs of business users in these regions.
There’s another factor to consider. As 5G matures and as businesses seek to leverage new low latency services and performance, processing resources will also move towards the edge (so that latency isn’t compromised). Having closed connectivity gaps, rural users should not be denied the benefits of brand-new 5G capabilities. These must also follow the spread of new infrastructure – creating new potential costs.
So, what’s to be done? First, operators need to consider network automation to drive down operational costs. One such cost is power, which is a major drain on budgets. Cell sites consume a vast quantity of power, creating significant costs.
If connectivity for rural businesses is delivered via wireless connections, the management of each cell site needs to be considered individually. There’s no point in maintaining power levels for a FWA connection to an office, if that office is only staffed for 10 hours each day.
Similarly, cell sites for consumer use need to be managed carefully too. Why maintain peak power load, if demand drops after 10pm? There are already tools to do this, based on machine-learning algorithms that can be trained based on real network activity levels. In turn, this data can be used to define new operating periods, tuned to local demands – delivering savings that make the whole service lifecycle profitable.
Second, the management of the operational estate – the OSS – is another cost centre. Automation also helps here, reducing costs by enabling zero-touch operations. While the OSS needs to evolve to support new services, you also need to understand the topology required, in real-time. Again, tools have emerged to support this, allowing unified workflows that support service automation, end-to-end to be delivered.
These tools enable the automation of manual tasks, such as the deployment of a new router or a network node, generating operational cost savings. As operators deliver more advanced capabilities to remote business and consumer users, automation will be essential.
They are proven to deliver. In Elisa’s Finland network, for example, a software update that takes 30 minutes per device can be achieved automatically, saving 3000 hours/year. Automating the configuration of mobile backhaul and L3 VPN services saves 25,500 per year. Cumulatively, this adds up to millions of dollars.
By taking a holistic view of network evolution and considering the full-service lifecycle, the automation allows ongoing costs to be targeted, shaving dollars from expenditure. Adopting such innovations will help operators close rural connectivity gaps, while meeting new and emerging needs from remote users – cost effectively.
EVP Service Assurance and CTO Polystar