At the end of last year, both Verizon and AT&T announced plans to launch 5G broadband during the second half of 2018. While exciting, these announcements lead to a bigger question: are our networks truly ready to handle 5G and the excess of data that will soon flow through them?

According to Research and Markets, the global 5G network infrastructure market is expected to experience explosive growth at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 70% from 2017 – 2023, says Yogesh Pathare, director, Product and Strategy at CENX.

Let’s discuss a few of the 5G-related challenges facing network operators.

  • Influx of data that must be monitored and assured in real-time

5G networks will bring a new era of unlimited video and a rise in IoT use cases, such as smart cities, connected cars and remote surgeries. 5G extends the edge of the network past traditional boundaries to consumer operated “connected devices” (robotics, connected cars, smart appliances, etc.) The 8.4 billion global “connected devices” estimated in use during 2017 is set to skyrocket to 20 billion worldwide by 2020.

To better support 5G, network operators are adjusting their networks to C-RAN topologies that rely on virtual elements, such as cloud and SDN, in favor of traditional physical network infrastructure. Increased virtual assets means network operators have far more to monitor and assure.

Solution: Deploy a hyper-scale assurance platform that enables closed-loop assurance automation across virtual hybrid networks, providing a real-time multilayer topology view, data analytics and key insights into the network. This helps prevent, predict and identify any network faults, triggering the necessary automations to triage faults. Deploy an all-encompassing tool that combines all network siloes into a single view dashboard, for increased visibility and reduced network operations complexity.

  • Potential interference between 5G slices

Within any given 5G network there are multiple “slices,” and each has its own “closed loop” to ensure the functions of that slice occur completely and accurately. In principle, this system should work well, as each closed loop is designed to govern the functions of its particular slice only. But, who’s to say that the closed loops will not interfere with each other, at the slice level, domain level or the inter-network level?

For example, a mechanical engineer located in Dubai needs to fix a piece of machinery and calls on the help of a service engineer located in Germany using Augmented Reality (AR) glasses. If the network connection between these two engineers fails, the broken link would need to be fixed in a certain amount of time to satisfy the enterprise Service Level Agreement (SLA). Each network side may initiate independent network automations to fix the link, which could cause a race condition, further complicating things.

Solution: Deploy artificial intelligence (AI). If each end was equipped with AI functionality, the networks in Germany and Dubai could communicate with each other through AI and work together to fix the problem. Because of the extreme complexity and countless streams of data associated with 5G networks, AI is going to be vital in solving this kind of challenge, as it offers a variety of potential benefits, such as assistance with analysis and optimising massive growth in network components and data (including devices at the edge of the network). AI within closed loops will have to communicate at the slice, network domain and inter-network domain levels (between two or more operators) to avoid race conditions and interference.

  • Meeting a multitude of SLAs

Each specific IoT use case needs its own SLA to guarantee service assurance, adding to the complexity of 5G network operations. A connected car will have different SLA requirements than a smart home security system, etc. The amount of SLAs that will be operating within the network is potentially infinite, which makes human monitoring of all SLA processes nearly impossible.

Solution: Build automations into the network. If a customer has an SLA that states its network functions cannot go down, there have to be automated processes that ensure the network is always up and running. If an operator attempted to meet this SLA using manpower, guaranteeing the SLA would be out of the question.

By addressing the challenges 5G presents with these strategic and actionable steps, network operators can help to drive the incredible advances this technology will eventually deliver worldwide.