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Virtualisation, automation and network slicing increasing operators’ focus

Research reveals added pressure on networks in the post Covid-19 world, with access network performance as the primary factor that most impacts subscriber experience

In a first survey of broadband and mobile network operators around the globe, network test, monitoring and assurance solutions provider Viavi has revealed an industry where despite substantial increases in traffic, current networks in large part met the global challenges created by the pandemic.

The 2021 Network test survey explored insights into how the pandemic and other trends are shaping test and assurance priorities in 2021 and beyond. Data was compiled from a survey answered by the Technology Innovation Council (TIC), a research initiative enabling telecommunications service provider executives to provide insight into global business and technology trends.

The TIC comprises more than 120 members from more than 70 service provider organisations in 40 countries. TIC members represent a wide range of job titles, such as CEO, chief information officer, chief technology innovation officer, chief digital officer, vice-president of architecture, director of strategy roadmap, chief evangelist and head of mobile, working for Tier 1 and Tier 2 global, regional and national service providers operating both wireless and wireline networks.

The survey showed that the past year has been a proving ground for both wired and wireless networks worldwide, with hundreds of millions of people working remotely and educating their children from home. As a consequence, Viavi found that virtualisation (78%), automation (70%) and network slicing (70%) were the top technology trends increasing the need for test, monitoring and assurance, according to communications service providers (CSPs).

More than two-thirds (70%) of CSPs identified access network performance as the primary factor that most impacts subscriber experience, with transport network performance (41%) and core network performance (37%) also areas of concern. An overwhelming majority (93%) believe that testing improves customer satisfaction and reduces churn.

As many as 85% of respondents stated that in-person network technician visits had been reduced or eliminated as a result of the pandemic, although 78% said the change was temporary. More than 55% of service providers reported a transition from instrument-based testing to remote, virtualised testing, with 7% saying the change is permanent. To maintain quality of experience during the pandemic, at least 30% of service providers increased reliance on contractors for network quality assurance.

Yet despite all of the challenges of 2020, principally those presented by Covid-19, only 22% of CSPs temporarily reduced the number of test cases performed, demonstrating the value placed on test and assurance.

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Nearly four-fifths of service providers agree that testing on the front end could reduce the amount of operational expenditures needed to correct issues later. When asked about sources of test, measurement and assurance solutions, 89% of respondents agreed that suppliers specialising in this area were essential to the performance of the network.

Just over three-quarters (78%) strongly agreed that network monitoring and assurance using artificial intelligence (AI) and automation were necessary to optimise networks.

“Prior to the pandemic, service providers had begun turning to technologies such as automation, AI and virtualisation to control costs while improving the customer experience,” said Kevin Oliver, vice-president and general manager at Viavi.

“The current situation has only accelerated the adoption of these advanced technologies,” he added. “To ensure the performance of more complex, next-generation networks, service providers need advanced test and assurance solutions and automated workflows – particularly when they are increasingly relying on contractors for crucial field testing.”

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