Good network and customer service have never been as vital to the success of the telecoms industry as they are today. The Covid-19 pandemic and its resulting international lockdowns have meant that more people than ever before are working from home and are reliant on their telecoms providers for their livelihoods and entertainment. This also focuses the spotlight on the UK government’s goal to ensure full-fibre broadband for all by 2025, an aim that was reviewed and amended last November.
We’re facing a situation in which network usage and speeds are soaring, and one in which reliability is becoming increasingly integral to the smooth running of our businesses and daily lives. Meeting increasingly demanding consumer expectations is a huge challenge against the backdrop of an Ofcom report showing that £20.7m in compensation was paid to customers in the last year for slow repairs.
It is also expected that a projected tenfold decrease in latency with 5G will greatly benefit end-users by delivering greater bandwidth as well as triggering new digital businesses and services and high-quality connectivity. However, with ever-intensifying competition for network providers and growing consumer choice driven by disintermediation and commoditisation of services, it is no question that cost control and customer service have become key differentiators for network operators.
To meet growing service expectations from customers, and ensure they are positioned to support the expected innovations delivered by ongoing 5G and full-fibre rollouts, telecoms providers must prioritise open and, perhaps more importantly, accessible networks. Crucially, 5G will be both more vulnerable to attack and more critical to the running of society than any of its predecessor networks.
This is partly because 5G will underpin ‘Internet of Things’ networks which means vulnerabilities will be more widely distributed as there will be many more potential attack vectors. There will also be unique security needs for industry-specific 5G networks such as connected cars or healthcare grids. 5G grids are also virtualised networks which therefore need to be governed by robust security protocols. Essentially, what happens at one node in the 5G network could now affect everything else. This renders it vital that cybersecurity or physical damage at any node in the network are instantly identified and rectified.
5G and full fibre networks will underpin new aspects of the economy, from smart motorways to smart cities, rendering huge swathes of society deeply dependent on high-speed low latency connections. In a connected economy increasingly dependent on real-time data, any faults in 5G and fibre networks could have a devastating domino effect across sectors such as healthcare or smart city transport grids. Yet it is also becoming more difficult to detect the site and source of network faults.
Lost in data translation
Ironically, while 5G and full fibre are meant to underpin the ‘Internet of Things’, much of the technology used to map and monitor networks is not designed for an Internet of Things era. Some telecoms providers still use siloed systems, maps, and apps that cannot interface with all the sensors and assets on the ground. Employees cannot easily update asset records or as-builts with new data. Information from network sensors cannot easily be integrated with network maps. Many datasets and applications are fragmented and splintered among siloed systems. Some providers are still storing critical data in legacy systems that are often only accessible to engineers or Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) specialists and this is true for other important applications as well. This means other people within the team, including security specialists, field technicians, contractors, and call-centre staff, have to liaise with these specialists before taking the correct action to update network information or resolve an issue. This added complexity creates growing backlogs that delay response times and reduces efficiency which costs time and money.
In many cases, a large proportion of engineers’ time is spent handling and responding to administrative queries relating to issues such as asset location or the nature of a customer connection. In these situations, where field technicians aren’t able to access network data, locate the problem, or develop a resolution plan without an engineer, this can create a huge bottleneck, and unsurprisingly result in dissatisfied customers and lost business opportunities.
Enabling collaboration through transparency
Key to addressing these issues is network wide geospatial software strategy. Operators need to make network data ‘open’ so they can easily integrate information from the full array of sensors and staff devices in the field that truly reflects the reality on the ground with real-time geospatial context. This would create more responsive, adaptable networks that can help anticipate and avert hazards or threats and enable them to leverage the full array of data and expertise in the field.
Field engineers would have instant access to the information needed to identify the site and source of problems, enabling speedy repairs and installations, as well as allowing them to relay network as-built data back to operational teams without the traditional update bottleneck. Security vulnerabilities and network faults could be rapidly identified and rectified with access to critical network information. Creating an accurate geospatial view of network data for field workers also provides an opportunity to improve data quality by ‘field-sourcing’ the most current view of network assets. This creates a ‘virtuous circle’, where engineers have easy access to the network in the field, and feed in up-to-date data, creating more dynamic and responsive telecoms networks and continually improving the quality of service.
Network reliance will continue to be a priority as long as people want and need to access the internet. Using a geospatial strategy based on ‘open’ data and systems can help telecoms providers ensure resilience and performance for their customers through increased situational awareness for teams across the entire enterprise.
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