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Upskilling Engineers for 5G Success

March 1, 2022
Learn why GIS know-how is critical to succeed in a 5G marketplace. […]

The Right Knowledge and Technology Is Mission-Critical

5G is the future of telecommunications, and that future is arriving fast. The number of 5G mobile service subscriptions in the US is forecast to grow by 79% in 2022, and by 2024 there will be over 222 million wireless connections from 5G-enabled devices.1

The rapid acceleration of 5G adoption also presents a major revenue generation opportunity for telecom providers. But to realize 5G’s full potential, businesses need a highly resilient network that can integrate an unprecedented volume of devices to deliver the full benefits of smart, connected technologies.  

These resilient networks need to be managed and maintained by telecom engineers who are not only well-versed in the demands of 5G, but also have the operational systems and processes in place to proactively manage network expansion, changing technology and risk. 

Managing the Challenges 

While 5G opens new doors in terms of the products, services and business models for telecom companies, it’s important we acknowledge the logistical challenges that accompany the 5G transition. While the general public may understand it as Fast 4G, 5G is an entirely different cloud-native network built on software-defined networking (SDN) and Networks Function Virtualization (NFV). 

5G networks are decentralized, which makes them more vulnerable to performance issues and outages, as distributed digital routing and short-range, small-cell antennae and 5G base stations are more exposed to natural hazards such as extreme weather conditions.  

The softwarization of network components also increases 5G’s security vulnerabilities. Greater process automation and proliferating connections mean the impact of network issues travel faster, while cybercriminals using 5G devices could potentially bypass security programs built for 4G technology. We’re already seeing network operators responding to this by deploying cloud security and system redundancy software, to ensure that network data is duplicated and encrypted so there is no single point of failure.  

It’s not just network security and stability threats that raise the stakes, either. With 5G delivering instant, holistic, digital connectivity, customers expect consistently high performance. According to Deloitte research, 86% of business enterprises believe that advanced wireless capabilities will transform their organization within 3 years—and many network operators will be contractually bound to SLAs with 99.999% KPIs to deliver this standard of availability.2

Developing Engineers’ Skill Sets  

5G’s rapid adoption is doing more than changing network operator demands. It’s also impacting the role of telecom engineers and the skills required to deliver a secure, scalable service to customers. 

Already, demand for 5G-confident telecoms engineers is rising, and the network’s heavy reliance on fiber backhaul is also increasing the need for skilled network fiber engineers.  

Moving to a disaggregated network means a shift to a modern, adaptable open-source software model to respond more quickly to changing requirements. Engineers must also develop an intimate knowledge of a much broader range of technologies to manage 5G requirements, including LTE-Advanced, Mobile Edge Computing, Network Slicing, IoT, and the aforementioned SDN/NFV. 

In an AI environment, engineers deal with millions more data sensors which must be used to not only maintain telecoms networks more efficiently, but to preempt problems and put preventive plans in place to enhance 5G network resilience and performance. 

To be truly 5G-ready, telecom providers need to create open, accessible networks that use geospatial technology, IoT, and AI, to provide rich, real-time data so they can better understand assets and increase network resilience, which ultimately minimizes downtime and prevents economic loss.  

Advanced data capabilities are both a blessing and a curse for operators. More work needs to be done to keep everything running at full capacity, but more intelligent decisions can be made with the right operational infrastructure and geospatial data technologies in place.  

For example, past behavior is the most effective indicator of future failure, and machine learning (ML) can combine historic and real-time data to accurately predict everything from sleeping cell detection and future node downtime to the chance of grid failure at each site. Capturing, integrating, and curating, data from every part of the network is critical to providing this holistic picture of risk. 

An integrated data approach also impacts the way telecom engineers operate. Operators are creating location-based outage dashboards that utilize geospatial data to predict the sites most vulnerable to damage and degradation while recording existing asset maintenance issues. Organizations can use these insights to prioritize engineers’ workload and to proactively mitigate major risks.  

For telecom engineers, the 5G transition involves not only learning new skills for network maintenance and management; the technology they use plays a pivotal role in providing detailed, location-based data to enrich the risk management systems in place.  

A combination of mobile employee devices and sensors in the field enables local data to be overlaid onto geospatial network data to provide real-time, location-based insights. In addition to supporting live risk assessment capabilities, this information allows companies to quickly understand the locations and causes of hazards, to develop an incident response strategy.  

And even in cases where machine learning hasn’t been able to predict problems, the speed and sophistication of geospatial data insights allows engineers and head office personnel to solve these edge cases collaboratively, utilizing best practice from other similar incidents to inform protocol and procedures.  

Networks + Skills + Technology = 5G’s Success 

A high-performance network requires a high-performance management model to deliver on expectations, and the continuing rollout of 5G is pressurizing Telcos to accelerate their digital strategies. 

The central factor to future network resilience is data quality; the quicker telecom companies can identify network weaknesses and single points of failure the sooner performance strategies can be developed. 5G-ready engineers are at the heart of delivering these strategies, using mobile software and geospatial data to identify hazards, solve problems, and protect the country’s new ultra-fast 5G networks.

Resources And Notes
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