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Telecom Review Asia interviews Zhang Wanchun, senior vice president of ZTE to learn about the importance of autonomous networks in addressing diverse business demands and how to bring autonomous networks into reality, achieving operators’ digital transformation.

Autonomous networks (AN) will empower and accelerate the digital transformation of telecom operators and other industries. Automation and intelligence are required to support the growing complexity of cloud-based, highly-agility and versatile modern networks which underpin the digitalization of the industry. For many years now, ZTE has been actively developing a comprehensive portfolio of AI-based AN solutions to address diverse business demands to achieve seamless operations, optimize and coordinate network resources efficiently and create the best customer experiences. To yield these deliverables, ZTE’s solutions are founded on three key pillars.

The first pillar is business-orientedness. The main goal of the ICT industry is to provide the best end-to-end customer service experience, with fit-for-purpose solutions. This can be translated into the "Zero-X " (zero wait, zero touch, zero trouble) capabilities to provide simple, seamless and consistent interactions for the user. ZTE taps on its expertise and solutions to support the operator’s journey toward achieving deep network, organizational and business transformation.

The second pillar is openness. Fulfillment of service requirements relies on end-to-end, cross-domain coordination, which is supported by AI-native capabilities within each domain. The ability to share capabilities and data, and stay open for coordination enables closed-loop automation from process design to business operations. ZTE APIs applied to AN use cases comply and pave the way for a leading open network architecture in the industry.

Finally, the third pillar is operational efficiency. Delivering "Zero-X services and Self-X capabilities" requires automated operational and business processes, which occur through a carefully planned and executed iterative approach. ZTE assists operators in evaluating as-is processes, organization, and capabilities, to determine the degree of automation and create a path toward intended requirements. Last year, ZTE successfully piloted the capability evaluation system in wireless networks for China Mobile, with the achievements included in a proposal submitted to TC7 of CCSA.

ZTE Addresses Telecom Operators’ Pain Points

ZTE has developed uSmartNet, a self-evolving, AI-based network automation solution. Together with partners, ZTE has deployed this solution for extensive commercial use to claim a leading position in the industry in terms of leveraging big data, AI, and DPI technologies to leapfrog operators’ developments.

At the heart of the uSmartNet solution is the capabilities to predict user experience and network performance, and automatically formulate and execute optimization strategies securely and efficiently. ZTE’s solution uses a network digital twin for sensing and predicting spacio-temporal service distribution. Deviation from intended experience and quality levels can be predicted in real time, prompting the iterative adjustments of network configurations across domains in real-time. First pilots indicate that over 90% of physical network coverage can be accurately reflected with the digital twin network in real-time, and traffic prediction accuracy exceeds 90%.

Additionally, automatic detection, in particular when enhanced with complementary techniques such as AI-based UAV survey, allow telecom operators to spot and restore faulty sites five times faster than before.

As a concrete use case example, the end-to-end Voice over New Radio (VoNR) service evaluation and optimization improves the QoE (VMOS) of VONR video calls intelligently in a close loop manner.

Beyond operational benefits and efficiencies, big data and AI infrastructure pulls together and correlates a wide range of cross-domains OSS, BSS, CRM and external data, enabling business use cases for developing new revenue opportunities and increasing the monetization of the network. For instance, user profiling (used by more than 500 ZTE enterprise customers) allows telecom operators to understand and anticipate precisely the customer needs in terms of connectivity and APP consumption, and present them with timely and adequate service offers or promotions. This rises the telemarketing conversion rate up to 15%, compared to 6%-7% conventionally.

ZTE's Achievements in AN Solutions and Benefits to operators

Over the last 5 years, ZTE has been carrying out extensive collaborations to promote AN development in China, as well as with international bodies such as the TMF. To date, ZTE has teamed up with more than 80 partners, with a portfolio of more than 100 projects globally.

Contributing to raising industry standards, ZTE held the plenary meeting of CCSA TC7 last year. Holding 27 key positions in global standards organizations, ZTE plays an active role in AN standards formulation, such as requirements for capabilities at different levels, technology evolution, and evaluation systems. Together with partners, ZTE has worked out three 3GPP standards, 8 CCSA standards, and over 10 industry specifications and improvement solutions for various scenarios.

ZTE also clinched the "Outstanding Use of TM Forum Assets" and "People's Choice" presented by TM Forum in recognition of ZTE’s contribution to the industry. Moreover, ZTE participated in the publishing of AN whitepapers released by different organizations, including TM Forum, NGMN Alliance, China Mobile, and China Unicom.

ZTE will continue to focus on architectures, evaluation and measurement systems, and operation practices to advance the formulation and implementation of AN standards. Through these efforts, ZTE aims to foster industry-wide consensus and open collaboration amongst partners to build a harmonized AN ecosystem.

In this respect, ZTE benefits from its position as a global provider to the telecom industry with cross-domain capabilities, ranging from UE/terminals to core networks, through mobile and fixed access, optical and microwave transport and backhaul, as well as IT and OSS. Starting with AI enablement at the resource and domain level, ZTE can deliver open, cross-domain capabilities to drive the industry toward full Level 3 AN and beyond.

To illustrate recent customer developments relating to AN, ZTE helped build quality centers with China Mobile, bringing over 30 metrics and processes to L4 level , and deployed the  ZTE solution for Telkomsel to achieve digital and intelligent network management. In addition, ZTE continues to develop and enhance ongoing projects in countries including Thailand and Uganda, to elevate network quality and customer experience with AN.

Last but not least, AIS and ZTE have jointly launched an “A-to-Z” innovation center in Thailand. This center serves as a common hub for research and application, and a model illustrating ZTE’s partnership approach to build highly autonomous networks and develop new Level 3 and Level 4 AN capabilities.

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