CTO discusses the operator’s 5G strategy, network automation tools
ZURICH–In the past six years, Finnish operator Elisa has seen its subscriber base increase consumption of mobile data by a factor of 11, amounting to around 25 GB of mobile data per month and 172 GB of fixed broadband data per month. That’s the highest usage level in the world, the operator’s CTO and VP of Technology and Architecture Kalle Lehtinen said. And therein is the business case for 5G–people want more data delivered more quickly.
He described the operator’s approach to ramping capacity as creating a “virtuous cycle.” Increasing demand for data pushes Elisa to increase supply, which leads to increasing use that delivers heightened value further driving demand; rinse and repeat.
“We want everything to be easy,” Lehtinen told attendees of Huawei’s Global Mobile Broadband Forum 2019 held this week in Zurich. “We want everything to be easy to use. It will always be a bit fast, it will be a bit smarter…You never go back.”
So how does Elisa keep up with the constantly increasing demand in the 5G era? “We started early,” Lehtinen said. “We have very high network density. We have excellent frequency assets. Frequencies are key. We believe we have the world’s best capability to handle this increasing data demand.”
In addition to its operations in Finland, Elisa also provides telecoms services in Estonia. In fact, the company claimed a 5G first in June 2018 when it launched networks in Tampere, Finland, and Tallinn, Estonia. The first person to use the network was Anne Berner, Finland’s minister of transport and communications. She made a video call to Kadri Simson, minister of economic affairs and infrastructure in Estonia. The terminal devices used were provided by Huawei.
But beyond network and spectral resources, Elisa also has developed in-house capabilities that differentiate its operations and could be key to future growth.
Network automation is a goal of all operators that have 5G ambitions largely because the sheer complexity of operating these new software-defined networks, and the wide variety of devices and attendant data profiles they will support, is too much for manual operations.
“We have developed automation capabilities which enables us to do this and succeed,” Lehtinen said. “We have built capabilities in network management processes.” For instance, he said needs-based analytics are used to inform network capex strategy and he described the operator’s network operations center as “zero person. For years now we haven’t had a single person in our network operations center.”
Now to the growth piece–Elisa has taken the network automation capabilities developed in-house for operating its own network and turned it into a produced, Elisa Automate. The product consists of automation algorithm libraries, software development kits and what you might liken to consulting services that help customers effectively implement the solution.
Earlier this year, Elisa announced it was working with Korean operator LG Uplus, which will use Elisa’s network automation tools to help manage its 5G network. LG Uplus exec Taehee Moon, head of network solution development unit, said, “Elisa’s experience in automating network operations” can help “to strengthen the work to build machine learning based automation that will assist our expanding 5G network deployment and benefit our 5G subscribers.”
And that, effectively, is the growth strategy, a company rep told RCR Wireless News during the event. Rather than attempt to enter new markets or acquire existing mobile providers, Elisa will take its expertise and sell it to other operators–”By an operator, for operators,” as Elisa Automate’s tagline puts it.
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