Proof of concept

Action Week: Catalysts tackle tough business and technology challenges

How can communications service providers (CSPs) use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve business assurance, reduce OpEx and increase quality of service? How can they anonymize and protect sensitive customer data in the cloud? How will they use blockchain technology or 5G network slices in the internet of everything (IoE)? How can they enable smart city digital ecosystems, and can they play a role in helping music industry partners monetize digital music?

The latest round of TM Forum Catalyst projects to be demonstrated at Digital Transformation World in Nice, France, May 14-16 will offer solutions to these and many other challenges CSPs are facing. At Action Week in Lisbon this week, team members from more than 25 projects pitched their ideas, lobbied to attract additional participants and champions, and began the collaborative work that will result in live demonstrations.

During several panel discussions, Catalyst champions (these are typically CSPs but in some cases government organizations or enterprises from outside the telecom industry) and participants (usually technology suppliers) discussed their projects, highlighting the business and technology challenges they’re trying to address. The panels were grouped into three focus areas:

  • Digital ecosystems
  • 5G
  • Customer centricity

Targeting digital ecosystems

“The IoE and ecosystems are where future revenue is, where growth is, and yet there’s a bit of work to uncover how to monetize and manage services and create trust,” said Craig Bachmann, Senior Director, IoE, Digital Business and Applied Innovation Program, TM Forum, speaking on a panel of ecosystem Catalysts.

During the past year and a half, TM Forum has shepherded 21 IoE projects across 13 different verticals. Two of the ecosystem Catalysts that will be demonstrated in Nice each have more than 10 companies participating (including champions and participants).

The Connected Citizens project began as a smart home project in 2015, and the close-knit team has pushed it forward through several iterations to create an automated platform for consumer, enterprise and community IoT solutions. The project is championed by Orange and AT&T.

This phase of the Catalyst is aiming to deliver a platform that addresses all 10 principles of TM Forum’s City as a Platform Manifesto. The goal is to use dynamic networks and blockchain to deliver a wide range of services to smart cities. The team, which includes 10 participants besides the champions, has laid out a 24-month roadmap and plans to develop a new set of application program interfaces (APIs) for city as a platform.

An ambitious blockchain Catalyst called Blockchain unleashed, which is led by Globe Telecom, has the support of 15 companies (eight champions and seven participants). The team will look at four use cases for distributed ledger technology: eliminating call detail records, digital identity, smart contracts and countering mobile phone theft.

An ongoing ecosystem Catalyst called Interconnecting business with mobile sponsored data is helping CSPs monetize their mobile platforms by having third parties sponsor mobile connectivity for consumers who might not be able to afford to purchase data services. The idea is to use standards to make it easy for companies such as media firms or advertising agencies to purchase and consume sponsored data on a CSP’s network.

Finally, Bachmann outlined two interesting projects that bring companies from outside the telecommunications industry to the Forum. A smart music project is considering how to monetize digital music, fairly balancing the risks and rewards across ecosystem partners, and how to leverage distributed ledger technology to add transparency and to rationalize who gets paid and how.

The other project is addressing ‘proptech’, or property management technology, looking at how to manage energy consumption not just in a single building but on a campus, or perhaps a ‘virtual campus’. The Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) and Telus are championing the project.

Planning and operating 5G networks

Interest level among TM Forum members is high in 5G-focused projects because the new technology promises to let CSPs ‘slice’ the network to accommodate a wide range of applications with very different requirements for reliability and throughput. An IoT sensor network, for example, requires relatively little bandwidth – sensors need to transmit small amounts of data sporadically but frequently – but an application like remote surgery needs huge amounts of bandwidth, extremely low latency and guarantees of availability and reliability.

To accommodate such wide-ranging services, CSPs envision turning the network into a multi-tenant, multi-operator platform, on top of which they’ll create individual network slices. The slices will be orchestrated and assured end to end through automated closed control loops using intent-based management, AI (machine learning), analytics and policy.

Most everyone agrees that network slicing is going to be important for 5G, but there is no industry consensus yet about how to implement it. Two related Catalysts, which are continuations of last year’s 5G service operations project, will look at the lifecycle of a 5G-enabled services. One team is focusing on planning and optimization, while the other is looking at service operations. Both teams will study how to apply AI and closed loop automation, and they will contribute their findings back to the Forum’s Zero-touch Orchestration, Operations and Management (ZOOM) project. A related Catalyst called Blade Runner will demonstrate mobile edge computing and augmented reality using a 5G network.

It’s all about the customer

Several Catalyst projects are looking at how to improve customer experience. Two are focusing on service assurance: A new project called Customer-centric service assurance is evaluating how using multiple services from a CSP may impact a customer’s overall experience, while another called Automated optimization of customer QoE will look at how to automate self-care, interactive voice response, provisioning and routing of trouble tickets.

A continuing project called Maximizing engagement with predictive customer journeys will help CSPs make their sales processes more effective, while another called Cognitive contact center, which is championed by Telefónica, will apply AI to contact center operations with the aim of improving customer experience. The project will be able to draw on Telefónica’s experience with its digital assistant Aura.

The power of collaboration

Action Week brought together more than 200 individual members from 84 companies. Many of the Catalyst panelists said they appreciated the opportunity to work together face to face.

“If we wanted to build such a project in the normal way, I don’t think we could – it would take years,” said Christian Maître, Orange CIO Deputy in Charge of IT Excellence, who is leading the Connected citizen project. “Here we can discuss openly and push the limits of imagination without any constraints. That’s very valuable.”

Thomas Russo, Director of Product Management at Spirent, a first-time attendee who is participating in the Automated optimization of customer QoE project shared a similar perspective.

“This is a big cake – bigger than our company can bake on its own,” said “The nice thing about today, especially for me being new, is just how open and embracing people have been. It’s a very collaborative environment.”



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About The Author

Managing Editor

Dawn Bushaus began her career in technology journalism in 1989 at Telephony magazine, which means she’s been writing about networking for a quarter century. (She wishes she didn’t have to admit that because it probably gives you a good idea of how old she really is.) In 1996, Dawn joined a team of journalists to start a McGraw-Hill publication called tele.com, and in 2000, she helped a team at Ziff-Davis launch The Net Economy, where she held senior writing and editing positions. Prior to joining TM Forum, she worked as a freelance analyst for Heavy Reading.

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