Read about how China Mobile is working with Huawei to rearchitect network and O&M to support 5G services for verticals such as China Southern Power Grid.
China Mobile revamps O&M to target verticals with 5G
We hear a lot about the power of 5G to help usher in the era of Industry 4.0, especially for vertical industries dazzled by 5G’s core features – ultrafast data speeds, ultra-low latencies below 1 millisecond, and support for massive amounts of connected ‘things’ – and the possibilities they offer. Indeed, many communications service providers (CSPs) are banking on 5G to target vertical enterprises as a new customer segment and revenue source. China Mobile – the largest mobile operator in China (and, in fact, on the planet) with 949 million subscribers as of January 2020 – is no exception, and has been at the vanguard of 5G rollouts. The operator launched 5G services in 50 cities across China in November 2019, and while the service is naturally targeting consumers, China Mobile had already been cooperating with various verticals to develop use cases specific to 5G. A prime example is CSG, which has been working with China Mobile and Huawei in a joint project to use 5G’s capabilities to create an intelligent power grid. That project, currently in the trial phase, aims to provide CSG with an automated power distribution network, and enable intelligent inspection of power grids and sites, and intelligent collection of electricity consumption data. To better understand how CSG is able to develop use cases for 5G, it’s necessary to understand the changes that China Mobile had to undergo to be able to provide 5G services to verticals like CSG in the first place.
For CSPs, offering 5G services to verticals is not nearly as straightforward as consumer services. There are a considerable number of challenges in chasing the verticals market, says Liu Yu, Project Manager, Division of Networks Management Supporting, Network, China Mobile. “For example, industry requirements are very fragmented,” Liu says. “Different vertical industries, such as power, oil, and security have different requirements for communications systems, which presents the challenge of massive customization.” Another challenge is that enterprises in general have much higher expectations in terms of SLAs, service quality and reliability – and up to now, mobile networks have generally been designed to support a “best effort” experience, Liu says. “In the 5G era, if operators hope to succeed in empowering industry digitalization, they will face the challenge of providing industry customers with deterministic network assurance experience that covers SLA commitments for things like network reliability, the number of supported online connections, uplink and downlink rates and network coverage.” Other challenges operators face include a general lack of openness in the network capabilities (because of geo-specific networking architectures, function-specific operation organizations, and siloed IT systems) and lack of experience in working with the fast-changing and highly collaborative ecosystems that define the digital and 5G era.
Put simply, in order to target verticals with 5G, China Mobile had to do a lot more than just upgrade its radios – it had to rearchitect its network for the B2B market and provide industry-specific networks that integrate cloud, network, and the edge. This meant leveraging software-defined networking (SDN) technologies, combined with IoT, cloud, mobile edge computing (MEC), data, security and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve deterministic connectivity capability and enable high-quality dedicated networks for vertical industry customers. China Mobile also had to digitally transform itself by reconstructing its IT systems to customize its business capabilities on demand; build scenario-based, integrated, and intelligent IT systems; implement fast and flexible service subscription, delivery, and operations; facilitate industry upgrades; and implement network-as-a-service (NaaS) capabilities to improving deterministic collaboration capabilities. “The NaaS product/offering center is responsible for the convergence and lifecycle management of product configurations in the customer relationship management (CRM), billing, and operations support services (OSS) domains,” says Liu. “The NaaS standard capability is opened for cloud-network offering templates such as network slicing, cloud, and MEC, to empower vertical industries.” Moreover, China Mobile had to revamp its operations and management (O&M) organizations for integrated operations by integrating various service and network systems; building a centralized, digital, intelligent, and refined O&M system; and implementing automatic O&M processes. China Mobile also implemented a digital intelligent platform for centralized data management that integrates services and networks, enabling flexible customization, automatic deployment, on-demand sharing, and openness capabilities for data collection, persistent storage, and intelligent analysis applications.
Another key element of China Mobile’s 5G evolution was improving its ability to integrate vertical industry requirements, Liu says. “Having focused on operating telecom pipes for a long time, operators haven’t yet deeply engaged with vertical industries to empower industry services with 5G solutions,” he says. “Through system and organization transformation, we can provide an industry solution incubation platform for third parties with our NaaS capabilities, and support fast testing and learning and rapid capability deployment. This way, we can help various industries with their own digital transformation and generate business value at the same time.” Liu adds that China Mobile is cooperating with top partners in vertical industries, and has built over 100 use cases for 5G-powered connections and applications in key industries.
TM Forum assets played a major role in the project, with the overall system architecture compliant with TM Forum’s Open Digital Framework. In terms of specifics, China Mobile uses TM Forum Open Digital Architecture (ODA), which enables business agility, a flexible cloud infrastructure, reduced automation costs, and a multi-vendor-based 5G O&M ecosystem. China Mobile also made liberal use of TM Forum Open APIs, such as the API Gateway, which sits between the business support systems (BSS) and OSS to enable open-network capabilities to support 5G services. For interfaces between northbound and BSS, China Mobile complies with the Frameworx Open Digital API Business Guide. The Open API Map helps business departments quickly understand existing and planned APIs. China Mobile also implemented unified resource management using Open APIs such as the Service Inventory API, Resource Inventory Management API, Resource Catalogue Management API and Service Catalog API for service types such as wireless network management system, bearer network controller, and VNF resources.
All of this enabled China Mobile to team with CSG and Huawei to build an end-to-end network slicing solution that CSG can use for its “smart grid”.
“We connected the interface between the power grid management system and our slice management platform,” Liu explains. “CSG can initiate requests from its own management system to implement 5G slice service provisioning.” In the current trial, CSG is using the service to support online subscription sales, member card number management, and service monitoring to ensure it can manage and control the network slice it’s using. “Different slicing templates have been sorted out for CSG’s production and management services to form different electric power slicing commodity assets and ensure service availability,” Liu adds. “The slicing network can be provisioned in days, and the slicing card number can be provisioned in minutes.”