September 27, 2023

Automating Your NOC

Justin Head

Founder, Executive Vice-Chairman

In the ever-evolving world of telecommunications, the Network Operations Centre (NOC) plays a crucial role in ensuring seamless operations and delivering high-quality services to customers: focussed monitoring and management of the network infrastructure, troubleshooting issues, and safeguarding uninterrupted connectivity. As telecom companies strive to meet the growing demands of an interconnected world, scaling up the NOC’s output becomes a pressing challenge. Traditional methods of scaling, such as hiring more staff, may not always be feasible or efficient – so what’s the solution for a telecoms organization that wants to beef up its NOC when hiring isn’t an option?

The answer lies in the technology of automation.

The NOC team serves as the nerve-centre of a telecoms company, ensuring the network infrastructure operates optimally. They monitor network performance, identify and resolve issues, and provide support during outages or disruptions. For telecoms organizations, these challenges are magnified by legacy technology which can bottleneck growth, and the hierarchy of remote sites which are often unable to transmit information back to the NOC without being relayed through a hub site. Because the operation of the NOC directly impacts OPEX costs, customer satisfaction and the company’s reputation, ensuring the network is efficiently managed is critical for overall business success.

Since 1983, when Ameritech introduced 1G to the United States, there have been four major iterations of wireless cellular technology. That’s a significant technological upgrade to telecoms networks roughly once every eight years. This has been a phenomenal challenge for the industry – not only addressing new software and hardware upgrades but also providing services to a greater number of customers. Each move from 3G to 4G to 5G has necessitated a growth in points of presence (base stations) needed to in-fill the coverage, meaning an increase in physical points of presence that demand more energy and present more opportunities for points of failure. On top of that, with each network upgrade, individual customers increase the amount of data they consume, and so the demands for bandwidth and energy are always stretching the network’s capacity to the full.

Hiring and training new staff to manage this growth is time-consuming, expensive, and can strain existing resources. Throw into the mix mundane physical limitations such as office space, equipment, and increased operational costs, and the scalability of a NOC becomes hindered. For these scenarios, automation emerges as a game-changer.

Some pundits claim that the ultimate goal for telecoms operators is a “lights-out” or fully automated NOC. But 80% of work still relies on humans for actionable implementation. Leveraging AI technology to perform routine and repetitive tasks therefore doesn’t attempt to cut the humans from the process, but instead scales up workflow by providing powerful tools to enhance the efficiency of the NOC team.

Tools such as PowerX’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning can trawl through oceans of data 24/7, identifying anomalies and inefficiencies which overstretched NOC teams never see. By automating various aspects of network monitoring, incident detection, and troubleshooting anomalies before an incident leads to failure, these technologies enable intelligent fault detection and rapid response  – resulting in faster issue resolution and improved network performance. This isn’t simply the automation of tasks previously carried out by humans – it’s an entirely new class of intervention possible only by computer learning and artificial intelligence.

By embracing digitization to fix problems hidden deep in the data – anomalies which no amount of human interaction or inspection would ever identify – telecom companies can scale up their NOC efficiencies without adding more personnel. The net result?  A more robust NOC which can drive down costs across an entire network.

Having an automated spotlight on each individual site means inefficiencies can be discovered and acted upon immediately. Automation enables existing team members to focus on more strategic and value-added activities, leading to improved efficiency, reduced operational costs, and enhanced customer service.

But of all the benefits that automation brings, perhaps the most significant is the logistical and cultural transformation of the NOC team from being reactive to truly proactive – getting ahead of potential problems before they occur. Reacting to negative events (or even customer tickets) is costly and inefficient. AI-powered algorithms identify alarms that are likely to lead to future failures, pre-empting  anomalies or potential issues before they cause expensive and time-consuming equipment failure or outages. It’s like the difference between putting smoke alarms in every room of your house versus calling out the fire department when your home is ablaze.

The increased productivity leads to faster response times and reduced downtime. Furthermore, automation allows the NOC team to handle a larger network footprint with the same resources, enabling telecom companies to grow their operations without a corresponding increase in staff.

Scaling up the NOC team’s output is a critical challenge for telecom companies seeking to meet the ever-growing demands of their customer base. But when hiring more staff is not always the most efficient or viable option, automation provides a powerful solution in the short-term as well as a feasible road map to the long-term goal of integrating and automating all of the legacy systems of a typical NOC.

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