Paving the way for autonomous networks: a progress report and call to action
TM Forum’s Autonomous Networks (AN) Project is making strides toward highly autonomous networks. This update from the team highlights progress on the AN framework, which describes a target architecture, offers ways to measure maturity and effectiveness, and provides an AN “map”. But, the team stresses that more collaboration is needed.
TM Forum’s Autonomous Networks Manifesto, signed by 31 companies, represents a significant commitment from some of the largest communications service providers (CSPs) and vendors in the world. It demonstrates dedication to the principles of autonomy and the technical reference architecture underpinning it. By signing the manifesto, these industry leaders agree to use TM Forum’s categorization of autonomy based on AN levels (ANL) and adopt a “building block” approach to achieve their AN target architecture.
Throughout 2023, TM Forum’s AN Project has made steady progress on maturing the depth and clarity of key AN guides. During face-to-face meetings at Accelerate workshops in Lisbon and Kuala Lumpur, the Digital Transformation Asia event in Bangkok, and ANL workshops in Madrid, Jakarta and Manila, the team collaborated to incorporate feedback and input from other members and TM Forum’s Board of Directors. At DTW Ignite, we showcased the broad spectrum of AN Catalyst projects including a TM Forum Industry Showcase on intent and generative AI (GenAI).
At the heart of this progress is the new Autonomous Network Framework (IG1218F), which shows the overall framework and methodology that TM Forum members are developing. CSPs are embracing ANs through four essential pillars as shown in the graphic below:
1) Key effectiveness indicators (KEIs)
2) AN levels
3) The target architecture
4) The AN map
AN levels measure one thing and one thing only: autonomous capability (more on level evaluation below). Other measures are also important such as effectiveness, or the degree to which an organization has achieved its objectives.
Effectiveness indicators are quantitative or qualitative measures used to assess the extent to which objectives have been met. These indicators provide concrete evidence and data that help evaluate the effectiveness of autonomy efforts, allowing organizations to make informed decisions, track progress, and make necessary adjustments to achieve the desired outcomes.
For example, if “enhanced customer experience” is the objective, net promoter score (NPS) may be the key performance indicator (KPI), and “improvement of NPS” the key experience indicator (KEI). KPIs are well known and often used to evaluate network performance statistics. It’s challenging to evaluate the operational practices, especially with the inclusion of autonomy features. That’s where we need industry synergy and collaboration.
Based on TM Forum’s definition, Level 4 ANs mark the transition between traditional automation of human-defined process behavior and autonomous behavior, where systems make decisions independent of humans (see graphic below). Right now, many operators are aiming to reach Level 4 by 2025 as a strategic goal. Their first critical step was to baseline their current ANL using the TM Forum AN Levels Evaluation Methodology (IG1252).
Achieving Level 4 entails achieving autonomy across all network domains, including the radio access network (RAN), core, transport, IT and service operations. To do this, CSPs are focusing on implementing high-value use cases, evaluating AN levels and collaborating with partners.
To make the evaluation process even simpler and more consistent, we are developing tools including a guidebook and a flexible questionnaire-based tool called ANLET to make the evaluation methodology more intuitive, more standard in terms of scoring and much more user friendly.
The Autonomous Network Reference Architecture (IG1251) guides the assembly of “building blocks” called autonomous domains. CSPs create domains and interconnect them through reference points, using technical mechanisms like intent-driven interfaces.
The real challenge for target architecture is how to smoothly integrate into existing systems and networks. We plan to write more about this in future Inform articles, but you can learn more now in the reference architecture guide linked above and the AN Technical Reference Architecture (IG1230).
The AN Project team is now starting work on a new AN Map, akin to a navigational chart, to serve as a guiding compass on the journey to fully autonomous networks. The AN Map consists of a four-quadrant analysis facilitating the cataloging and understanding of use cases to determine which autonomy scenarios have the highest value to CSPs’ businesses.
This common understanding of value comes from operators sharing their experiences. This helps others adopting and adapting to this AN framework, expediting the path to value. Through these shared experiences, we not only accelerate our progress and reduce time to value, but also assist CSPs in uncovering the most valuable scenarios along the way. Operators need to see quantified benefits per use case.
As an industry, we are finally discussing autonomy and not simply automation. Progress is evident, from nuanced autonomy use cases to large-scale deployments involving multiple autonomous domains. The goal is to make true autonomy a reality, optimizing AI algorithms and seamlessly integrating them into production applications and systems.
The new Autonomous Networks Framework is gaining steady traction among experienced operators and new entrants, alike. Certification processes to validate achieved ANL are being explored, a crucial step in moving from theory to practice.
CSPs, their suppliers and many other contributors are developing industry best practices as evidenced in the Autonomous Networks Journey Guide (IG1326) launched at DTW Ignite. This marks a significant shift from theory to practical implementation.
In the AN Project, our short-term focus is on illustrating practical operator use cases and measuring the tangible benefits of ANs once they have been successfully implemented. Requests to demonstrate the “quantified benefits of AN” has become a recurring theme among operators.
The measurement of the benefits should clearly distinguish three interconnected yet distinct dimensions: autonomy, operational value and effectiveness. We are actively seeking more valuable contributions from operators regarding their current AN practices.
As a project chair, I am dedicated to concentrating our efforts on these specific areas within the AN Project over the next six months. The immediate objective for many CSPs is to continue to increase their autonomous capability, aiming for Level 4.
The AN Manifesto is just the beginning. With our collective efforts, we are ushering in an era of autonomous networks that will redefine the way we think about operations and customer experience. Your involvement and expertise are essential for this transformative journey. Please join us!
To learn more and get involved in TM Forum’s AN Project, please contact Alan Pope: firstname.lastname@example.org.