Part of the Industry Directions > Autonomous Networks Campaign. Contributed by Dong Sun, Chief Business Strategist, Digital Transformation, Futurewei Technologies.
Why is automation needed?
Digital transformation is becoming the main trend of every industry, from the launch of 5G in the telecommunications industry to the development of autonomous vehicles, the creation of smart services within cities, the trialing of smart health services, the drive for industrial automation to support smart manufacturing, to the exploitation of low latency and high bandwidth for cloud gaming services.
With every industry striving to transform their business process and management operations into a more agile, flexible, and collaborative mode through automation and intelligence across all domains, the foundation of enabling automation and intelligence is how to provide easy-to-use, automated, and quick responsive information processing capabilities AKA fully automated intelligent ICT/Network services. These services include connectivity but also beyond-connectivity services from e2e perspectives, i.e. end-to-end closed loop of information/data collection, distribution, analysis, decision, and operations in the context of the production and services of SPs, which is named as Autonomous Networks.
What are Autonomous Networks, and what do they enable?
Autonomous Networks aim to simplify and automate the use and management of ICT services and infrastructure through cutting edge technologies – 5G, AI & Big Data, Edge & Cloud Computing, Virtualization, etc. It provides Self-X (self-serving, self-fulfilling, self-assuring) operations that are based on automated, intelligent, agile operations and simplified infrastructure for improving operational efficiency and increasing revenue growth. The ultimate goal of Autonomous Networks is to, “leave the simplicity (of usage of network/ICT services) to the users and keep the complexity (of the implementation of underlying infrastructure) to the providers”, whilst helping CSPs to improve the operational efficiency and support business innovation through a more agile approach.
The telecommunications industry and many vertical industries view Autonomous Networks as a key capability to deliver innovative solutions and easy-to-use dynamic customized network/ICT services that enable digital transformation. CSPs made strategic planning, and have published white papers  and campaign PoC projects , focusing on how Autonomous Networks can help in various aspect of their business and starting from the key areas like Alarm aggregation, 5G RF resource utilization, energy efficiency, optical network troubleshooting, throughput optimization, VoLTE packet loss, 5G RAN self-healing, and anomaly detection, as well as enabling disruptive digital services for verticals , e.g. smart cities. Vendors are developing strategies and solutions to evolve their product offering toward Autonomous Networks . Industry analyst firms also spotted the trend and have published research reports to highlight the need for Autonomous Networks  , they state the timing is now right to build Autonomous Networks .
How can industry collaboration enable its success?
Meanwhile, several Standards Defining Organizations (SDOs) are conducting studies towards the standardizations on Autonomous Networks for their own domains of interest. For instance, TM Forum has established an official project and published several whitepapers and documents addressing the vision, business requirements and overarching framework, and Autonomous Networks Levels, etc., basic concepts and capabilities , and make the Autonomous Networks as one of the main strategies highlighted in the annual conference – DTWS 2020.
The GSMA published a whitepaper to explore the use cases of network automation . ETSI also published a whitepaper, and multiple groups working on the relevant topics, e.g. ZSM focusing on network operations automation , ENI focusing on applying the AI capabilities to network automation ; 3GPP also started the work on network automation of wireless networks .
The industry has recognized that the challenge of E2E issues across Autonomous Network domains needs collective and urgent attention. Moreover, the range of skills and domain knowledge required is beyond the capability of any single organization. Recently a cross SDO collaborative Autonomous Networks industry workshop was convened by TM Forum with representatives from 3GPP, ETSI, GSMA, NGMN, TM Forum, and Linux Foundation Networking, they shared related activities, results, and their thoughts on common areas where joint industry action would be beneficial, and they agreed to continue this collaboration to formulate the industry consensus and commonality on key concepts, framework, use cases, capabilities and interfaces of Autonomous Networks.
In a nutshell, Autonomous Networks is looming as the evolution of the Telecom/ICT industries towards more automated and intelligent operations, which will enable the digital transformation of other industries with simplified and easy-to-use network/ICT infrastructure, capabilities, and services. Industry-level collaboration is essential to the success of Autonomous Networks for digital transformation.
 TM Forum whitepaper (Release 1.0): Autonomous Networks: Empowering Digital Transformation For The Telecoms Industry, May 2019. TM Forum IG1193 Cross-Industry Autonomous Networks – Vision and Roadmap, October 2019.  TM Forum, IG1218 Autonomous Networks Business Requirements and Architecture v1.0, July 2020.
 TM FORUM Whitepaper (Release 2.0), Autonomous Networks: Empowering Digital Transformation for Smart Societies and Industries. October 2020. GSMA Whitepaper, AI in Network Use Cases in China. October 2019.  ETSI Whitepaper, Autonomous Networks, supporting tomorrow’s ICT business. September 2020.  Huawei white paper: Autonomous Driving Network Solution White Paper, May 2020. Analysys Mason white paper: Building autonomous networks for the 5G era: a reference framework to deliver business outcomes ZK Research white paper: Digital Transformation Requires an Autonomous Network, ,Feb 2020.  ACG Research white paper: Autonomous Networks:Now is the Time, Dec, 2020  Juniper Networks white paper: The Self-Driving Network, 2017  TMF Autonomous Networks catalyst project list, 2019, 2020  TMF Catalyst project whitepaper, Autonomous Networks Hyperloops – Enabling Self-X Digital Services for Smart-X Verticals, October 2020.  China Unicom white paper: China Unicom Autonomous Driving Network White Papers, May, 2020.  Ericsson: Cognitive processes for adaptive intent-based networking Nov. 2020.  TM Forum Digital Transformation World Series 2020, Autonomous Networks and The Edge.  ETSI ZSM (Zero Touch Network Service Management).  ETSI ENI (Experiential Networked Intelligence).
 3GPP SA5.