How to software upgrade the greatest machine ever built in minutes


Modern telecommunications networks – a distributed machine that spans the entire globe providing unprecedented value to people, businesses, and society –clearly aspires to be crowned the greatest machine ever built. By the end of 2026, we foresee that they’ll be 8.8 billion mobile subscriptions (Source: Ericsson Mobility Report, Nov 2020).

We should be proud of how far we’ve come and sing songs for the unsung heroes in our industry, but the commitment to accelerate innovation and transformation for future 5G use cases must remain strong.

In the second of our new three-part Ericsson Spotlight Series on 5G software, we deep dive into how 5G software will revolutionize how and when entire mobile networks will be upgraded, potentially in minutes.

In this second episode, Dr. Sally Eaves Senior Policy Advisor, Global Foundation for Cyber Studies, spoke with Peo Lehto, Vice President and Head of Solution Area Operations Support Systems at Ericsson. Peo, who is in constant dialogue with leading service providers, shares with us how he sees a dramatic transformation of service providers’ operations through full automation of the network and service lifecycles based on software: all with the aim of accelerating innovation and efficiency from future 5G networks.


5G software is critical for full lifecycle automation
At the start of the interview, Peo explained how service providers are challenged to efficiently support the introduction of and transition to new 5G core networks, while at the same time, continue to run and manage their 4G core network. He mentions how the Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G core solution was developed to address this transition and continues to explain further how 5G software is going to play a critical role in this journey.

There is an expectation for higher speeds, a higher degree of agility, and to be able to provide innovative services on top of the networks. At the same time, service providers are, of course, aiming to increase network efficiency. Peo explains that with the introduction of the 5G core network, there are fundamental transformative elements that come with it, including the introduction of cloud-native technology. But also the way you work with software will change, such as implementing CI/CD processes and analytics, and the need for machine learning and cognitive technologies to ensure that networks are built with a fully automated, zero-touch vision in mind

Peo also explains how 5G and 5G Core were designed to be orchestrated for automation and lifecycle management reasons and how Ericsson helps service providers to orchestrate their networks. He also underlines the strong market pull by mentioning how Ericsson already partners with more than 100 customers in this space.

Ericsson has worked with CI/CD practices for years to increase flexibility and improve software quality in our products. Now with 5G and the cloud-native technology, a real acceleration takes place and service providers are expecting Ericsson and other vendors to help them on their journey.


Can you trust CI/CD in the production network?
Dr. Eaves raised the question about building trust in a frequent and automated CI/CD delivery into service providers’ production network, given the high reliability and stability status of telecom infrastructures.

Peo, in response, explained how cloud-native technology and CI/CD is essentially about smaller, more frequent changes that not only add incremental value but also incremental change which also reduce the risk. He further testifies that real-life experience from our software portfolio shows a reduction in the number of trouble tickets from our customers because the gap between the software you have and the new one that you are introducing is miniscule.

With the introduction of more frequent testing and automated testing, there are other aspects that further reduces risk with this approach, according to Peo.

Looking further ahead, there is even a path towards upgrade of the network functions during operations, without the need for a maintenance window. This will happen with the introduction of in-service software upgrades, canary testing and additional techniques.


How will service providers need to change?
Peo outlines how this is a transformational journey, and it will take time to reach an end state where engineering and operations work together, with CI/CD processes implemented across a multivendor environment covering all parts of the network.

He explains that while speed and quality in Ericsson’s delivery projects has been a long-term focus, we are also entering the next phase of CI/CD transformation together with our customers.

Service providers naturally need to look at their strategy for testing and the way they accept new software, new government processes for people and in the operational dimension, continuous software deployment and validation.

Summarizing, Peo re-states the need for service providers to look ahead and work on the longer-term aspects of the transformation to CI/CD which includes challenges for the broader industry for example, multivendor aspects. He also makes a final and very clear point about the need to start the journey now.


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