TM Forum Live! 2017: Bringing Telco IT Up to Real-Time Network Speeds

David Snow – Principal Analyst, IP Services Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:

  • The 2017 edition of TM Forum Live! is in Nice, France next week, and with the nature of telco IT-network interactions undergoing radical change, the ‘Live!’ suffix is more appropriate than ever.
  • NFV MANO, advanced network analytics and 5G network slice management are all hot topics with operators and vendors alike, and all play their part towards the goal of autonomous network operation.

In the same way that Mobile World Congress has steadily evolved over the years to be far more than just a mobile network event, next week’s annual TM Forum event has continued to expand. It used to be the place for ‘telco IT’ systems and carrier operation based on OSS and BSS, and if there was any direct linkage to the telecom network, it would be largely in terms of non-real time network management interactions. In fact, the nearest to ‘real time’ these network-telco IT interactions operated at was as a continuous and one-way ‘blast’ from the network to the telco IT systems delivering such things as fault reports. OSS and carrier operations staff then had to filter all these reports, prioritize them and finally decide what to do about them; that was (and largely still is) very far from real time. Now, however, everything is changing with the advent of network functions virtualization (NFV) and NFV management and orchestration (MANO). These new telco IT-network interactions must be both two-way and very close to real time for the network to remain operational at all, similar to the manner in which some modern fighter aircraft would literally fall out of the sky without automated, real-time aerodynamic trimming.

So, the addition of ‘Live!’ to the annual TM Forum show moniker, while playing havoc with grammar checkers, nicely reflects the transition of these telco IT-network interactions to real time. GlobalData analysts will be in Nice next week, including the ‘network guys,’ and these are some of the topics we’ll be sounding out:

  • NFV MANO is the major new functional piece required to support today’s virtualized networks, sitting between the OSS and the network of virtual network functions (VNFs). It has been a rocky road so far, with open source MANO initiatives holding the key to unlocking the power of NFV. But, there are at least two ‘competing’ open source communities and MANO vendors embrace them to very different extents; some not at all.
  • Advanced network analytics – that is, network analytics driving toward the goal of ‘autonomous network operation’ – has had to step up to support NFV MANO. Nevertheless, there’s much further to go; artificial intelligence and machine learning technology are now being employed to make smarter and faster decisions. How mature is the technology, and will carriers trust it?
  • 5G network slice management is now firmly on the horizon as 5G network technology comes into play across all network domains. It has been called ‘NFV MANO on steroids’ by some, but opinions are divided as to whether managing and orchestrating network slices is simply another use case for generic ‘orchestration’ engines, or whether a radically new approach for highly complex orchestration is required.

As can be seen, these three topics are closely related. Like Mobile World Congress, there will be no lack of opinion on them at TM Forum Live! 2017. The challenge, as always, will be to distill them and identify practical takeaways for both operators and vendors. GlobalData will be hosting a webinar after the event – “Vive le Forum! A Recap of TM Forum Live! 2017” – to do just that. Feel free to sign up.

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