Telecom asset and inventory management – what’s really in your network

13 February 2020

Telecom asset and inventory management – what’s really in your network

Why accurate asset and inventory management is key to automation and transformation – and the success of 5G investments. Business results and performance depend on accurate, integrated inventory management.

Telecom asset and inventory management is becoming an increasingly hot topic. Something that has long been overlooked and often regarded as an arcane sector of the industry (not to us, of course – we love a nice inventory, we do), has suddenly been pushed, if not to the front of the stage, at least from the chorus line and into the spotlight.

What’s caused this change? Why does telecom asset and inventory management matter so much? Well, let’s explore what we mean by this. What is a telecom asset and why do we care? All network operators have assets – but in this context, we don’t mean the capital or reserves they hold, or their employees and customers - but rather the infrastructure from which their networks are constructed.

That’s because it’s the infrastructure that is responsible for the delivery of services. In addition, the available infrastructure also determines the kind, quality and capacity of any service in the operator’s portfolio. Services are ultimately limited by the capabilities and resources in their networks. In other words, these assets are of fundamental importance. Operators cannot function without them.

As such, operators need to understand the infrastructure assets and resources that are available. Telecom asset and inventory management literally means knowing what’s in your network.

The inventory management challenge

The problem is that many operators do not really know what’s in their networks. This isn’t due to inefficiency – it can simply be as a result of growth through network mergers and acquisition and a failure to converge knowledge. It can also be as a result of legacy processes, that relied on paper records, imperfect data, or disparate, siloed systems. Strange as it may seem, this problem is actually rather common.

However, the implications of this lack of knowledge are growing. Operators seek to deliver services to business and retail customers, quickly and efficiently. Many are trying to automate key processes to reduce costs and accelerate time to market in a competitive environment. They would like the complete cycle of order to activation to be seamless, with zero-touch. Similarly, many are going further, trying to also automate the full service lifecycle, with tight integration of assurance and management processes to maintain performance of active services.

Automation isn’t just about cost reduction though – since skills are in short supply, many operators need to be able to manage their human resources more efficiently, so they can ensure that they are deployed where they are really needed. Legacy manual processes are an impediment to such goals. None of this automation can be achieved without a thorough knowledge of the telecom’s asset and inventory base.

So, what do operators need to know? They need to understand what resources are in their networks – which includes physical equipment and infrastructure and, increasingly, logical and virtual resources and infrastructure. They need to know where these are located and the paths through which they are delivered. This includes highly granular information, such as cabling and ducts, as well as wayleaves. This knowledge allows them to know how a service should be provisioned, when it is ordered – a fiber connection to a customer, for example.

But they also need to know what resources are available and how resource allocation can change through time. If a customer orders a connection of, say 100Mb/s, there must be sufficient capacity to deliver this, even if the physical route through which it passes is operational. Assets have to be correlated, so that the right service can be delivered, at the right time, with the right performance. And, the importance of this is about to be increased. Why? The answer is 5G.

Telecoms asset and inventory management – a growing challenge

5G will significantly complicate telecom asset and inventory management. That’s because 5G brings with it a massively extended cellular radio access network, through a plethora of macro and microcells, which combine to deliver the coverage footprint requires. This new radio access network – or RAN – must also be supplemented by a similarly extended fiber network, bringing high-speed transport directly to each cell.

Of course, all of this must be seen in the context of continuing automation efforts. 5G has a high cost, so a key requirement is to ensure profitability and to minimize future OPEX through effective automation, building on recent transformation efforts. There is a further complication that should be noted in this context. 5G brings new dynamic capabilities that have not previously been encountered.

What does this mean? With 5G networks, services and capacity can be delivered and changed on the fly, in real-time. New resources can be associated with a service, based on an instantaneous request in response to a surge in demand or a change in required conditions. Many services will have tightly constrained performance requirements – particularly for latency, so continuous monitoring and adjustment of network resources and competing demands is essential. This cannot be delivered without automation.

Why effective telecoms asset management matters

Since this process automation requires continuous knowledge and awareness of the available resources, it should also be clear that telecoms asset and inventory management is the foundation of transformation efforts and fundamental to the success of 5G investments.

So, the advent of 5G is an opportunity to rectify the situation and to replace legacy solutions – or even paper-based records – with an effective, modern asset and inventory management solution.

There’s a lot at stake here. While 5G coverage footprints are relatively few at present, operators are accelerating their deployment. Costs will mount up. So, operators act now to ensure that they can meet deployment and service goals while building complex, costly new infrastructure.

The cost of poor asset management in telecoms networks

While the specific costs of poor asset and inventory management in telecoms networks will clearly vary from operator to operator, they represent an existential threat. Network margins will be impacted, continuously, if operators cannot achieve the process automation they need to secure profitability. It’s a simple equation – networks consume both CAPEX and OPEX. ROI is essential but this can only be secured by managing CAPEX and OPEX. If underlying costs rise, profit will be squeezed, threatening the viability of many networks.

5G is a challenge, for sure. It is for this reason that telecoms asset and inventory management has suddenly gone from poor relation to new BFF. There is a clear imperative to change. Operators cannot achieve their business goals, let alone deliver the services and coverage they promise without accurate, real-time inventory management. It has become pivotal to network transformation.

Operators need next-generation telecoms asset and inventory management solutions that provide a new, single data model of all assets – physical, virtual, logical and service – which correlates essential data and which can be tightly integrated with other systems to enable automation and the efficient rollout of new 5G services.