Senior Writer

Verizon accelerates 5G rollouts with automation platform

Sep 18, 20236 mins
Private 5GRobotic Process AutomationTelecommunications

Network Alpha Factory implements RPA, data engineering, and machine learning to facilitate migrations from legacy to next-gen networks, giving customers and enterprises faster connectivity, minimal to no downtime while reducing operational costs.

Helmeted asian male engineer works in the field with a telecommunication tower that controls cellular electrical installations to inspect and maintain 5G networks installed on high-rise buildings.
Credit: chalermphon_tiam / Shutterstock

For consumers and enterprises alike, 5G offers the tantalizing promise of faster speeds, lower latency, and greater possibilities for unlocking the power of edge computing — but only if your devices can connect.

To that end, New York-based telecom giant Verizon has developed a platform for migrating millions of customers to its next-generation networks such as 5G, Cloud Connectivity, and Fixed Wireless Access — with minimal disruption.

“Telcos are typically very good at building new networks but where we have fallen short is replacing and migrating customers from the old network to the new networks and infrastructure,” says Sumit Singh, vice president of network systems, planning, and engineering at Verizon.

Since the platform, dubbed Network Alpha Factory, launched in December 2021, Verizon has migrated a high volume of consumers and businesses to 5G, Singh says. “The usage on the network is growing at a very fast pace.”

Network Alpha Factory’s job is to facilitate the seamless movement of all kinds of traffic from older, slower networks to newer, high-efficiency networks, he says, adding that the tool is compatible with all legacy Verizon networks and can be used to migrate to edge networks as well. Overall, Network Alpha Factory, which earned Verizon a 2023 US CIO 100 Award for IT innovation and leadership, promises to bring operational costs down for all customers, Singh says.

Facilitating 5G

Roughly 50 to 60 of Verizon’s IT staff built this Network Alpha Factory in less than a year, most notably to be prepared for Verizon’s nationwide 5G deployment, according to the company, which is now focusing attention on migrating enterprises to the Intelligent Edge Network (iEN), a multipurpose network that incorporates various services and enables customers to scale on demand.

Network Alpha Factory’s initial work in migrating consumers and some enterprises “is already giving us dividends, but next year we are going to move more enterprise customers,” says Singh, noting that the tool may have to be tweaked somewhat to handle the biggest migrations, which can get tricky.

“There’s a lot of coordination and cleanup of data, workflow, and, with some customers, circuits,” he says. “It’s a combination of all those elements we put into this automation factory.”

Business wise, Network Alpha Factory has thus far been a win-win for the telecommunications giant and its customers, Singh says. According to Verizon, the platform enables network operations and sales organizations to migrate traffic from legacy networks to the new iEN in a coordinated, less disruptive manner, giving customers access to higher speeds and lower latency while enabling Verizon to reduce network ownership costs.

IDC analyst Jason Leigh says Verizon made the right move to build a tool to facilitate customer migrations, but adds that there will be challenges whenever a CIO or C-suite move their data and traffic to new environments.

“Tools to facilitate the migration process from legacy network architectures to 5G, and eventually 6G, are critical to operators. The speed at which these networks are operating, and the immense data flows transiting the network, necessitate dynamic tools to automate and streamline migration and optimize day-to-day operations,” says Leigh, research manager of mobility and 5G at IDC. “A less-automated approach lengthens the migration process and opens the door to ‘hiccups’ in functionality.”

Inside the ‘factory’

Aside from its core role as a migration platform, Network Alpha Factory also delivers network scalability and a bird’s-eye view of an enterprise’s entire network landscape, including where upgrades may be needed.

The complex tool comprises a workflow engine, robotic process automation, and a data engineering framework that supports more than nine of Verizon’s legacy network systems. Network planners, for example, work across many legacy systems with data elements that are complex and varied and with systems ranging from engineering, inventory, provisioning, and activating network functions, Verizon representatives explain.

The platform also offers data mining and data stitching services, test data virtualization services, and an end-to-end dashboard that provides a view of all circuits, network data, inventory, devices to be decommissioned, and the expected timeline, which the platform helps reduce fourfold when compared to performing tasks manually, according to Verizon.

Network Alpha Factory also provides data intelligence and the ability to decommission legacy devices. It includes bots for performing network element testing and reduces the need for physical trips to customers sites. Its “grooms” tool enables users to compare legacy and new networks to demarcate the various sections of the network, allowing for migrations at a pre-scheduled time, as well as a roll-back feature. 

Verizon implemented machine learning models within Network Alpha Factory to automate certain aspects of the migration, such as building out network discovery metadata, and plans to incorporate more AI in the platform in the future, Verizon executives said.

Verizon aims to reach 30% operational cost savings for customers by 2027 and has already enabled 200 million 5G points of presence on iEN. “iEN is the brand-new network that is future-ready and can be scaled to customer needs,” says Harish Margabandhu, director of software development for Verizon’s Network Services’ IT.

Tools such as Network Alpha Factory help, but considering the number of variables encountered when switching from one network infrastructure to another, migration is still far from simple. Only time will tell whether Network Alpha Factory achieves the projected OPEX reductions, Verizon executives acknowledge.   

Still, Network Alpha Factory may better facilitate the development of new 5G use cases and help Verizon with thorny aspects of migrating enterprises to iEN, IDC’s Leigh says.

“Verizon has previously indicated that mobile edge compute and private 5G network revenues were developing slower than expected in part due to an underestimation of the amount of software rearchitecting required,” Leigh says. “[Network Alpha Factory] and other tools can ease the incorporation of low-latency functionality and edge compute into software resources used in the customer’s daily operations, and lead to an uptick in revenues related to such deployments.”