Autonomous networks will be a crucial component of digital transformation for communications service providers (CSPs), but how do we get there? Pretty much the same way that cars will become autonomous, except that CSPs will have the extra advantage of leveraging TM Forum’s Open Digital Architecture (ODA).As networks grow more complex with the onset of virtualization, 5G and edge computing, automation will be essential to simplify and manage that complexity, as well as improve efficiency, enabling better collaboration with the broader ecosystem and generally creating more value from the network.However, it also requires the right architectural framework to ensure that CSPs can make that transition to full automation smoothly in a standardized way.Dr. Luigi Licciardi, Director, Huawei Technologies, said that a good way to visualize the concept is to look at the way autonomous cars are being developed – a “revolution through evolution” in which the autonomous capability of a car is measured from Level 0 (100% manual) to Level 5 (100% self-driving).“If you compare Level 0 with Level 5, of course it’s a complete revolution,” Licciardi said during the Global Architecture Summit track at Digital Transformation Asia in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday. “But this revolution is achieved with a set of steps, organized properly, introducing new capabilities that are required to advance to the next step.”Autonomous networks will evolve in a similar way, he said. “But this requires proper network management throughout all network elements and all network layers, from the network slicing capabilities to the radio resources.”Simplification is keyTo that end, TM Forum members including Huawei are collaborating in an autonomous network project that leverages the principles of the ODA – simplification, automation and intelligence – as well as work from the Forum’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) project.“Simplification, automation and intelligence are absolutely essential for the autonomous network,” said George Glass, Vice President, Architecture & APIs, TM Forum. “We’re applying the principles that we’ve been using for the last four or five years to develop the Open Digital Architecture and applying those to the autonomous network domain.”This means simplifying services how services are offered and consumed via standardization, which is a prerequisite for automation. “It is very hard to automate things that are fundamentally different from each other,” he said.Also, he added, “Intelligence needs to be applied to that thought process and the analysis and decisions that we take around the network.”The benefits of autonomous networks include not only improved efficiency and agile operations, but also digitally enabled CSPs, Glass said.“It’s about transforming and taking you from the CSP world to the digital service provider (DSP) world, where you can partner in a new ecosystem with a car manufacturer, with a hospital, or with an insurance company.”Coming back to the autonomous car analogy, it also includes (literally) autonomous cars, said Huawei’s Licciardi, who observed that self-driving cars will be part of the B2B2X ecosystem under which CSPs will fulfill the role of the second ‘B’ in that acronym.“The CSP becomes the digital partner, the service and network enabler, that provides services to the vehicle makers, rental car companies, in-vehicle service providers, insurance companies and other members of that ecosystem,” he said.