Corning exec: ‘The fundamentals we are putting down now will carry forward to 6G’
The evolution of 5G into a more mature, software-defined and cloud-native network technology brings with it material changes in the types of skills operators need. As a result, telecom companies are investing more heavily in re-skilling current employees while sourcing talent from different pools. Corning is one such company, and according to the company’s Director of Wireless R&D and Chief Technologist Shirish Nagaraj, there are three standout trends that are most impacting the wireless workforce.
More open networks. Nagaraj explained that while Corning is in full support of network disaggregation and has embraced open standards, this move does create notable challenges, particularly around systems integration. System engineering and integration, he said, has become front and center, and so has the need for employees that can oversee the harmonization between different network components.
“A lot more focus has to be put into systems engineering and integration,” Nagaraj said. “[It] has become even more important … especially when working with partners to bring together an entire system.”
Network virtualization. The basic idea behind network virtualization is to decouple software from hardware, and to run network functions, like a firewall or encryption, for instance, on virtual machines (VMs). As soon as the network functions are managed by a hypervisor, services originally installed on hardware can be performed on software. Virtualization enables speed and agility, making it possible for service providers to create and deploy services at an unprecedented rate.
However, such a drastic change, argued Nagaraj, completely changes how code is developed and written. “There is a lot of retraining of our existing workforce to get up to speed on cloud technologies and how to not only develop code and write software, but also the deployment engineers have to be familiar with cloud technologies,” he said.
Intelligent automaton and self-organization. 5G Standalone (SA) deployments utilize a core network design aligned with cloud architecture. While this architecture enables 5G networks to deploy new services at a larger scale and faster speed, it also requires extensive network automation and intelligence.
“Networks will be able to self-adapt,” explained Nagaraj. He added that moving forward, wireless engineers need to know basic machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) principles. Even those working on the hardware, because automation has to occur at every level of the network.
“[Hardware] engineers will start to need to think about hardware as being software-defined and reconfigurable,” he said. “They need to embrace and learn about ML and AI technologies because that is the future.”
Nagaraj also told RCR Wireless News that the workforce changes being put into place now are setting the foundation for future network evolutions. “How we are training our workforce today will, I think, stand the test of time,” he said. “A lot of the fundamentals we are putting down now will carry forward to 6G, especially on the network automation side. Beyond 5G, these networks will need to embed even more intelligence into themselves.”