Telecoms operators now face a more diverse, fast changing array of threats than ever. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report found natural disasters, extreme weather, climate change and cyber attacks are among the top threats facing the world today. With full fibre and 5G set to drive a burgeoning economy based on Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things, the resilience of the telecoms sector, ensuring maximum uptime for business and consumers, is increasingly critical to the resilience of the wider economy.

Not only is the array of threats increasing, but full fibre and 5G networks are more decentralised and therefore difficult to protect. Distributed, software defined digital routing and the distribution of short-range, small-cell antennae and 5G base stations throughout urban areas creates a wider array of network vulnerabilities. This means new telecoms networks are more exposed to natural hazards such as extreme weather events damaging cables or antennae as well as cyber-attacks targeting digital routing and higher-level network functions.

A new risk management model
The decentralisation of telecoms grids and the fast-changing and diverse threat landscape they face calls for a new telecoms risk management model based on proactive resilience rather than reactive response and recovery. This rests on the ability to capture, curate, and integrate data from every part of the network and the field workforce to provide a comprehensive and current risk picture capable of anticipating and mitigating against new threats. Utilities can use history to inform resilience plans by identifying hazards most common to their service area and institutionalising insights from similar previous events. Yet this means harnessing all network assets including the field workforce to provide live quality intelligence informing smarter resilience.

Many telecoms operators lack the capacity to do this because their geospatial information systems are not fully capturing live insights from their workforce and network assets. Network data is rarely held in an accessible digital mobile-friendly format which is accessible to field workers or contractors. Many networks do not link all network data with location, which is critical to understanding risks in all regions of their network. Many smaller operators are not documenting their network in a digital System of Record (SoR). All too often network data is also inaccessible to other departments or incompatible with other important sources of threat intelligence such as local meteorological data.

Creating resilient grids relies on transforming the way network data is captured and curated and harnessing that data to implement new risk management approach, what’s needed is high quality customer service. Here are five steps organisations can take:

1. Digitalise and decentralise network data – Operators should digitalise and decentralise their network data to facilitate the digital capture and consolidation of data from all assets in the field. This involves harnessing mobile-friendly geospatial systems that integrate information from a diverse array of sources from sensors to smartphones. This should extend to the use of open APIs to integrate location-based network data with information from external sources such as weather hazard data.
2. Network risk assessment & resilience – Assess the network to create a resilient infrastructure that mitigates single points of failure and network weaknesses. Companies should be harnessing field workers and network assets to provide live location-based intelligence revealing the site and source of hazards to predict and pre-empt threats.
3. System resilience & security – Deploy critical network software in a cloud environment that offers security, system redundancy, and geographic resilience. Network data must be encrypted and duplicated to ensure that network data is just as resilient as the network
4. Incident response – Develop an enterprise-wide damage assessment and incident response strategy for office and field teams. Organisations should create a comprehensive overview of incident impact across the network. This kind of data can be used not only to monitor and maintain networks but to model future threats and develop proactive mitigation strategies.
5. Practice – Test your IT systems and operational procedures with routine drills to ensure the workforce is prepared for any eventuality. Just as companies perform health and safety training, they should test and train all assets for network resilience. This will ensure that best practice is automatically incorporated into workforce practices and procedures.

The threats facing the telecoms industry are unpredictable, and ever evolving. By implementing these steps, telecoms providers can proactively manage their risk. This strategy can help to build an accurate and timely geospatial view that learns from past incidents and anticipates future risks, creating a more resilient and flexible network that can withstand today’s new realities.

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