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The 5G CTIO challenge

Previously published on RCR Wireless

Author: Dr. Konstantinos Stravopoulos, Solution Marketing Manager, EXFO

December 10th 2019

It used to be simpler. Chief technology officers (CTOs) at network operators had a key and specific job, mostly related to network deployment and performance.

Then, service quality and customer experience emerged as crucial areas too. And then the role expanded to reflect the brave new world where IT was to play a more significant part. By taking on chief IT/information/innovation officer (CIO) responsibilities, CTOs “became” CTIOs. They now had to face a different and more complex challenge, with additional emphasis put on increasing efficiency and ROI (return on investment) while reducing risk and cost.

Enter 5G—and the extra pressure that comes with it. In this article, we will examine what the 5G challenge means for CTIOs and network operators, by drawing attention to four interlinked and multilayer topics.


The customer (or customer experience) centricity theme is not new. CTIOs at leading operators have embraced the need to understand how end users experience network performance, beyond network-focused metrics. As operators try to better address–ideally, predict and prevent–service degradation and outages, their efforts become even more important with 5G.

Why? Because of the 5G use cases and relevance to new verticals. 5G can be seen as the first mobile network generation/standard to directly target enterprises and IoT devices, including robots and machines. In this context, the definitions of “customer” and “end user” should be updated. Furthermore, the eagerly awaited 5G support for mission-critical applications (e.g., industry automation, health, etc.) accentuates the significance of reliability. This in turn mandates high-resolution (e.g., real-time) and accurate visibility into end user- or device-affecting issues. Such visibility will enable faster and ultimately preemptive action, which is now an essential requirement of CTIOs.


Yes, an overused term in our industry, typically related to digital or network transformation initiatives. Importantly, this is not just about novel IT systems or network architectures. It is also (if not more) about people, processes and culture. But even if we only focus on the network side, CTIOs face a substantial challenge.

5G accelerates the introduction of virtualization and–along with service modularization–the move to a softwarized, cloud-native network that performs reliably even when end users or devices are on the go (and connectivity is subject to the dynamic radio environment). Of course, change will not happen overnight. Deploying a new architecture (including the challenging radio access domain), intelligently testing and monitoring the 5G network, understanding where issues occur and if they affect end users and devices, and increasingly relying on automation to deal with all this complexity keep CTIOs awake at night.


“How will I make the most of 5G?” “How can I best prepare my network for 5G?” These are only two of the many ROI-related 5G questions that CTIOs ask. Any new–and costly–technology rollout should be based on a well thought out strategy, and 5G is no exception.

The inherent versatility of 5G necessitates a forward-looking and collaborative approach. Operators should identify the use cases to focus on today (e.g., fixed wireless access) in the light of existing infrastructure, spectrum availability, etc. But their rollout plan also needs to consider the revenue-generating (mainly, enterprise) 5G services to deploy in the future. On the other hand, the success of 5G will rely on partnerships. To reduce expenditure and maximize ROI, operators should join forces with competitors, webscale companies, government and other industries. CTIOs are pivotal in devising the right 5G investment strategy.


Another commonly used term, particularly with regard to virtualized networks. Actually, the concept of orchestration is relevant to network automation in general, especially as complexity rises with the advent of 5G. How will operators orchestrate vital–e.g., testing and monitoring–actions to support the distinct, slice-specific characteristics and service level agreement (SLA) requirements for 5G end-to-end network slicing, in real time?

The “open” nature of 5G means that operators may also have the challenge of working with (“conducting”) more than a handful of vendors. In addition, CTIOs must co-ordinate the teams and activities in their organization. While not new, this “maestro” role has gained in significance as cultural change and IT models of working (including the DevOps approach of trying new things and failing quickly) are considered by network operators. The multifaceted subject of orchestration is already a headache for CTIOs.

Do the interrelated topics discussed in this article fully describe the 5G challenge for CTIOs and network operators? Of course not. Still, they outline four frequently discussed themes: customer, transformation, investment, and orchestration. In a nutshell, the 5G CTIO challenge.