The rapid transformation in telecom is anchored by new technologies, such as; 5G, SD-WAN and Cloud. The right building blocks are readily available for this new telecom innovation model, however putting them together effectively in a strong foundation is essential. The objective of deploying 5G is to deliver higher speed at a lower cost, without compromising the quality of services across RAN, core and the devices. While these three subdomains of 5G are distinct, all share the same goal: deliver the highest quality service at the highest speed possible. Also, there is an apparent trend where communication service providers (CSPs) are facing ongoing resource reductions to control costs, all while the complexity of requirements for validating 5G networks expands exponentially. Organizations are caught in the middle striving to identify the best way forward.
Challenges of 5G deployment
Operators are hot on the trail of revenue-generating services, while balancing new demands associated with deploying and managing 5G’s dynamic network and services. At every turn, telecom operators, device makers and network equipment manufacturers are learning, that they need to develop new processes, adopt new tech and confront change. Service providers are faced with a complex, hybrid environment of Non-standalone (NSA) connected to 4G, and Standalone (SA) supported by edge and cloud. Such complications impact service provider agility and risk, unless a new approach is taken to test and assure networks and services.
Fundamental challenges that CSPs face in their objective to achieve faster 5G deployment at lower cost without service degradation, include:
• Expanded network complexity, especially in deploying cutting-edge cloud-native 5G
• Increased number of vendors and volume of software releases
• Ownership of vendor interoperability
• Increase in lab validation time
• Inconsistent tools and methodologies between development and operations
• Inherently slow network on-boarding and activation cycles
• Significant time to identify, isolate and resolve faults.
These challenges must be addressed, so that issues occurring in one part do not impact other areas. An essential aspect of this requirement involves having the right testing strategy in place. Service providers need a testing partner with a proven state-of-the-art test approach for the 5G network to address the factors above. Typically, service providers either perform the testing internally or look for a partner among existing equipment vendors who provide the network functions. SDN and cloud-native applications that enable multi-vendor environments have created a technology challenge for service providers, which compel them to ensure vendor-neutral validation of their network infrastructure by a qualified testing team.
Next-gen test strategy in 5G deployment
A comprehensive testing strategy for 5G domains should provide holistic validation capabilities, mainly found in a state-of-the-art lab and test automation solutions for all the 5G subdomains – RAN, Core, E2E and Devices, aligned within the service provider’s environment. Communication service providers should consider an approach that accounts for the challenges in these four major areas. The strategy should be supported by deep domain knowledge & expertise to break the network down into components with a detailed understanding of what testing approach provides the most comprehensive solution, to deal with the complexity of all these domains. From a business perspective, each of these domains should deliver faster time to market, while ensuring service quality and lower costs with automation capabilities. To achieve this, it is essential to have state-of-the-art test automation built into the solutions, so regression testing can be performed continuously from the lab through to live network deployment.
Service providers require a testing strategy that provides a wide range of technical capabilities to help achieve the 5G network rollout on time:
• Testing of advanced RAN architecture, especially O-RAN, including the SDN controller and network functions (NFs)
• Testing of control and user plane architecture
• Testing of cloud-native 5G Core network, where the network functions are in the form of virtualized network functions (VNFs) or container network functions (CNFs).
• Virtualization of the complex 5G network
• Network slicing of 5G network, where the same physical network is partitioned as a different network
• Automation with CI/CD process
In this context, a successful 5G testing partner should entail several essential qualification, that includes; established expertise in the 5G area across a wide range of scenarios, industry-recognized expertise in test automation, especially with CI/CD and DevOps process proficiencies, experience of delivering turnkey validation solutions from lab set-up and test planning to execution in the lab & support of deployment in the live network and a vendor-neutral approach to the customer requirements.
Time to be proactive
Keeping pace with the complex demands of 5G deployments is essential for long-term success and finding the right path in this diverse journey involves rethinking and challenging the traditional testing approach. Implementing the clear strategy, with a qualified partner having deep expertise and experience in testing, assurance, analytics & security and who can help minimise risk, at the same time bring clarity to increasingly complex technological & business challenges is key.