One of our customers, a major Tier-1 (T-1) Operator, had a next-gen vision. They wanted to be among the first to market to rollout the 5G core so their customers could experience the key benefits of 5G. They recognized the notion of a monolithic 5G rollout was unrealistic. The 5G core is composed of a number of complex software elements, new cloud native network functions (CNFs), running on a common platform. Unlike a one-time hardware rollout, the customer understood if they were to compete, they needed to set up a Telecom Innovation Pipeline (employing NetDevOps or CI/CD best practices) which would allow them to regularly update their core software network-wide with the continuous releases from their CNF vendors. No small task. To achieve their goal, they needed to tackle challenges so many players in this space are facing.
A new roadmap required for 5G success
Like many operators addressing the new complexities of 5G, the T-1 Operator needed greater control of the software they bought from vendors. This meant they were essentially transitioning into a software company. To achieve that, they had to adopt a new set of operational methodologies similar to those of a system integrator to:
Address the complexity of the new 5G network
Manage the multi-vendor interoperability requirements
Realize the benefits of becoming an agile network
As they gradually divested different services and transferred them to other providers, they needed to maintain visibility of any issues in their network. No T-1 Operators had yet deployed a 5G core in a virtualized multi-vendor environment. The T-1 Operator was on the cutting edge of opportunity. With the goal of moving the 5G to the cloud, the objective was to enable faster innovation with new CNFs and the underlying network functions virtualization infrastructure (NFVI), to make new features easier to deploy, and at a lower cost. No one had tested this approach before. They needed continuous automated regression testing to ensure quality of these releases. Ultimately, they needed a continuous automated rollout of new releases into their live network. As well, they faced the challenges all players in this space encounter when ramping up for a complex initiative of this nature.
New CNFs must be validated both in isolation and as part of an end-to-end cloud network, requiring emulation of all surrounding network functions and realistic user traffic.
5G deployment challenges
While previous network generation tests emphasized validation of well-defined network elements, 5G testing requires a continuous integration / continuous deployment (CI/CD) software model delivering continuous testing (CT), and capable of rapidly validating new individual CNF releases and supporting cloud infrastructure. New CNFs must be validated both in isolation and as part of an end-to-end cloud network, requiring emulation of all surrounding network functions and realistic user traffic. The challenges all carriers face include:
Increased network complexity, especially in deploying cutting-edge Cloud Native 5G
Increased number of vendors and volume of software releases
Requirement to take ownership of vendor interoperability
Increasing lab validation times
Inconsistent tools and methodologies between Development and Operations
Inherently slow network on-boarding and activation cycles
Increased time to identify, isolate and resolve faults
The complexities abound. Carriers must adopt a new role to address these challenges comprehensively and realize a successful 5G transition. The vulnerabilities in an unproven testing strategy represents a serious concern to many operators. This means Capex investment in people, skills and partner eco-systems is required. Lacking sufficient qualified 5G experts in-house, only an established solution partner can assure the testing strategy is comprehensive, mature and reliable.
Organizational inhibitors to change
Beyond the demands of addressing the challenges of 5G deployment, our customer’s three stakeholder groups had their own siloed involvement in the project.
Technology Development defined long-term strategy objectives and designed new technologies as workable office applications, and were focused only on LTE at the time.
Engineering took Technology Development’s designs and implemented them, bringing in vendors, testing the products and integrating them into a suitable solution for their customers, got the solution operational, received new builds, then tested and verified their readiness for operational scaling.
Operations deployed the tested and approved new technology service, completed its network rollout, then operated it 7x24, manually testing network issues once it was live.
Their organization and testing strategy were not integrated and unsuitable for the new robust requirements of 5G deployment. Their old siloed method of working was antithetical to the new Agile software-based world the T-1 Operator needed to compete in. Whatever Technology Development developed in terms of testing and validation had to be reusable by Engineering and Operations to avoid replicating testbeds across teams and performing completely different testing, which was very costly and time consuming. To achieve their goals, the T-1 Operator needed a strong and neutral technology partner to test across vendors, where interoperability was a critical concern. Their primary question: Do new 5G CNFs break anything?
Identifying the right solution
The T-1 Operator sought a trusted third-party test vendor used by all the principal network equipment manufacturers (NEMs) and Tier 1 cloud service providers (CSPs) that was also a world leader in Core Network and NFVI test and assurance. The technology partner also needed to ensure vendor neutrality in testing. Of critical importance: the vendor had to have well-established solution delivery expertise in advanced test case automation for cloud-based and automated CI/CD continuous testing of multi-vendor 5G Core solutions, enabling web-scale agility and mature DevOps efficiencies. Spirent has well-acknowledged qualifications with all these key criteria. Spirent Test as a Service (TaaS) combines test expertise, products and service delivery capabilities into a bundled managed solution offer that allows us to quickly deliver testing functions and seamlessly integrate these with other operator functions.
High-level validation approach
Once the three stakeholder silos were improved with optimized DevOps efficiencies, continuous testing of CNFs comprised a phased approach. This involved testing one CNF from a vendor in isolation, then progressively adding supplemental CNFs from the same vendor until true holistic end-to-end system CT was realized. Once achieved, testing with the same approach across vendors – and ultimately across the virtualized multi-vendor environment – was possible.
5G TaaS solution outcome and benefits
Implemented framework for 100% test case automation automatically generating full regression test suites with each new VNF version
Accelerated 5G testing and time to market by 3X
Streamlined ramp-up in complex next-gen tech testing
Ensured future-proofed testing evolution
Implemented and optimized multi-vendor CT validation.
Centralized efficiencies and heightened productivity
Drastically reduced Capex and Opex expenditures
Final thoughts on 5G TaaS objectives
This blog and the associated case study examine the advantages of a Managed Solution from Spirent for cutting-edge test automation within the larger framework of Lab as a Service (LaaS) and TaaS, providing the state-of-the-art in testing. This has been made possible through our next-gen platform which addresses current and emerging problems, the requirements of the 21st century test lab and supporting a service-oriented architecture. Our customers have been able to leverage our managed test and lab automation solutions to radically transform their testing processes, drastically reducing the duration of test cycles.
The solution’s simplicity is found in its purpose-built and customizable LaaS/TaaS foundation that enables developers to efficiently customize the solution to an organization’s specific needs. Its speed is displayed with its dynamic, on-demand test environments that are delivered rapidly and reliably. Its scalability is provided with its ability to ramp test capacity up and down in sync with an organization’s dynamic test demands. Savings are realized by building only what’s needed to create a scalable, automated LaaS/TaaS solution. Delivering a robust return on investment in the process, Spirent’s Managed Solutions apply the latest cloud and virtualization techniques to usher in a new era of highly-efficient automated testing.
Read the Tier-1 NA Operator – TaaS Managed Solution for Accelerated 5G Deployments case study.