At 2021’s halfway point, 5G was still in its infancy with just one-fifth of global operators having launched deployments and 5G core network upgrades only beginning.
But the market seems poised to pick up steam quickly. That’s according to Gartner, which predicts 60% of operators will commercialize 5G service in major cities by the end of 2024.
It’s one thing to get a service stood up. The real question is whether it will meet customer expectations. Remember, consumers have been bombarded with messages about the fastest and biggest 5G networks. 5G devices have been touted as must-have upgrades.
It’s safe to say users are expecting a lot more than just an incremental improvement over 4G.
We’re not just talking about another G here. Major architectural and technology advancements are required to meet 5G’s ultra-reliable and low latency performance promises. There is a new virtualized RAN and a completely new core network that has been disaggregated, virtualized, made cloud-native, and dispersed geographically. And new open standards have meant more vendors, each with their own agile release schedules.
Operators need a trusted strategy to get this right from the jump. Many are finding that’s coming in the form of active service assurance.
Positioning early for enduring performance
How can operators make progress toward meeting performance expectations now without feeling overwhelmed?
It’s first understanding the end state that ultimately achieves 5G’s promises and the foundation required to support it. That means an infrastructure that can eventually scale to handle 5G’s anticipated adoption: dynamic scale-in and scale-out, large bandwidth demands, and a network slice for (almost) everyone.
In early assurance engagements with operators, we’ve found success focusing first on a couple of simple, straight-forward network slices. This is followed by creation of a flexible network and operations environment that provides those services with the quality that users anticipate.
Agility and automation must also be incorporated into networks and processes from the start. The 5G network is an order of magnitude more complex than previous networks, and with expectations for real-time response. Automation addresses this dynamic by correlating network issues with the customers and services impacted and troubleshooting and performing root cause analysis.
Finally, as current workflows and practices are unlikely to be able to handle the complexity and scale of 5G, now is the time to revisit methodologies and look at alternatives, like finding partners who can help.
Assuring a foundation with the right approach
Once stringent testing is conducted on the initial established foundation, it is time to test at scale.
A successful test plan will provide an integrated, cost-effective approach for ensuring solid, streamlined operations and performance from the lab to the field, with ongoing assurance of live services and the network as they change in real time.
Of course, there will be continuous changes as services are created or modified, the network adapts to varying loads and problems, vendors’ update releases, and standards evolve. Active assurance will revalidate those changes as they occur and protect performance.
When setting a plan, it may be helpful to think in terms of these key lifecycle phases:
Use network emulation and test in the lab to ensure basic functionality works in isolation, then with their adjacent functions.
Validate device and service performance and readiness by emulating users and the network and comparing to SLAs.
Benchmark network performance end-to-end, including load tests, to ensure you are ready to go live.
Once live, continuously perform service assurance and optimization end-to-end and to ensure the delivered performance meets SLAs and expectations.
Perform root cause analysis and closed loop assurance when there are issues.
Automation combined with the rock-solid active assurance-driven foundation described in this post can best position operators to scale as 5G traffic and services grow. Active assurance will provide the flexible scaling needed for comprehensive edge visibility, validate activations and changes before the live network is impacted, and provide end-to-end coverage across all network segments for rapid issue domain isolation and mean-time-to-resolution (MTTR).
In our next post, we’ll discuss how to put a solid assurance plan into practice to deliver on 5G’s true promise.
In the meantime, learn more about Spirent’s 5G lifecycle assurance solutions.