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Holistic Testing Strategies for Private 5G Networks



Private 5G networking has captured growing interest for many diverse players operating with a wide range of use cases, technologies, and deployment environments. Testing is a prerequisite for success, and knowing the best strategy for this emerging set of 5G offerings is essential for ensuring the promise of quality these networks offer.

The accelerating global trend of private 5G networks (PNs) is well underway, and a range of enterprises plan to capitalize on the advantages. China currently leads the way, with North America and Europe picking up speed. Snapshots of private 5G network activity include:

  • China. Supporting emerging use cases, China put 1.1 million low-end extended reality (XR) AR/VR headsets onto the market, planning over 25m by 2026, which broadens opportunities for applications in private 5G networks.

  • North America. Key service providers have prioritized private 5G networks, with offerings like Network as a Service, Network in a Box (NiB) and 5G Edge, highlighting the need to think of private networks as low touch connectivity and compute where private MEC (multi-access edge computing) offerings will be bundled with numerous PNs for data sovereignty, security, and low latency.

  • Europe. Service providers like Telefonica are targeting offerings of private 5G network services to meet the needs of emerging enterprise, public, and IoT use cases. To do so, they see the need to optimize lifecycle management by implementing a cloud-native operational model and automation.

Private 5G networking has captured the accelerating interest of many diverse players – service providers, network providers, system integrators (SIs) and cloud providers, technologies (wireless, satellite, microwave, and edge computing), and environments (on-premise, hybrid, network slicing, and more). With all the regional movement in private 5G, the need to ensure it all works as planned is essential for any organization bringing private 5G offerings to market. While testing is acknowledged as a prerequisite for success, what’s the best approach for this nascent class of 5G offerings given the broad range of use cases, deployment environments, and technologies?

A holistic strategy of private 5G network testing – from Lab to Live

Each component of a private 5G network has its own unique requirements for validation. To address this challenge comprehensively, automated validation, acceptance, and lifecycle assurance solutions are essential for success. Spirent’s recommended strategy breaks down into three distinct phases:

Phase 1 – Network design and validation testing: Accelerate network design, validation and 5GtoB application development with conformance, performance, and security testing in the lab. This validation phase should cover a range of factors which include Next Generation Radio Access Network (NG-RAN), 5G Core, transport and time-sensitive networking (TSN), application and services, cloud, MEC, and network slices.

Phase 2 – Network acceptance testing: Simplify network acceptance testing with live field testing that includes network performance, quality of service and experience (QoS/QoE), security, and RAN optimization. Live network active field tests with commercial UEs and data servers at the edge and in the cloud should be employed. Tests may support multiple campuses, markets/cities, and include coverage of different infrastructure combinations.

Phase 3 – Lifecycle management and assurance: Through live testing, proactively assure service performance, service-level agreements (SLAs) and ongoing change management, through continuous integration, deployment, and testing (CI/CD/CT) and continuous monitoring (CM/Active Test).

  • Continuous Monitoring: Empower operation and management (O&M), by validating private 5G network performance prior to and following activation. Utilize virtual test agents (VTAs) powered by a next-gen vendor-agnostic automation platform for active service performance, by testing and validating that all the infrastructure and functions of largely software-based architecture can work together as intended with compliance to 3GPP standards. Support SLAs and ongoing change management by emulating L2-7 traffic from demarcation points inside and outside the network. Actively inject traffic 24/7 or on demand.

  • Continuous Testing: Utilize CI/CD/CT powered by next-gen vendor-agnostic test automation to support O&M, and proactively assure service performance. Leveraging low-touch automated lifecycle management, continuously test and validate that all the infrastructure and functions of largely software-based architecture so they work as intended with compliance to 3GPP standards. Support SLAs and ongoing change management.

Assessment Areas

A comprehensive approach to testing the private network should include the following:

  • Coverage and Spectrum – Ensure coverage and signal-to-noise performance across your target outdoor and indoor service area. Pre-launch analysis of actual band usage and received signal confirms design goals are met, identify areas that need improvement and offer optimization opportunities.

  • Capacity – Assess both the radio and backhaul capacity supported by the network with next-gen traffic generation solutions. Test with both multi-user point and spread single-user solutions. Multi-user tests exercise the network’s ability to carry end-to-end volume. Capacity testing characterizes how performance degrades with volume and pinpoint where optimization or investment is required.

  • Devices – Test with the devices expected to be on the network. If that’s not possible, use solutions that allow you to emulate the traffic footprint of the required device set.

  • Performance and QoE – Assess video, voice, and data performance and quality from the perspective of the end user. Good RF does not always mean good QoE. This means using quantified scientific measures that help you identify relative weak performance and measure the efficacy of network optimizations.

  • Applications – As with devices, test with the actual applications/services you intend to carry on the network or use tools that emulate the data footprint of those services.

  • App Endpoints – Placement of application services has a critical impact on performance, especially for latency-sensitive use cases. Use a test solution that allows testing to all possible service endpoints from cloud to edge.

  • Security – Assess network and device security before launch and as part of a continuous security framework to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities.


Spotlight on security testing

Security testing should assess network and device security well before launch and as part of a continuous security framework to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities throughout all three phases described above. Private 5G adopters should provide dedicated network resources for specific functions and locations, offering benefits like enhanced control over data, improved security, and lower latency. This type of network presents unique security challenges. The vulnerabilities and threats must be understood and mitigated if a private 5G network’s true potential is to be realized.

To assure a private 5G network’s trustworthiness, service providers must engage in rigorous and comprehensive testing in both the development and live environments. Crucial testing considerations include:

  • Network security assessment – Available devices, servers, workstations, services, ports

  • Privilege escalation – Unauthorized access to services, sensitive information, databases

  • Network segmentation and slicing – Security of 5G-LANs, network slices, access rules, virtual firewall rules analysis

  • Isolation review – In the case of shared RAN, how the private segment is separated from the SP network and subscribers

  • 5G hardware – Router security analysis, configuration, security rules, and administrative interfaces

  • Applications security assessment – Management and orchestration applications

  • Security of IoT devices in the network

  • Vulnerability management – Vulnerability scanning, patch management testing, configuration management testing, penetration testing, and more

Realizing new empowered opportunities in 5G networks

Private 5G networks differ significantly from traditional networks, where disparate end users seek a wide range of deployment scenarios, applications, and business outcomes. Common private 5G network considerations include:

  • 5G PNs are different than macro networks in that the users and applications are usually more narrowly focused on specific use cases and their requirements.

  • Private 5G network implementation must be compatible and aligned with existing business technologies.

  • 5G PN operational objectives must be clear, where assuring the end user experience (for human-focused use cases) and performance requirements (for machine-based use cases) are critical to success.

The evolution of private 5G networks shifts the focus from technology to operations, and achieving seamless and ongoing operational excellence is essential. Integrating a broad range of technologies, supporting multi-cloud access – typically including one or more edge computing domains – private 5G networks are closely integrated with the applications environment. Here, any changes associated with network upgrades, operational changes, failures, or security compromises not only degrade performance, but likely disrupt business continuity because of the tight coupling between network performance, availability, and the ultimate use cases.

Closing thoughts

Proactively identifying performance bottlenecks, security compromises and operational failures are table stakes for private 5G network success. Comprehensive testing should provide root cause analysis to pinpoint the source of the problem, across multiple domains (and underlying technologies). Because of the close coupling between private 5G network performance and the operational objectives, validation is essential in the design phase, during deployment, and once the network becomes operational. A mature testing strategy should be employed at the earliest point in planning and development possible and throughout the lifecycle of the solution to ensure success. That said, not all organizations hosting private 5G networks are experts in testing these systems at the level and depth described above, and at times, working with an experienced partner in the range of complex interlocking technologies contained in private 5G networks is required.

Learn more, read the report Accelerating Private Networking Value Creation and our Advanced Validation for Private 5G Networks solution brief.

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Rich McNally

Senior Director of Mobile Service Strategy

Rich McNally is Senior Director of Mobile Service Strategy at Spirent. In this role, Rich has worldwide responsibility for Spirent’s Fit4Launch business including programs for mobile network benchmarking, device launch assessment and 5G service validation/optimization at global operators and device manufacturers. Prior to joining Spirent, Rich held senior sales, product and engineering roles at Metrico Wireless, Actix and Comsearch. Rich graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering.