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Taking On 5G Standalone Testing Challenges


Datacenter 5G room

5G SA promises many benefits. In addition to revenue opportunities, the new architecture brings greater agility.

Kelly Hill, Executive Editor of RCR Wireless News, recently convened industry experts to discuss how 5G Standalone (SA) testing must evolve as part of the 5G Testing: Proving performance in the lab and assuring performance in the field webinar.

The main takeaway: Testing must become software-driven, automated, and continuous for 5G SA to be cost-effective. It must ensure the network is performing to meet precise service-level agreements and customer expectations.

Following are discussion highlights I shared in the webinar, touching on 5G SA benefits, new developments causing complexity, and how to evolve testing to streamline rollouts.

The benefits of moving to 5G SA

About 40 percent of service providers globally have deployed 5G non-standalone (NSA), which means they've invested in 5G spectrum. Now they’re focused on recovering that investment by monetizing new services and use cases. That requires the full capabilities of 5G SA.

5G SA promises many benefits. In addition to revenue opportunities, the new architecture brings greater agility. Cost efficiencies result from automating new service deployment, network management, and scalability. Service providers are also hoping 5G SA will unlock energy efficiency capabilities to help meet sustainability goals and phase out 4G networks.

The 7-8% of service providers that have moved to 5G SA have already seen substantial benefits, such as power savings, improved latency, and faster service deployments.

Cloudification: the cornerstone of 5G SA—and its challenges

The cloud is an essential component of 5G SA, enabling its agility and other benefits. But moving to the cloud is not simple, requiring operators to:

  • Move from virtual network functions (VNFs) to cloud-native network functions (CNFs)

  • Change from vertical, single-vendor infrastructure and network function stacks to horizontal stacks that the service provider controls, including CNFs from multiple vendors

  • Orchestrate and manage CNFs via Kubernetes

  • Implement an agile DevOps process for non-stop delivery of network and service upgrades and fixes

This introduces challenges that span:

  • Architecture. All the multivendor CNF apps in the vertical stack must migrate to a horizontal stack and shift to a Kubernetes operational model. They must work together on a common cloud platform and range of hardware to create a service that meets end-to-end performance requirements.

  • Resiliency. While failures such as POD failures, resource shortages, and network congestion are expected in a microservices-based architecture, CNFs must recover rapidly and gracefully using self-healing or auto-healing without impacting QoE.

  • Auto-scaling. Dynamic scaling is one of the promises of containerized architectures, especially to address energy saving targets.

  • Security. 5G SA’s service-based architecture and third-party accessibility through network APIs mean new security threats, and 3GPP’s 5G Security Assurance Specification (SCAS) has published a minimum set of tests for platform, infrastructure, and network functions to address this.

All of the above must be tested on an ongoing basis.

Continuous 5G SA testing

The 5G SA mobile network is being rearchitected to be more automated and software-driven, which introduces complexities that demand extensive continuous testing. As a result, the entire test process must transform, from end-to-end, to be more automated and agile for the entire lifecycle.

The volume and frequency of software changes up and down the network stack [e.g., about 25% of network equipment manufacturers (NEMs) have moved to a weekly release cadence] must be verified to ensure the entire stack and the customer experience are not impacted. This requires automated, continuous testing that’s integrated into a continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline.

The combination of cloudification, security threats, and release cadences require a new testing approach as manual test planning and execution are no longer feasible. Today, testing must be continuous, automated, agile, and end-to-end.

5G Core Testing

5G Core SA Continuous Testing requirements

Continuous testing has already demonstrated dramatic reductions in release validations (from months to days) and regression testing (from weeks to hours) and revealed hundreds of vendor interoperability and security gaps.

Learn more about the latest 5G testing practices

Joining Spirent in the webinar were:

  • Ian Wong, Director of RF and Wireless Architecture at VIAVI Solutions. Ian addressed 5G and Open RAN testing, from functional tests in the lab to troubleshooting and assurance in the field.

  • Scott Waller, CTO at 5G Open Innovation Lab. Scott spoke about the lab’s ecosystem of equipment providers, cloud providers, carriers, and enterprises and how its field 5G SA labs are being used to test use cases and technologies. Spirent is a partner in the 5G Open Innovation Lab.

View the full RCR Wireless News webinar, 5G Testing: Proving performance in the lab and assuring performance in the field now to learn more. More detailed information is available in the associated RCR Wireless News report.

And to learn more about the latest in 5G, read our 2024 5G Report, which highlights the major 5G SA deployment activity we expect this year. New testing complexity will accompany these initiatives, which will introduce cloud-based solutions and automation capabilities. Testing labs and processes will have to transform to keep pace.

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Nisar Sanadi

Senior Product Manager

Nisar Sanadi is a Senior Product Manager in Spirent’s Lifecycle Service Assurance business unit, where he is responsible for Landslide, the lab performance & compliance testing platform. He has extensive experience in the wireless test and measurement space, including product design & development, services, and product management. He has a passion for the intersection of AI/ML with telecom and his areas of expertise include 3G, LTE, 5G, and IMS. Nisar holds a Bachelor of Technology degree in electrical and electronics engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.