Service performance and reliability have always been top telecom industry priorities. However, the networks that support these attributes are growing more complex, exacerbated by the emergence of innovations in cloud technology and virtualisation. This in turn creates complexity in the management of an increasing array of new network layers and services.
In response, service assurance has become key to ensuring that networks deliver the performance required by service-level agreements (SLAs) and contracts, all made more challenging as correlations between network elements and services become increasingly difficult to model.
As services become more complex, so too is the infrastructure that delivers them
By design, 5G supports diverse, new, and complex use cases such as Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) and Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Services (uRLLC). Moreover, 5G enables provisioning differentiated or specialised services for diverse users (customers or enterprises in many vertical industries), which have requirements for services that support multiple use cases or applications.
For example, new services will need to support applications such as virtual reality, gaming, and immersive reality; mission-critical services such as emergency response; connected autonomous vehicles; billions of IoT devices, and Industry 4.0 initiatives. The requirements for these services also come with high expectations for quality, speed, and reliability, since many of these services are critical for businesses and any disruption can result in lost revenue, or in other cases, the possibility of lost lives. These services will therefore require stringent SLAs. This means communication service providers (CSPs) must deliver, monitor, and assure not only a continuously increasing number of complex services, but also validate the strict SLAs associated with each of them.
The emergence of advancements such as cloudification of the network, virtualisation, and Open RAN introduce new network functions and layers and an expanded vendor ecosystem, demanding new strategies for how these technologies are to be delivered effectively and as planned. The disaggregation of networks using virtual network functions (VNFs) with cloud-native architecture introduces a massive amount of change compared to the way legacy networks have been run, maintained, and assured. Not only that, CSPs must innovate and deliver on the service front, but they also need to implement and support new network architectures and functions that will deliver evolving services with exacting requirements.
Service assurance therefore becomes key to ensure the network delivers the relevant performance required by varying and demanding use cases.
Alongside complexity in services comes complexity in maintaining SLAs
A strategy widely used in service assurance is to separately monitor each component of a service. This approach helps partition the service into its key components to isolate issues and address each service element as needed. While this approach is vital for understanding network data and performance for deep troubleshooting, it does not fully address the holistic requirements of comprehensive service assurance. For example, networks can compensate for issues, meaning the service will continue to deliver, but the issue hasn’t been resolved. The network has simply rerouted or reconfigured to bypass the issue.
Finding the fault becomes even more complex as the network is adapting all the time. As more functions, features, and performance need to be measured, monitored, and understood, it becomes increasingly difficult and time-consuming to map out what the implications for the service would be if components or combinations of components are affected. The issue can become even more pronounced with the complexities in 5G network architecture and new service provisioning. Further, as network performance must be continuously monitored and maintained to ensure SLA targets, validating SLAs before service activation, and maintaining real-time, end-to-end visibility of the network to spot potential issues before they become critical will be crucial for enduring and successful service delivery. It therefore becomes increasingly important to test the service holistically to ensure SLAs are met.
Active testing and monitoring help address challenges and complexities around new services and their provisioning
The challenges of 5G can have significant implications on reliability, quality of service, and quality of experience for networks and users. 5G is not just a generation upgrade but a paradigm shift enabling business transformation. The ability to proactively test services end to end is becoming more crucial in addressing numerous challenges and complexities around new services and their provisioning.
Active assurance testing is a proven strategy to achieve this. It simulates real user traffic and enables measurement of the true end-user experience by actively injecting real-world emulated traffic into the network. It is also flexible, with different and specific tests conducted at different locations within the network. Further, powered by next-gen test automation, the continuous “always on” capability means that no user traffic is required, and active assurance testing can proactively detect issues before the service is affected or noticed by a customer. It also provides real-time visibility into service-level performance, therefore making it the primary method for validating and policing SLAs.
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