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In 5G standalone (SA), operators will need to monitor and manage QoE across user devices, radio access, and core networks, including the mobile edge, as well as across various applications running nationally and internationally. Creating a holistic view of network performance is the only way to fully understand the context of the device and services provided, to ensure that SLAs are met, and that services are delivered as intended. For example, even though both 4G and 5G applications support video services, there are vastly different QoE requirements for mission-critical video applications like remote surgery, as opposed to what would be required for a simple video conference. In other words, context matters. But gaining this context requires greater intelligence within the network.

GSMA estimates that by 2025 48% of all connections in North America will be on 5G networks – paving the way for faster speeds, innovative new services and higher customer expectations. Gone are the days of best-effort service. For CSPs to meet the hype of 5G and the requirements of the mission-critical services it enables, they must prioritize quality of experience. This requires a well-coordinated testing and monitoring strategy that encompasses everything from the 5G Smartphone, the radio access, all the way to the core network. In addition, the testing strategy must be aligned with the automation processes that are making their way into network design, launch and operation.
 
Early 5G – a hybrid approach with unique challenges
5G non-standalone (NSA) is primarily how the technology is being rolled out around the world today. This hybrid approach enables CSPs to leverage their existing 4G network assets, paired with new 5G technology, to deliver the first iteration of 5G services more quickly and cost-effectively. But 5G NSA has its own challenges. With 4G and 5G co-existing, the two networks need to work together seamlessly, but there are some points of concern. 5G Smartphones with Dual Connectivity need to deliver the right QoE, the radio access network must enable 5G services only under the right conditions to maximize user throughput and the core network must be dimensioned for the increased traffic. Having the right tools in place that can monitor, measure and track performance in real-time is critical for ensuring a positive 5G NSA user experience.
 
Getting your network ready for 5G SA requires context
 
5G standalone (SA) is the direction most operators are heading, and is being cast as a new dawn in innovation. Whether it is virtual and augmented reality, smart factories, or autonomous drones, 5G SA will enable a new era of exciting services for consumers and enterprises– all of which will succeed or fail depending on the quality of experience delivered. The flexibility of 5G networks supports an always expanding catalog of use cases and allows CPEs to rollout new services or onboard new customers at a fast pace. However, this means the services must be tested at the same pace, at all stages from lab to live network. This can be realized by leveraging tools for automated testing such as 5G core network interface emulation, 5G smartphone automation, 5G radio access testing all coupled with flexible test design and fast troubleshooting methods.
 
In 5G SA, operators will need to monitor and manage QoE across user devices, radio access, and core networks, including the mobile edge, as well as across various applications running nationally and internationally. Creating a holistic view of network performance is the only way to fully understand the context of the device and services provided, to ensure that SLAs are met, and that services are delivered as intend-ed. For example, even though both 4G and 5G applications support video services, there are vastly different QoE requirements for mission-critical video applications like remote surgery, as opposed to what would be required for a simple video conference. In other words, context matters. But gaining this context requires greater intelligence within the network.
 
To ensure the QoE of 5G devices going forward, it is paramount for CSPs to understand the E2E service, from device, radio access and core network and even more importantly, the context of its service. For example:
 
• Is the 5G device in the right slice, and with an agreed SLA?
• Is the radio access delivering the required service performance?
• Are your network KPI trends meeting your SLA commitments?
 
By detecting changes in behavior and analyzing the data that devices are sending with their mobile connectivity information, you will be able to identify if it is device-related or part of a wider network issue that needs to be rectified before the service becomes impact-ed.
 
Continuous testing and monitoring: the only way to ensure 5G success
So, how do carriers ensure the end-to-end QoE of 5G? It all comes down to testing – from the core network, 5G SA and NSA, down to the device, over the entire service lifecycle, in an automated and flexible way. Proactive 5G testing and monitoring becomes increasingly important to verify connectivity performance and network accessibility, particularly as 5G is rolled out and more services are enabled.
 
Operators need to test, monitor, and benchmark 5G QoS for both NSA and SA deployments, measure throughput, latency, and the performance of EPS fallback for services as they transition from 5GNR to LTE. Furthermore, as they transition to SA deployments, they need to monitor an increasingly complex virtualized network core, instantiate and monitor SLAs for various network slices and cater to both consumers, IoT and industrial performance requirements.
 
Meeting expectations
 
Apple’s 5G iPhone has been touted as a key catalyst for widespread 5G consumer adoption, and there is expected to be a tidal wave of 5G connected IoT chipsets and modules coming into the market. Therefore, it is paramount for operators to ensure that their 5G networks and connected devices perform to the expected QoE. Methods such as Smartphone-based and radio module-based 5G service testing complement each other and deliver insights into QoE and QoS, validate key aspects such as throughput and latency, ensure the performance of essential services, such as video and voice quality, cross-check the availability of features such as dual connectivity, and easily test different subscriber profiles without physical access to the device. CSPs increasingly (and often unfairly) bear the brunt of customer dissatisfaction when mobile apps do not perform as expected. Therefore, by bench-marking QoE between operator-provided services and OTT app services helps understand where any differences in performances may lie. Not only can these tests help to understand the actual QoE in real-time, but the resulting data can also help troubleshoot issues and foresee wider network problems.
 
QoE for your roaming customers
 
Once international travel bounces back, roaming customer experience will become paramount. With 5G it is the perfect timing to move from traditional KPI measurements and evolve to understand your customers’ roaming experience end-to-end. By monitoring your subscribers’ roaming behavior as well as your roaming partners’ service quality, operators can gather relevant insights to re-negotiate their existing roaming agreements based on quality provided and improve end-to-end experience for their roaming customers. By monitoring partner network health and measuring an individual roamer’s experience, operators can gather insights to intelligently steer their roaming customers to what best fits their needs. Steering to quality will become increasingly more important with the growth of critical OTT services that demand ubiquitous quality and has several associated benefits, such as increasing customer loyalty, reducing customer churn and mitigating customer care efforts. This is particularly true if you are able to segment your roaming customers so that your VIP roaming customers are assured a premium service when they are abroad. However, in the case of IoT, it may seem logical for a carrier to steer the SIMs/devices to a low-cost network to have better margins, but this may impact the QoS. By taking a segment-based steering approach, operators can steer to the optimum network, ensuring the best QoE and seamless connectivity in the most cost-efficient manner. Because assuring 5G QoE is complex it does not mean that it cannot be achieved. With AI and Machine Learning and automation-driven testing and monitoring, operators have the opportunity to derive unique insights from their networks, services, applications, and devices to deliver and exceed their customers’ QoE expectations.

This article has been published on Connect-World (https://connect-world.com/north-america/, March 1, 2021)

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