Networks are currently undergoing a vast transformation, and with it comes new challenges and opportunities. As we move into 5G, particularly into 5G Standalone (SA), a vast amount of change is happening to the network. Technology is getting ever more complex. There are demands for ultra-low latency, low energy, high and scalable bandwidth, massive Machine-to-Machine M2M IoT, combined with high throughput, high-speed download and upload, and DevOps practices, which means rapid implementation of new features and functions, multiple protocols, dynamics and along with that transformation comes the need to be able to test and validate these new features and functions.
Unlike the previous static networks, 5G SA is modular and dynamic. This requires orchestration of virtualized configurations as well as physical hardware, which enables network capability to be automated and orchestrated based on the demand of the network and services required to be delivered. Moreover, it will allow an extensive number of new device types and variants, UE & IOT, over which operators have little or no control and minimal previous experience. In addition, we will see high volumes of data, new and legacy technologies interworking in a multi-vendor environment, and the need to support both private and public clouds from an infrastructure or a test infrastructure point of view. Furthermore, there will be a move of much of the intelligence in the network from the core to the edge to create lower latency capabilities and enable more demanding services often delivered on configurable private slices for dedicated QoS slices, which will require SLAs that need to be assured and charged.
Unquestionably, this new ecosystem brings new opportunities for enhanced performance, agility and scalability, automation, rapid provision of new services, sustainability, increased security, ultra-fast, ultra-reliable low latency communications, M2M, and always available, pervasive connectivity. But to ensure customer satisfaction and retain new revenue streams, operators will need to intensively test and measure to ensure the promised 5G SA capabilities are deliverable. Fundamentally, cloud-native infrastructures, new cores, new RAN capabilities, and SA-capable devices will bring rapid and transformational changes and risks to Operations as well as to the Lab.
To allow incremental progress on the road to 5G, operators will run two different core networks in parallel and interworking with each other for a significant period. 5G NSA, with a 5G Radio and a 4G core, and the pure 5G SA, with 5G radio and an intelligent, data and knowledge-driven 5G core.
Needless to say, 5G SA must be tested and assured both in the lab and as they get launched into the live network, and continue to get changes and additions to the network functions over time, not only to safeguard QoS and QoE but also to optimize the OPEX of managing those networks and guarantee promised new revenue streams.
Working towards a 5G SA fault-free launch is a major concern for operators as troubleshooting after launch will become a bottleneck, with financial and reputation risks rising exponentially. To lower the number and the costs of network incidents, lab testing must comprise.
1. Functional testing to ensure the network works according to the specifications.
2. Performance load testing to certify that the network performs under stress.
3. Application testing, both in function and performance terms, for individual 5G functions and in conjunction with others.
4. Interoperability testing as there will be multiple vendors in the network function space and they all need to work together.
5. Segmentation testing to identify specific issues in specific services and network segments.
6. Regression testing to ensure the latest software does not affect previous versions.
7. Slice SLA testing, to ensure that slices comply with customer expectations and agreements.
To accelerate the time-to-market, 5G SA lab testing will need to be done quickly, comprehensively, and repeatedly, ideally integrated into a CI/CD/CT pipeline, which will require test and process automation to validate the new releases, changes, or upgrades and reduce the cost per test to deliver the appropriate diligence in order to launch with confidence.
The ability to detect, solve, and decrease the risks and issues related to pre and post-deployment scenarios when moving towards 5G SA lies in the effective combination of lab testing and production testing, which will be decisive for operators to succeed.