Ask the Experts – Your 5G Assurance Questions Answered, Part 1

October 12, 2020

5G networks are being launched globally, with over 100 known 5G deployments by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) around the world. Naturally, these developments make 5G the focus of the telecoms industry. With this in mind, RADCOM gave the opportunity for the industry to ask their most pertinent 5G assurance questions through our “Ask the Expert” campaign.  We have received some excellent questions on a range of subjects, and so, through a unique blog series, we will have our RADCOM experts answer your questions, sharing our knowledge.

This blog will concentrate on questions regarding the importance of probe-based service assurance in the era of 5G.

Question 1: How does probe-based monitoring assure a superior customer experience in 5G?

The foundation for success in 5G is maintaining a focus on customer experience. Continually ensuring a high customer experience level has never been easy, but 5G and the transition to it pose many additional challenges. 5G is built using a cloud-native and containerized architecture, which is essential for enabling automation in the network. This will be key for supporting the significant increase in data flowing through the network, as well as some of the complex use cases and the next generation of services. A fully cloud-native and containerized service assurance solution should also be integrated into the network at the earliest possible stage. This will enable the operator to troubleshoot the network through the entire 5G transition and implementation process.

Deploying a cloud-native network will be a drastic shift for some operators. However, this overhaul will bring a swathe of benefits for flexibility and scalability in the network. Operators are virtualizing hundreds of network functions from the RAN to the network core. Up until recently, these functions were proprietary hardware solutions supported by Network Equipment Providers (NEPs), known and deployed by network engineers for years. Now each function is virtual, dynamic, and can be launched on-demand with certain functions running alongside other functions on the same hardware. Therefore east-west and north-south traffic need to be monitored. Operators are integrating new management layers to streamline and automate their service deployments and to manage services using a unified service level policy that will lead to a closed-loop network and an end-to-end view of the customer experience.

With these complexities, operators need to gain a real understanding of the true customer experience. For this, they need a fully integrated probing solution, able to deliver real-time subscriber analysis.

Probe-based monitoring allows an operator to understand the end-to-end service quality, including real-time subscriber analytics and troubleshooting network degradations as well as issues experienced by a specific subscriber down to the packet level. Operators need to complement their collection of network counters with containerized virtual probe-based assurance to gain real-time insights into customer-affecting issues. For example, a network element may suffer degradation. A network counter may indicate a problem, but this may not affect the actual service. By using probes, the operator can understand the end-to-end service quality and understand which network degradations affect the customer, therefore only troubleshooting the important issues. Operators should focus on and prioritize customer-affecting issues with an enhanced solution, which includes a probe layer.

In essence, virtual probes watch all the traffic that flows through the network and filter out individual transactions to compute the service quality experienced by each call or data transfer. They provide granular data that allows operators to determine the service quality at a per-service (QoS) and per-user (QoE) granularity across multiple transport technologies.

An end-to-end probing layer allows the operator to enable network analytics with real-time subscriber analytics to understand end-to-end service quality and troubleshoot network degradations. With a few clicks, the operator can drill down and troubleshoot the root cause.

Troubleshooting is critical when deploying 5G as it allows the smooth launch of new services. As mentioned earlier, service assurance is the most effective if implemented at the very early stages so that its probes can troubleshoot the network throughout the process. 5G will require the launching and testing of many new services, so having a reliable monitoring and troubleshooting tool will be vital to maintaining the customers’ Quality of Experience (QoE).

RADCOM Service Assurance is a fully cloud-native, containerized software solution that allows operators to troubleshoot from the packet to the service and subscriber levels. Using virtual probes to ingest data in real time, RADCOM Service Assurance smartly correlates the data. It enables drill-down troubleshooting for root-cause analysis, fixing customer-affecting issues, and improving the customer and service experience. 

Question 2: What use cases can be achieved in 5G using probe-based assurance?

Probe-based assurance for 5G must be fully cloud-native, containerized and automated. This is essential as it needs to integrate seamlessly with the 5G core. The reason a new core architecture has been developed is to deliver on the complex use cases which 5G promises. Operators will need to collect data from not only packet feeds using virtual probes, but also from event-based feeds (Network events and Event Detailed Records (EDRs)). Probe-based assurance is, therefore, a crucial element in delivering end-to-end network visibility, without which operators cannot monitor the service levels being delivered to the customer.

Aside from enabling an enhanced customer experience, probe-based assurance for 5G potentially opens new lucrative revenue streams for the operator. These could range from Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), to Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), to fulfilling the specific thruput and latency requirements of avid gamers with an agreed data package. Assuring that these service levels are met will require the use of automated root-cause analysis and anomaly detection, which form part of a probe-based assurance solution in 5G. Together, they can help an operator resolve network issues in real-time, and proactively assure the customer experience.

Use Case Example 1: Network slicing

Perhaps the most talked about used case is network slicing, which enables the operator to slice their network effectively according to the needs of specific sets of users. So, for example, with network slicing, an operator could feasibly provide Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC) for use cases such as driverless cars on one slice, while at the same time offering super-fast download speeds for gamers and avid video streamers on other network slices. A different slice could be offered to governments for Mission-Critical communications, which is ultra-secure and allows governments and emergency services to still communicate during a crisis.

Each slice would have different needs, and so a comprehensive real-time analytics system is crucial for ensuring those needs are being delivered. To achieve this, an operator must deploy a Network Data Analytics Function (NWDAF), which is explicitly designed to facilitate the centralized collection and analytics of information in 5G.

Integrating the NWDAF with a probe-based Service Assurance solution will help identify the network slice instance and create a slice utilization KPI per network slice instance. An NF consumer, such as the Policy Control Function (PCF) or Network Slice Selection Function (NSSF), is then able to subscribe to or unsubscribe from real-time or periodic notifications of the KPIs and receive notifications when KPIs exceed a specified threshold. The PCF takes these inputs from the NWDAF to navigate traffic policies and assign more resources when necessary, enabling the operator to manage the slices dynamically.

Use Case Example 2: Voice over New Radio / Voice over 5G

Another use case for probe-based assurance will be ensuring the service quality of Voice over New Radio (VoNR) or Voice over 5G (Vo5G). As technology advances, VoLTE will evolve to Vo5G, leveraging the combined 5G core network elements along with IP Multimedia Systems (IMS), 5G Evolved Packet Core (EPC), and other 5G New Radio (5GNR) 5G radio access network equipment such as smart antennas.

The advantages of Vo5G services will include ultra-high definition voice/audio for both voice-only calls and integration with applications and content such as announcements, music, conferencing, and more. However, many of these more advanced functions will only work in a 5GNR environment with 5G core infrastructure support.

Probe-based assurance will be critical for monitoring VoNR to perform end-to-end cross-domain correlation and root cause analysis across RAN, wireless backhaul, core, IMS, and the VoNR application server. Degradations can occur at any point in the network. Hence, an operator needs an intelligent end-to-end monitoring system to provide the all-important full network visibility, which proactively highlights when degradations occur across the entire network.

Using probe-data operators to have a complete view of the network will pinpoint which areas require more bandwidth, trigger an alarm, and enable the operator to optimize the network, catching the issue before it becomes a problem. This will help avoid bottlenecks in the network traffic and ensure fewer call drops, leading to an overall improved experience for customers.

Expert conclusions

The complexities of the 5G network and its associated use cases require a broad range of monitoring tools, including virtual probe-based assurance and data collection from event-based feeds. Only such a combined approach can deliver the full end-to-end network visibility that operators need to assure their customer and service experience.

In our next article, we will address some more 5G-related questions and uncover the reasons for service assurance as a necessity. (read it here)

This blog post may contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. To read more about forward-looking statements, please click here.

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