2020 will be remembered by many as the year everything changed. The COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in stringent lockdown regulations, has led to a dramatic increase in remote work, education, and entertainment for billions of people worldwide. Both mobile and fixed-line networks have proven to be a critical backbone throughout this pandemic, keeping businesses, governments, and societies connected and functioning.
We saw a continued global build-up of 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) networks during the past year, reaching a total of 795 commercial 4G deployed networks, of which 324 have been upgraded to LTE-Advanced. At the same time, we saw extensive adoption of 5G (5th Generation) deployments with 113 operators across 48 countries launching 5G.
While 2020 symbolized the opening shot in the race for 5G standalone (SA) dominance, in 2021, this trend is expected to ramp up with vast global SA deployments.
“We forecast that spending on 5G SA core, including the network functions and the cloud, will reach USD2 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 170%” Analysys Mason.
In its initial stages, 5G delivers enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) with higher data speeds (20x that of 4G) and better coverage. However, over time, 5G will open the door to new use cases such as autonomous cars, telehealth services, immersive gaming, and Virtual Reality (VR) that will depend on an ultra-high reliable and low latency (10x that of 4G) network, that will revolutionize our lives and how we communicate.
It will be critical for operators to ensure that these advanced 5G services deliver on their promise of low-latency, performance, and quality. Service Assurance will play a key role in ensuring 4G LTE and 5G service quality by providing real-time visibility into the network and delivering actionable data to enable operators to provide quality services to their subscribers and ensure a superior customer experience. So, with more operators transitioning to 5G SA, what assurance trends can we expect will evolve in 2021?
5 Key Trends to Watch Out For in 2021
1. AI & ML: The Path to an Intelligent Network
The 5G era requires an intelligent network to manage all this complexity and monitor large volumes of data that humans can’t possibly do. A network that can proactively spot critical trends and issues and make the necessary internal changes before the customer is impacted. This will allow operators to manage their network more effectively, deal with the increasing complexity, and enable innovative business models like network slicing to provide a more personalized customer experience.
Such network intelligence is gained by introducing Artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) into the 5G network to revolutionize its conventional operation and structure and improve its internal performance. When introduced into a network and embedded into automated assurance, AI and ML feed on and analyze granular data, large volumes of data, and incredibly diverse data sources, finding the patterns and learning independently. Thus, they can handle repetitive assignments process multi-dimension tasks reliably and without fatigue, accumulating experience over time. This frees engineers up to spend more time on the critical task of optimizing the network performance and solving network degradations rather than wasting time on repetitive tasks. Having an advanced service assurance solution with built-in AI/ML capabilities offers several benefits to operators, such as:
- The data already collected for assurance is used.
- Saves unnecessary expenses for an additional solution (such as storage costs).
- Anomaly detection: collects and analyzes performance data over long periods to learn about the network’s operation and alert when a network or service performance changes from past behavior.
- Runs on any data set (for example, first throughput and instantly changes to the release cause).
To conclude, AI/ML is the secret to moving to an automated, closed-loop network. It is imperative for today’s operators to continuously assure their intelligent 5G networks operation and management, leading to an overall user-quality of experience.
2. Monitoring Encrypted Traffic
The use of network traffic encryption is on the rise, with 96% of today’s world’s top 100 sites defaulting to HTTPS. A significant portion of encrypted traffic originates from Over-The-Top (OTT platforms) service providers’ services and applications, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Netflix, and YouTube, rather than the actual operators.
Unfortunately, along with the benefits of added security and privacy, there are downsides to mobile data encryption that impact both the network operators and the end-user. When data is encrypted, all the traffic crossing the network looks the same, leaving telecom operators blind. They cannot inspect and optimize traffic, which means that issues can occur and go unnoticed by the operator.
This negatively impacts the customer experience. If videos buffer for too long or web pages won’t load, even though 3rd parties provide the OTT services/apps, subscribers will blame the telecom operator for poor performance, making operators’ job of being the trusted provider of quality services and content much harder.
To negotiate this complex landscape, operators need to embrace the trend for privacy and, at the same time, adopt an advanced service assurance strategy with built-in DPI to gain accurate, real-time, application-level visibility into the network to re-assure their subscribers’ high-quality experience. Essentially, this information provides a deep understanding of the network traffic like an X-ray machine at the airport, scanning the luggage to discover what is inside.
By applying DPI, an operator can:
- Identify the application attributes and reveal whether the traffic is part of a video-conferencing session, a file transfer, or a voice call.
- Extract content and metadata, providing data insights. This provides KPI’s such as packet loss, bit rate, and throughput, vital information for operators to understand and optimize the QoE and QoS.
- Deliver statistical and behavioral analysis, providing the basis for metrics and heuristics.
3. Containerized Probes: Ensuring the Quality of Service
COVID-19 has led to a surge in network traffic, with users’ trend shifting from mobile to fixed-line communication as more people are working, studying, and connecting with others remotely. Operators who wish to ensure a high level of experience delivered to their customers across all their services must adopt a fully containerized probe-based assurance solution that is future-proof for advanced 5G SA networks and provides real-time subscriber and services analysis for both fixed and mobile services.
Probe-based monitoring allows an operator to understand the end-to-end service quality, including real-time subscriber analytics and troubleshooting network degradation issues experienced by a specific subscriber down to the packet level. In essence, containerized, fully virtualized probes are spread across the network, observing all the traffic that flows through it and filtering out individual transactions to compute the service quality experienced by each call or data transfer.
Probes provide granular data that allows operators to determine the service quality at a per-service (QoS) and per-user (QoE) granularity across multiple technologies.
For example, a network element may suffer degradations. A network counter may indicate a problem, and yet this may not affect the customer experience. Using probes and collecting network events and Event Data Records (EDRs), the operator can measure Key Performance and Quality Indicators (KPIs/KQIs) and understand which network degradations affect customers, and troubleshoot the critical issues.
4. The Multi-Cloud Strategy
Cloud computing has been the backbone of our data-driven, app-based tech ecosystem for more than a decade, offering faster innovation, flexible resources, and economies of scale by delivering the same services to a wide range of customers. Multi-cloud is a cloud computing approach made up of more than one cloud service from more than one cloud vendor- public or private. By applying a multi-cloud strategy, operators are free to use the best possible cloud for each workload and cooperate with cloud providers who have built up their expertise for many years.
According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) forecast, 2021 will be the year of multi-cloud, with most enterprises deploying combinations of on-premises, off-premises, public and private clouds as their default environments.
Multi-clouds are more challenging and complex for operators to manage and ensure service quality since they require leveraging multiple systems and many pieces of interconnected infrastructures. The monitoring of these various environments simultaneously makes it much harder to gain network visibility or perform in-depth or on-demand analysis. Operators need to adopt a cloud-native, automated assurance solution that can correlate data from multiple sources, effortlessly integrate into operators’ multi-cloud environments, and provide a single view across multiple workloads. By adopting cloud-native assurance solutions, operators can save on OPEX/CAPEX and enhance operations with an efficient solution built for lean cloud-based.
5. The Power of Network Automation & Orchestration
When 5G reaches its peak potential, it will allow for the development of revolutionary applications that will extend far beyond mobile devices. These applications are varied, but there is a predicted evolution in drone control, sensors, and smart cities.
To support such diverse industries with a broad array of use cases and varying demands such as service agility, high quality of service, and latency requirements, 5G cloud-native network architecture is assembled based on innovative components
A critical part of 5G will be Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) that brings the applications from centralized data centers to the network edge and, therefore, closer to the end-users, enabling low-latency and data-rich services. However, this technological progression introduces significant network and operational complexities that must be managed automatically to deliver 5G at its full potential. Operators will need to integrate a reliable automated assurance solution that can proactively report issues across their network from the RAN to the core and stream network insights to orchestration for closed-loop automation. Automated assurance serves as the central nervous system of these 5G networks, with the orchestration as the network brain. By combining automated assurance and orchestration, enterprises and operators will extend their capabilities and take advantage of emerging technologies, enabling them to manage 5G networks at scale more efficiently and dynamically.
AI and ML, DPI, probing, multi-clouds, automation, and orchestration are all testaments of how our networks have dynamically evolved and become more complicated in the past years. Ultimately in 2021, operators who wish to overcome this challenge and operate and manage their network efficiently and at scale will need to integrate an advanced solution that can seamlessly incorporate these complexities.
RADCOM ACE provides operators with Automated, Containerized, and End-to-End assurance. It enables telecom operators to gain full network visibility across multiple network domains (3G, 4G, and 5G) and cloud environments (public, private, and hybrid). RADCOM Ace provides operators with a deep understanding of what is happening in their network down to the packet level. While at the same time minimizing network operational and capital expenses, delivering proactive tools to help resolve network degradations, and assisting operators to ensure a superior customer experience. To learn more about RADCOM ACE for intelligent network analysis and how it delivers full network visibility, click here or sign up for our newsletter.
2 Global mobile trends 2021, GSMA.
Disclaimer and forward-looking statements