5G presents operators with endless opportunities, all of which come with their own challenges. One of the earliest challenges is how to manage the exponential growth of data that 5G services will create. This will exacerbate the age-old problem that is gathering data, understanding what is happening in the network, detecting issues, and remedying them when degradations occur or, better still before they affect customers. To address this challenge, operators will seek new methods for data collection and analytics.
As part of the new 5G core architecture, one of the network functions will be called the Network Data Analytics Function (NWDAF), which at its most basic, provides a centralized function for data collection and analytics. Introduced in Release 15 of the 3GPP standards, the NWDAF will be a network analytics function built into the general framework of the network architecture. As an evolution of the RAN Congestion Awareness Function (RCAF) defined in previous 3GPP releases, the NWDAF is still in its infancy and will be further defined in future releases. NWDAF is expected to leverage the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) and become a critical function in the 5G Core.
The art of slicing
Network slicing is an important use case for 5G and is predicted to be one of the main revenue generators for 5G Service Providers. It will, therefore, be critical for operators to monitor the network effectively and ensure each service is optimized. It will enable operators to offer customers a range of virtual services via the same core infrastructure. This means an operator could use one slice of the network to supply super high-speed broadband for gamers on one slice and low-latency, mission-critical services on a different slice. Both slices will be reliant on the same underlying network. Monitoring the network effectively is essential if operators want to meet the Service Level Agreement (SLA) for each slice, and for a slice that would service-connected cars, for example, could be a matter of life and death. Each slice would have different needs, and so a comprehensive real-time analytics system is crucial for ensuring those needs are being delivered.
An integrated NWDAF and Service Assurance solution will be able to 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.
Release 15 of the 3GPP standard specifies that the NWDAF provides load-level information per network slice. Essentially, the NWDAF smartly monitors the network congestion level for each slice. More specifically, the NWDAF collects and analyzes the aggregated data per slice by creating slice-level KPIs and aids in network optimization. Going forward Release 16, which is expected to be frozen in June 2020, is expected to define further use cases for the NWDAF. These could include 5G edge computing, determination of policy, traffic handling, management of Massive IoT (MIoT) infrastructure, and predictable network performance, to name a few.
The missing piece to the puzzle
So far, this all seems pretty straightforward. The NWDAF is a centralized function for data collection and analytics, which enables closed-loop optimization for specific use cases, e.g., network slicing. However, due to the vast quantities of data and complicated use cases, the need for a new approach to network monitoring has never been so important. Operators require network and subscriber troubleshooting on-demand, real-time alerting, predictive and reactive analytics, and network planning tools. This is where Service Assurance fits the missing puzzle piece.
Suppose operators want to understand what is happening on their network. In that case, they need both a powerful NWDAF function for closed-loop use cases and a containerized service assurance solution that provides network monitoring, optimization, and insights from the RAN to Core. Operators wanting to optimize their 5G network and deliver on each slice’s SLA need something to monitor the entire network. The NWDAF alone cannot provide a superior customer experience; you need service assurance.
The cherry on the top
There is still more to this story, which happens when there is a next-generation service assurance solution seamlessly tied together with the NWDAF. A fully containerized and automated service assurance solution should be open, meaning that as well as supporting all 3GPP standard use cases, it will be able to implement additional use cases that are not standardized by 3GPP.
Furthermore, a containerized service assurance solution will be able to provide end-to-end troubleshooting as well as complete service and customer visibility, delivering an enhanced and more agile NWDAF solution. Combining these two powerhouses opens the door to more sophisticated use cases and services.
These use cases include end-to-end call and session tracing and troubleshooting, which provides a state-of-the-art troubleshooting application layer. Network analytics and smart alarming work alongside the troubleshooting layer to allow seamless drill-down workflows for deep-dive Root Cause Analysis.
A containerized service assurance solution that also serves as an NWDAF offers other significant advantages. The open architecture means an operator is able to implement their own use cases and will not be limited by use cases defined by 3GPP. Additionally, by harnessing the power of automation, AI, and machine learning, the system will enable a more enhanced closed-loop solution that integrates seamlessly with the operators’ 5G network.
As more and more operators progress towards 5G, an enhanced NWDAF solution with a centralized data analytics function that also delivers a service assurance solution will significantly improve their ability to monitor the network end-to-end. This is a solution that is cost-effective, highly efficient, and designed for a cloud-native 5G core.
RADCOM Service Assurance is an intelligent, container-based, on-demand, network analytics solution that delivers a centralized data analytics function alongside a full-service assurance and network intelligence offering. With over 30 years of experience in the telecom’s market, RADCOM’s solution provides operators with full network visibility for 5G, from the RAN to the Core.
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