The state of play
5G is no longer a technology of the future but becoming part of our daily lives. In 2019 we saw an early wave of initial 5G deployments. Sixty-one operators across 34 countries have launched 5G. The first stage of 5G uses Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G that deploys 5G New Radio (NR) alongside the existing 4G core network infrastructure. So, the first 5G services deliver evolution and not a revolution compared to current mobile services.
However, 5G in 2020 will become a different ball game. It will be about demonstrating progress. Less talk, more action. Standalone (SA) 5G will be ratified under 3GPP standards in 2020, and we will see early deployments of SA 5G, which require both 5G NR equipment and a 5G core network and in the long-term, will enable exciting new use cases such as high definition and low latency AR/VR, autonomous cars, connected cities, massive IoT (mIoT) and remote surgery,
In terms of devices, there are already almost 30 commercially available 5G-ready devices. Among the major brands are Huawei, LG, Samsung, and Xiaomi, and in 2020 there will be further rollouts with almost 200 announced devices. There are even rumors of Apple releasing a 5G iPhone in 2020. So, in 2020, 5G will continue to gain momentum. Initially, providing customers with Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) that deliver HD video streaming, home broadband (using a mobile operator), and enhanced gaming services. It will be critical for operators to ensure that these initial services will deliver on their promise of speed and quality. Service Assurance will play an essential role in ensuring the 5G service quality and in helping operators achieve their Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
The question remains, where does service assurance fit into the 5G story, and how will its presence impact the trends of 2020?
Automation will be a crucial factor as operators work toward rolling out more advanced 5G services. The imperative for automation is two-fold.
The first factor comes from the desire to deliver a closed-loop approach to network monitoring to provide a superior customer experience. Operators are under pressure to achieve a higher network performance with ever-increasing demands, and operators need to quickly understand what is happening in their network, where there are service or network degradations, and how to resolve them. To manage the amount of data flowing through the network, operators will rely on automation to make real-time adjustments to the network. Video streaming, which accounts for most of the traffic, promises super-fast download times as well as immaculate quality and uninterrupted streaming. Gamers require ultra-low and reliable latency for real-time reactions, and the Internet of Things is developing at pace. Operators see automation as a way of assuring these services and delivering a customer experience that delivers on subscriber expectations.
Automation by itself cannot solve these issues, but it is an integral part of transforming the network monitoring landscape. The end goal is a “self-operating network,” i.e., one with closed-loop functionality provide which is entirely programmable and doesn’t require human intervention with assurance giving feedback to the Orchestrator. To achieve this, operators will need to employ a service assurance solution to ensure they understand the service quality being delivered across their network from the RAN to the core. If problems arise, service assurance will be essential to proactively report any issues and enable real-time troubleshooting, drill-downs, and root-cause analysis.
The second factor comes from the desire to deliver network slicing, which enables an operator to split network resources into logical or virtual networks (“slices”) to address specific use cases with distinct characteristics and service level agreement (SLA) requirements. These slices can be allocated to a dedicated service (like IoT) or sector (like emergency services). By segmenting the network, operators can create multiple virtual networks, each serving a different market, which will all have different needs and parameters and open new revenue channels for the operator.
Service assurance will be critical in ensuring the proper slice is receiving the services they require enabling operators to meet their Service Level Agreements (SLA). To achieve this, operators will need to deploy a Network Data Analytics Function (NWDAF). This is a network analytics capability function built into the general framework of the network architecture. Its purpose is for centralized data collection and analytics. Even though NDWAF is in its early stages of development, it was defined in Release 15 as providing the 5G core with the ability to collect and analyze aggregated data per slice and to aid network optimization.
For operators looking to deliver 5G services, they will need to invest in a containerized service assurance solution. 5G will generate more data than an operator can analyze. As a result, they will need to take an on-demand approach to network monitoring. This goes hand-in-hand with container-based architecture. Due to their stateless nature, containerized solutions have a low footprint and consume minimal resources. They collect, process, analyze, index, and store minimal data that doesn’t weigh down the network. Then it can be easily deployed on-demand with its cloud integration, is scalable, and offers high performance. Forrester estimates that a third of enterprises are already using container technology and it will become a priority for operators looking to become cloud-native.
Open-source standards will be strengthened in 2020 and are widely supported across the industry. Kubernetes (K8), which is heavily used in the open-source arena and controls the containerized components, will need to be adopted by any operator looking to deliver a containerized architecture.
Being dynamic and fully integrated will enable operators to take on this on-demand and closed-loop approach to network monitoring. Together this helps create a more efficient network that improves the overall performance and ensures the customer experience in 5G.
Packets and OpenTracing
Encrypted traffic will become the default in 5G, and the network core is being designed with a Services Based Architecture (SBA) that is encrypted using TLS 1.3. If an operator chooses TLS 1.3 for their core, this will affect passive probing and their ability to understand the customers’ Quality of Experience (QoE) and Quality of Service (QoS). This is because we expect the use of static RSA (Rivest–Shamir–Adleman) to be replaced by Diffie-Hellman key exchange so, passive mode decryption becomes much more challenging and less practical.
To combat this, operators will need to take a multi-faceted approach to gather network data and understand the customer experience. Service assurance will be required to act as an independent auditor of the network, taking all the different data feeds and smartly correlating them to deliver one unified view of the network.
With these insights, operators will be able to gain an understanding of the customer and service experience and enable end-to-end troubleshooting.
Automation, Containerization, and Network slicing are all important pieces in the 5G puzzle. Ultimately in 2020, operators will be looking to deliver a closed-loop, automated, and efficient network that can manage the needs of 5G. To achieve that, they will need a containerized and intelligent approach to collecting minimal data from multiple sources while still being able to troubleshoot on-demand when service degradations occur.
RADCOM Service Assurance, powered by RADCOM I.C.O.N for network events and RADCOM virtual probes, is a fully automated and containerized solution for 5G. The combined solution is a dynamic multi-functional solution that unifies both the front-end and back-end into a single node. To learn more about RADCOM I.C.O.N or the full RADCOM Service Assurance solution for Intelligent Containerized On-demand Mobile Network Analysis and how it delivers full network visibility from the RAN to the core, click here.