5G is a mixed bag – what are you really promising your customers?

5G performance can vary widely, largely because of the differences in the spectrum frequencies used for delivery. As a result, user expectations must be carefully managed – there’s a compromise between, on the one hand, extensive coverage, and on the other, fast performance. Continuous testing with real traffic and user profiles is key to setting and maintaining expectations as CSPs roll out 5G deployments.

5G continues to grow strongly, with the new technology showing rapid adoption in a number of markets. For example, in South Korea, penetration has recently reached 10% of all mobile subscribers, according to RCR Wireless – a level achieved in just over a year.

This bodes well for other countries and operators. However, research by RootMetrics as reported by Fierce Wireless, illustrates why it’s important to look beyond the numbers. According to the research, the 5G experience delivered to customers varies significantly between operators – even in the same country. That’s because 5G can be deployed using different spectrum frequencies. The choice of frequency provides different outcomes – and represents a compromise. Put simply, not all users will enjoy the same experience levels.

mmWave fastest, but localised in hotspots

The fastest speeds will be achieved using mmWave spectrum. However, this has relatively low penetration – mmWave signals do not travel very far. As a result, while it can deliver the highest 5G performance, it is not yet widespread. In contrast, using lower frequencies results in more widespread coverage due to better propagation, but the speeds that can be achieved are lower. 5G coverage is thus a compromise between, on the one hand, effective and widespread deployment, and typically highly localised hotspots with the highest performance. This is hard to explain to customers, who may be attracted by operators that promote the highest theoretical performance.

Consequently, few users will actually obtain the performance the media and canny operator advertising may lead them to expect. They may have 5G coverage, but the best signals will be hard to find. The research exposes this compromise. One network cited has widespread coverage, but typical performance levels are comparable to LTE, while another can deliver the highest speeds, but only in certain (rare) locations.

Coverage involves compromise

Operators must continually make choices in how they use the spectrum licenses they have obtained – and, until mmWave access becomes widespread, 5G performance will rarely reach the expected levels. To achieve mmWave performance, the coverage density for 5G cells is enormous. This will take time. Until such coverage can be achieved, operators must be clear about what they are actually offering and really delivering.

Continuous testing for 5G performance is mandatory

Expectations need to be managed carefully. This means that operators must continuously evaluate and test against performance benchmarks, so that they can support the claims they make to their customers. To accomplish this, they need to be able to test 5G coverage from the perspective of the

subscriber and with simulations that reflect what customers actually do. If 5G users, sold on the promise of a new, super-speed network, try to consume more video, then testing must reflect this. Operators must be able to ensure that what they offer is matched by what the network can really deliver.

In other words, it’s not enough to simply test 5G connectivity, you have to be able to test performance. How can you do this? Fortunately, there’s an easy answer. Solver, a complete test and verification solution for 5G, provides a solution.

A complete solution for 5G performance testing

With Solver, operators can first test and validate required connectivity and interfaces. But, they can also create scenarios with different user profiles and real traffic simulations, so that actual performance can be modelled and emulated. This enables each phase of rollout to be tested, even with updates delivered through agile DevOps programmes.

Solver helps operators to manage this compromise, as well as user expectations. It allows you to validate performance across different scenarios, so you can determine the impact of different coverage plans – low and high frequencies. It can be uniquely tuned to your network, which means you can more accurately match the real user behaviour and demands – and shape your messages accordingly. Yes, 5G involves compromise, but Solver ensures that you can manage user expectations and guarantees that customers get the performance and experience that operators are claiming.

5 Key requirements for a 5G test platform

As operators rollout 5G services that are already enjoying increased demand, it’s become clear that rigorous, continuous and effective testing is required to ensure service performance. But, what do you need to look for in a 5G test platform? Here’s a quick guide to help you choose.

Support for current 5G – and the next phase

It should go without saying that any 5G test platform must support current 5G standards – NSA Option 3x support, as well as other interfaces such as S1-AP and S1-U, for example – to ensure coverage of both control and data planes. However, while that’s important, it’s equally important to look ahead to the next phase of 5G deployments – full standalone architecture.

Any 5G test platform worth its salt must provide a future-proof solution. With operators planning their migration to full 5G-NSA, the right tools need to be in place to support test and verification of the new services this will bring, both pre-launch and once in service.

5G rollout is a continuous process, that benefits from new, agile DevOps processes, so it’s not a one-off event. Operators need to test, test and test again, because the network will evolve, all the time.

Can different network elements be tested?

5G NSA may bring a new radio interface and RAN, but as you’ll know, it still depends on the EPC, albeit in its new virtual form. In addition, connectivity to the IMS remains essential for the delivery of current IMS and VoLTE services.

As such, a 5G test platform should offer the flexibility to be positioned at a wide range of interfaces, emulating services from different perspectives. Emulating user traffic from the GnB to the MME and/or SGW-U is one thing, but what about the IMS domain? A robust 5G test platform must be able to be repositioned to allow both end-to-end as well as ‘wraparound’ testing, enabling each entity to be tested in sequence or as a system.

Can the solution scale?

While current adoption rates are relatively low, that will soon change. So, 5G eMBB (and future services enabled by 5G-SA, such as massive IoT and URLLC) demand will grow – massively. That means that a 5G test platform must offer the requisite verification capabilities at scale, covering millions of users – and covering the traffic that they generate. What happens to performance under different loads? At different times? With sudden, volatile events and the dynamic introduction of new capabilities? Scale matters, so this cannot be overlooked.

Can we model real subscriber behaviour?

Achieving scale is essential, but it’s just as important to model real situations. A 5G test platform should be capable of generating real traffic, from real subscriber identities, so that it can reflect the actual profile of traffic that is experienced in the network.

As more users migrate to 5G services, the traffic profiles will change: not all users do the same thing, and individual traffic consumption will change through time. Network conditions change, leading to variations in event timing, such as call setup times, as well as traffic consumption patterns. These must be reflected in the traffic profiles, so that operators can be sure that they are emulating real situations, as experienced in their network and as they change through time. This is a must, because the only way to expose performance issues will be through the adoption of test programmes that explore actual circumstances, as well as unusual and unexpected events.

Can we consider interaction with legacy networks?

Most operator 5G networks do not exist in isolation. They do not typically deliver universal coverage, either. So, users will move from 5G to 4G and even to other legacy environments, depending on the coverage available to them. Legacy networks will persist for the foreseeable future and 5G must coexist happily with them.

This means that 5G testing cannot be considered on its own. A 5G test platform must be capable of supporting different legacy interfaces, so that handover scenarios can be considered, under different traffic loads and for different services. It is essential to be able to adopt a holistic view, such that all combinations can be explored, effectively and from a single 5G test platform.

Conclusion

At Emblasoft, we’ve considered all of these requirements, and the result is Solver. Solver is a comprehensive 5G test platform that offers rich functionality to enable full testing of 5G and legacy networks, at scale and with real traffic, enabling complex scenarios to be tested in live and captive networks. It even enables random changes to be introduced – for example, changing call setup times to reflect variable network conditions.

Solver supports your complete 5G rollout and migration to the next phase. So, if you’re wondering how to meet the 5G test challenge, get in touch with our team to find out how we can help.

The importance of 5G core network testing

According to research from Hadden Telecoms, by the end of 2019, there were 64 commercially deployed 5G networks, spread across 36 countries. Of course, most of these are based on the non-standalone architecture, with 5G-NR (New Radio) being connected to the EPC (Evolved Packet Core) control plane – in other words, leveraging the existing LTE infrastructure. While this is an interim step towards full 5G, subscriber numbers have quickly grown.

5G migration strategies – options abound

But, operators that have invested in early 5G deployments must prepare for the transition to 5G Standalone architecture (5G SA), while some of those that have yet to launch may seek to move directly to 5G SA. As such, there are several key issues to consider.

First, 5G Non-Standalone (NSA) deployments will depend on the EPC core network. They will grow, as new subscribers migrate to 5G and as new, 5G capable IoT devices are added to networks, capitalising on the enhanced capacity that 5G offers.

Second, when operators migrate to the 5G SA architecture, a brand new core will be introduced – typically alongside the EPC and other legacy networks. Third, operators that launch 5G directly, unencumbered by legacy will likely move straight to the 5G core. Of course, there may be different combinations – but a clear picture is emerging. 5G core networks will grow and will need to be tested, while parallel deployments in heterogeneous networks will also have to be tested.

Ensuring success – 5G core network testing

So, 5G core network testing is essential, both to support the planned introduction or migration strategy, as well as to ensure effective performance as user and device footprints grow. If you are responsible for network quality in a 5G operator, this presents a complex challenge.

You’ll have to test both new investments as they scale, while also ensuring performance across networks, as devices and subscribers move from 5G to 4G, fall back to 3G and back to 5G again. This requires careful consideration. There are many questions to answer. How will my EPC perform as 5G traffic grows? What will happen as more static IoT devices are added to the network? What’s a typical traffic profile for a 5G consumer or business subscriber? How will this change? What happens to my 5G core as it does so? Can 5G SA cores perform as expected? What about interaction with legacy networks?

Solver – the complete solution for 5G core network testing

Quality and test managers in 5G networks have a difficult job ahead. Fortunately, help is at hand. Solver provides a complete 5G core network testing solution, which allows every

deployment combination to be tested, both in isolation and in parallel. It helps operators gracefully introduce each successive phase of 5G core network technology, ensure interoperability with legacy infrastructure, while validating performance and scalability for multiple traffic profiles.

So, if you are responsible for 5G quality and service performance, or the introduction of 5G, then why not get in touch to find out how we can help you deliver, backed by a proven 5G core network test solution – that offers the flexibility to be tuned to your network

5G performance – is your network ready? Can you run 5G performance tests to validate network rollout and subscriber experience?

The promise of 5G is well-known and early signs are that it really delivers. Research cited by RCR Wireless seems to confirm that 5G outperforms LTE by a factor of 10. This is encouraging news. As awareness builds, consumers are likely to be attracted to new 5G plans and offers, so that they can experience these new performance levels.

Of course, that’s not the whole story. First, current 5G performance tests are only touching the tip of the iceberg, because current subscriber levels are relatively low. That’s going to change – and quickly – so 5G operators need to consider how these performance benefits can be maintained as the subscriber base grows and resource constraints emerge.

Second, absolute performance – as the article notes – is one thing, but this must be translated into customer experience. How do subscribers really experience application and service performance when using 5G connections?

The good news is that there really does seem to be a difference. The article goes on to note that video performance is significantly better over 5G, with less buffering, resulting in better quality for viewers.

All well and good – but the first point remains critical. Will these performance enhancements be maintained as operators scale up their deployments from the current, typically low, base and with growing subscriber numbers?

To be sure, operators must undertake regular and rigorous 5G performance testing. They need to be able to emulate subscriber traffic to model what happens as they increase their coverage footprint and as they add subscribers. They need to be able to explore not only absolute performance but also the experience delivered to the customer and to validate, validate and validate again that it can be maintained through new continuous update and DevOps delivery programmes. This requires the right tools.

Solver is a comprehensive 5G performance and experience test solution that enables validation of 5G services, with real subscriber data, at scale and in fully virtual environments. It supports 5G NSA as well as SA, providing a future-proof solution that helps operators as they invest in 5G coverage and services, while growing their subscriber base.

In addition, Solver offers advanced 5G performance test automation that mirrors and supports the release cycle in virtual environments. It emulates elastic, volatile demand due to the scaling, addition and modification of virtual infrastructure service components.

It also models the specific situation in each MNO’s network, based on the real mix and volume of traffic. This allows testing at both a macro and micro level, permitting local differences to be tested and validated.

Solver helps operators to adapt to new, agile DevOps cycles and continuous release programmes for 5G, by unlocking granular test automation and deep modelling of real and forecast traffic patterns, service requirements and user behaviour. This helps to ensure a successful transition to 5G NSA and SA, and continuous performance assurance with live networks.

Verification of your virtual EPC and IMS investments

Verification of your virtual EPC and IMS investments

How do you ensure service performance and scale for key network nodes and services in new virtual environments, while shifting to an agile, DevOps-based delivery cycle?

Currently, operators of all kinds are undertaking what are often complex virtualisation projects. They are transforming their networks from legacy solutions, in which hardware and software have been tightly coupled, often in proprietary solutions, to ones in which virtualised functional and infrastructure elements share common cloud platforms.

As a result, the traditional model in which vendors deliver solutions backed by SLAs is breaking down. Vendors will continue to deliver software solutions for the different functional elements and B/OSS entities, but operators may take on the responsibility of building and managing their own cloud infrastructure.

Of course, this digital transformation is expected to deliver significant benefits. For example, it will enable ,new elastic scalability, as well as greater agility through more frequent and easier updates to service and network functionality, to name but two.

It is also expected that operators will be able to leverage multiple supplier relationships, removing dependency on a primary vendor. As such, operators must deploy multiple solutions in a common infrastructure, which will be tuned to their specific operational needs and chosen vendor and orchestration paths.

In addition, digital transformation is helping operators to adopt a more agile footing, securing better performance and enhanced competitive advantage, supported by the adoption of DevOps approaches for the deployment of new services, upgrades, fixes and so on. Release cycles are expected to be days or a few weeks – not months and years. To support this, constant performance and compliance verification is required through regression testing.

This raises some new and, to some, unexpected challenges. Each new solution must be validated in the virtual environment and its performance must be ensured – particularly when scaling. Solutions that perform as expected with base traffic levels need to be thoroughly proven when they scale with the addition of new virtual resources. This problem is true for all network domains but is particularly relevant for virtual IMS and EPC deployments.

Operators must continuously verify that their networks can deliver in such environments. As such, testing needs to be automated to mirror and support the release cycles in such environments. Solver provides a solution to this continuous cycle of deliveries, updates and enhancements. It helps operators to adapt to new, agile DevOps cycles and continuous release programmes, by enabling granular test automation and deep modelling of real and forecast traffic patterns, service requirements and user behaviour.

Solver can simulate different domains and entities in the network, across all generations of mobile technology. For example, Solver can emulate the eNodeB in LTE networks. In this case, it generates traffic that represents user / connected devices, which is presented to the EPC. It provides a flexible solution that can emulate, model and test each node within the mobile network infrastructure, from the edge to the core.
So, ensuring consistency between updates to, say the EPC or to a key value-added service offer, and functional performance as well as behaviour under stress has become more critical than ever.

Why not get in touch to see how Solver can help you deliver continuous network quality and service performance enhancements? Or, book an appointment with our team at Mobile World Congress this year!

Solver helps operators to adapt to new, agile DevOps cycles and continuous release programmes, by enabling granular test automation and deep modelling of real and forecast traffic patterns, service requirements and user behaviour.

Testing for the mobile service lifecycle – how to adapt testing to suit your mobile network with Solver.

Testing for the mobile service lifecycle – how to adapt testing to suit your mobile network with Solver.

Testing standard interfaces in 3G, 4G and 5G networks is essential, but only testing with real subscriber data, based on your live traffic and real environment can deliver the insights you need to really model and validate network performance and behaviour. Testing must be adapted to the demands of your unique network.

When you launch a new feature or service upgrade, you need to validate that it performs correctly. To achieve this, a number of factors count. Is the solution compliant to the relevant standards? Does it impact existing behaviour? How does it perform under different demand scenarios? Is there any impact on adjacent nodes and solutions?

This takes time and effort – and, it’s a continuous process, as operators are shifting to DevOps cycles, with much more frequent updates and releases. Ensuring performance delivery in new virtual environments and moving from test to production requires the right test solutions. But that’s not enough.

In this context, modelling what actually happens in the network really matters, not just testing a feature or interface to a specification. What are traffic volumes? What mixture is expected to be encountered? What services and devices are used by your customers? How frequently are specific services and features invoked? You can’t really test performance without reflecting the real traffic mix in your network – which is different from operator to operator and may also differ from one location to another.

As a result, test solutions need to be adapted to the specific circumstances and unique traffic flows in each network. And, to really count, they must reflect actual subscriber data, so that performance can be compared with real traffic profiles.

Solver allows you to accomplish this, because it can be configured with traffic that models real flows in your networks, across all technologies and with real subscriber data. This is a crucial differentiator, as it helps operators emulate what’s really happening in their networks. So, what kind of data matters? Well, key statistical indicators include:

• Data usage per subscriber (time, day, month, for example)
• Time of day for the consumption of different services, to determine peak hour for the whole subscriber base
• Device and service behaviour for the most popular services (web browsing, video & Music streaming, gaming, IP packet sizes, etc)
• Number of calls and messages per subscriber and time slot (time, day, month)
• Length of call and data in messages (file, video sharing etc)

Understanding traffic flows is the first step and this information can be collected from network logs and records. But, traffic is dynamic – it ebbs and flows, so while snapshots are essential, we also need to take into account changes and growth. For this, we must also factor in:

• Increase of number of subscribers and devices
• Increase in data usage per subscriber (increased usage of popular services and new services)
• Future device and service behaviour for most popular services (web browsing, video & Music streaming, gaming, etc)

This information can also be estimated based on historic performance, allowing a model to be created and configured in Solver that reflects the actual situation in the network and also allows future behaviour to be explored. This is particularly important when considering, not only the existing service mix, but also the impact of adding a new service. What will happen to this through time, given the background of traffic flows and changing demand?

So, a key step in any test programme is to configure Solver with statistical profiles for traffic type, volume, periodicity and more. This ensures adaptation to the unique situation of each operator’s network, through a preparation phase which can easily be accomplished, working with Emblasoft or an integration partner. Of course, there are out-of-the-box capabilities for a quick start, but the long term value comes from adopting real traffic profiles from each operator.

Testing isn’t a one-off activity that’s performed periodically or when a fault is found. It’s a continuous effort that is part of maintaining the health of the network and preventing issues from impacting subscribers. It allows you to discover problems before they disrupt experiences, protecting your reputation.

As such, it simply has to reflect what’s really happening, so that deviations and performance can be explored against a background of changes and loads. The agile approach enabled by Solver allows operators to ensure that their unique situation is reflected in tests and simulations.

The Solver approach is proven in networks around the world. We know this methodology works and we know the value of using real situations to model and emulate traffic. If you want to know more about how to incorporate Solver into your network and to see how Solver is uniquely adapted to your situation, why not get in touch?

Testing for the next generation of 5G mobile – meet Emblasoft at MWC

Testing for the next generation of 5G mobile – meet Emblasoft at MWC

Verify and stress test end-to-end performance and behaviour for 5G migration - option #3 non-standalone or option 2 standalone. Enable continuous verification of new or updated VNFs as part of your DevOps process. Join us at stand 6G31 to find out how!

Mobile World Congress is just around the corner and the industry is preparing to gather in Barcelona once again. While we can expect to see yet more reports on 5G launches – both networks and devices - a really exciting development will be the arrival of the first standalone networks.

Already, many operators are exploring options for standalone and we anticipate a number of exciting announcements. This transition is critical for unlocking new value from 5G and for taking the next giant leap – to 3GPP R16, which is expected to be frozen in March this year.

Of course, this creates challenges as well as opportunities. 5G standalone is a whole new network architecture, bringing new interfaces and demanding performance requirements. To support this evolution path, operators need to be able to verify new network functionality and to validate performance in fully virtualised environments. It’s not enough to make announcements – operators must be truly ready to bring 5G to market and to meet performance and service expectations.

The award-winning Solver from Emblasoft, provides a comprehensive service emulation, test and validation solution for the vEPC, IMS and VoLTE, allowing the smooth introduction of new 5G services. It already supports both Option 2 Standalone, as well as Option 3 NSA, so it’s able to provide powerful test and verification capabilities for operators from the start of their 5G journey, all the way to the next evolution phase.

So, wherever you are in your 5G implementation, we can help you deliver the performance and services you need to profit from your investments. Why not join us in Hall 6, 6G31 to explore how we can help you validate, verify and emulate 5G network performance to support your 5G journey?