With every next-gen core that has been introduced, operators have typically scrambled to their corners with a testing vendor of choice to independently develop the tests needed to guide rollouts. This approach has been terribly inefficient, with the process playing out operator by operator, all around the world. But inefficient won’t cut it in the 5G era. Not as enterprise revenues wait to be unlocked, cloud competition closes in, and consumer experiences hang in the balance.
For the past year, Spirent has worked closely with tier-one operators on the industry’s earliest 5G core testing initiatives. As the 5G core remains poised for global deployment, our focus has been on uncovering the most common use cases, understanding the early testing challenges operators are facing, and fine-tuning the broad set of testing methodologies needed to get a worldwide slate of deployments off the ground. All of this work has been in the name of finally automating what has been a time-consuming, labor-intensive, and costly process.
Our latest annual report, 5G 2021 Market Drivers, Insights & Considerations, explores just how extensive this work has been. In 2020, core network testing accounted for more than one-third of our overall work as market leaders prepped 5G Standalone rollouts and new open networking vendors challenged incumbents.
Breaking down a successful approach to 5G core testing
Following decades of core testing work, we’ve seen where strategies have fallen short. On the other hand, we’ve also zeroed in on what makes them run smoothly. Now, in the face of complex multi-vendor networks, pressures building around time-to-market demands, and engineering teams spread increasingly thin across the latest urgent needs, we’ve drawn on our expertise to reveal the critical aspects of a successful next-gen core network automation strategy:
1. Compliance, capacity, and performance testing take precedence. Initial 5G core testing use cases will revolve around these key needs. In fact, we’ve identified more than 200 testing use cases in total that will need to be supported and made available in lockstep with future standards releases and market developments.
2. If it’s not off-the-shelf, operators will have their hands full. Professional services teams need to be at the ready to address the unique use case requirements beyond common needs. But by and large, it should be easy for any operator to get started right out of the box with a set of common 5G core testing methodologies. This represents a departure from previous testing dynamics that were built around high-budget, one-to-one custom methodology development on an operator-by-operator basis.
3. Automation is a must. While it’s essential to perform industry-standard 3GPP testing of 5G network functions to validate compliance, capacity, and performance, 5G and multi-vendor environments will require automation in order to keep up with the deluge of releases, fixes, patches, etc., pushed through by an expanding ecosystem of vendors. The scale, rate, and financial burden of managing these changes will force organizations to think beyond the legacy of manual testing. In addition, this automation must extend to fit their domain-specific use cases. In many instances, custom call flows, specific pass/fail assertions, and additional telemetry must be included for test coverage to be complete. Operators’ custom scripts and measurements must be incorporated to extend and adapt test automation of 5GC network functions.
4. Portability from the lab to production. Designing an automated 5G core testing solution from the ground up to easily integrate into an operator’s lab and then port just as easily to staging and production networks delivers significant time and cost-efficiencies. It also represents a major boost to network uptime and customer experiences as testing validation can be used in change management workflows for pre- and post-upgrade validation.
5. Community-driven feedback loops are a must. Quickly enhancing an automated solution to address the broadest set of customer needs requires open communication between operators and testing vendors. This means creating communication pathways where operators can recommend use cases and enhancements.
6. Real world traffic emulation is a requirement. Just addressing common testing use cases won’t be enough to ensure core networks are up to the task of real-world deployments. Being able to connect testing solutions to testing hardware and software that can pump realistic traffic and accurately replicate a range of network environments can make the difference between sink or swim when it comes time for rollouts.
These next-gen core network automation requirements serve as the foundation for our latest entry into the 5G core testing market. Want to dive deeper into the discussion around what comprises a cutting-edge core network testing solution? Watch our webinar, Jumpstart Your 5G Core Validation.