Automated assurance is pivotal to assuring the promise of digital transformation
If the excitement of Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2019 illustrated any key lesson, it’s that 5G is intensifying the rate of digital transformation for Communications Service Providers (CSPs) as they respond to challenges on multiple fronts: They must compete against both traditional service providers and web-scale companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google; defend their existing revenue streams; and generate new revenue by offering innovative digital services. To deliver on their promises to their customers of digital transformation and 5G, CSPs will want to embrace extreme operations automation and look at every opportunity to reduce human intervention.
Building the foundation for on-demand services such as SD-WAN and superior customer service will require flexible and programmable networks powered by network function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN). The good news is that NFV and SDN will also power the new 5G network. On the other hand, 5G also brings its challenges. The 5G network includes 5G new radio and core, a new transport network architecture, and new technologies such as network slicing and mobile access edge computing—which significantly increase network complexity and introduce new requirements and pressure points across operations. The traditional operations model, primarily based on “bolted on” manual and reactive approaches, will clearly be uneconomical and unsustainable.
In fact, it’s already happening as even today’s networks grow more complex. That’s why CSPs can’t wait for full implementation of their digital transformation strategies but rather must take incremental steps on their journey towards extreme automation starting today.
So where can CSPs begin their automation transformation? By identifying operational workflows where testing and assurance activities have historically been the most manual, reactive and time-consuming. These workflows represent the low-hanging fruit – where automated active testing and assurance can deliver immediate automation benefits for both today’s existing services on physical networks and the new cloud-native 5G networks.
Low-hanging fruit—5G active-testing automation use cases for early deployment
True, all the ingredients for automation aren’t quite ready. But CSPs can put their feet in the water with a basic set of automation use cases that lay a foundation for broader automation initiatives:
Service turn-up and activation – New services, network slices and network functions must be validated before they go live. With advanced active testing technologies using cloud-native test agents and open APIs-based test controllers, CSPs can dynamically instantiate the test agents, place the agents where required physically in the network and provision the test routines on-demand. Applying this type of automation for 4G has been proven to accelerate turn-up and activation by a factor of 10 for Spirent’s Tier 1 customers. With dynamic 5G services, turn-up and activation must occur in a matter of seconds – necessitating such an automated approach. In addition, the success of 5G will hang in large part on its ability to deliver on promised performance levels, making proactive testing of newly activated slices critical.
Change management – To ensure new services and features meet performance targets without degrading the quality of existing services, changes to the network must be thoroughly tested and validated before a service is switched on. That’s why automated active testing should be an integral part of change management processes. One key goal of this automation is to avoid “micro” network or service outages where the provider is unaware an issue has occurred until a customer complains. When Spirent helped a Tier 1 mobile provider apply this approach to 3G and 4G networks, undetected issues were reduced by 85%. Automated active testing will be even more crucial in 5G digital networks, where changes happen at a vastly accelerated pace.
Service quality monitoring and fault isolation – Cloud-based digital networks are inherently dynamic. In 5G networks, especially, we’ll see an explosion of applications such as connected home sensors and alarms or smart metering IoT services that require extremely reliable connectivity and high performance but may be used only sporadically. Virtualized service assurance systems need to be able to proactively and continuously test service quality and performance—even when the services aren’t being used. The systems also must be able to test any part of the network, including the radio interface, to rapidly isolate issues. Spirent has found that automating these processes for 4G saves Tier 1 providers millions of dollars annually in the form of reduced SLA penalties and operational troubleshooting expenses. With the increased complexity of 5G network slicing on top of legacy networks and new 5G IoT and business use cases, we expect to see increased need—and greater benefits—for automation in this area.
We need a new approach to service assurance
As service providers rollout NFV/SDN-based networks at scale, introduce SD-WAN and launch 5G services, they face unprecedented network complexity and competition. In response, they are embracing automation to accelerate the rollout of new services, reduce operational costs and differentiate service quality. To enable providers to rapidly and cost-effectively deploy automation, Spirent has pioneered a new approach to testing and assurance, called Lifecycle Service Assurance (LSA). Taking a unique, unified approach to testing and assurance that spans development and operations teams, Spirent LSA solutions deliver critical testing and assurance building blocks required to quickly and easily automate key use cases across the service lifecycle.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll take you deeper into the issues that are driving the digital transformation and the role of automated service assurance in assuring you can fulfill your promises to your customers on the path to 5G. In my next blog, I’ll look at how network slicing on 5G raises the stakes for everyone—operators, device makers, and network equipment providers alike. Please read the second blog here.
To learn more about Spirent’s LSA suite, and continuous testing and network automation use cases enabled by LSA, please visit www.spirent.com/solutions/lifecycle-service-assurance.
Other Blogs in this series:
Change Management at the Speed of 5G