Introduction 

5G offers a massive opportunity for telecom operators to redefine their services to their customers and change what it means to be a telecom operator.  As operators transition from providing communication services to delivering content and offering a cloud platform for other companies to provide additional services, operators shift from being Communication Service Providers (CSPs) to becoming Digital Service Providers (DSPs). This transition can give operators new revenue streams and increase their brand loyalty if they can compete with other digital content providers and deliver a superior user experience.  5G introduces significant changes for operators in deploying and managing networks; a new radio access network (5G NR), a new network core (5GC) that includes new network functions, and a service-based-architecture designed using a cloud-native infrastructure. The list of changes goes on and on. However, the foundation for success in 5G is maintaining a focus on customer experience.

Gaining visibility into the customer experience 

Despite all the new challenges and complexities, operators need to understand the real customer experience. For this, they need an integrated containerized probing solution to deliver real-time subscriber analysis from end-to-end and enable advanced troubleshooting capabilities. Therefore, a cloud-native assurance solution needs to be integrated into the network at the earliest possible stage of the transition to 5G and when implementing greenfield networks. Containerized probe-based assurance is the cornerstone that will help operators ensure a successful 5G roll out. This provides an independent auditor of the network performance and end-to-end services. Probes enable the operator to gain both a macro and micro-view of the services and real-life customer experience, critical when troubleshooting and optimizing new network architectures. For example, using probe-based network intelligence, engineers can drill down from a high-level view of the complete VoLTE service to zoom into and focus on an individual network element or subscriber to troubleshoot and perform root-cause analysis. 

Probe-based monitoring allows an operator to understand the end-to-end service quality, including real-time subscriber analytics and troubleshooting network degradations issues experienced by a specific subscriber down to the packet-level. Operators need to complement data collected from network counters with containerized probe-based assurance to gain real-time insights into customer affecting issues. For example, a network element may suffer degradations. A network counter may indicate a problem, and yet this may not affect the customer experience. Using probes, the operator can understand the end-to-end service quality and understand which network degradations affect the customer, therefore filtering out noise and troubleshooting essential issues. 

In essence, virtual probes watch all the traffic that flows through the network and filters out individual transactions to compute the service quality experienced by each call or data transfer. They provide granular data that allows operators to determine the service quality at a per-service (QoS) and per-user (QoE) granularity across multiple transport technologies.

From planning to a full-scale launch 

In planning and building a greenfield network, probe-based assurance provides critical insights along all network evolution stages, from evaluating the performance of new network equipment deployed to full commercial launch. Enabling end-to-end tracing operators can use this data for advanced network troubleshooting, which is critical when deploying 5G as it allows the smooth launch of new services.  As mentioned earlier, service assurance is the most effective if implemented at the early stages so that its probes can troubleshoot the network throughout the process. 5G will require the launching and testing of many new services and having a reliable monitoring and troubleshooting tool will be vital to maintaining the customers' Quality of Experience (QoE). 

Planning 

In the network's critical planning stage, a probing layer is the independent auditor of the network. Probes are non-intrusive and don't add any burden on the network (unlike network events) and enable an operator to evaluate new network equipment as it is deployed. This provides operators a vendor-agnostic picture of the network equipment and service quality. These insights allow the operator to evaluate different network equipment providers and choose the best in the breed by the raw data and the real-life network deployment to ensure the right foundations for a successful network implementation.

Lab 

At the lab stage, containerized probes provide operators with advanced troubleshooting tools for call tracing and packet analysis to perform deep-packet and root-cause analysis of the new network architecture; all enabled through probe-based data. In today's environment, it is crucial that troubleshooting is built for collaboration across the operators' organization, with traces being available to multiple users and shared on the cloud. In the past, operators’ departments were siloed. However, nowadays, these silos are breaking down, and teams collaborate more and more to ensure network quality and performance. Probe-based insights enable engineers to identify, analyze, and quickly resolve network issues before the operator moves to the launch stages. 

Limited launch 

Once the network is launched, a probing layer enables engineers to smartly monitor and optimize all aspects of the services and devices running on the network. Data is collected and correlated through containerized probes to provide a detailed analysis of the end-to-end services and any devices connected to the network. For example, operators can view and analyze detailed information on the subscribers' journey interacting with the network, through the virtual RAN, and into the core. The operator can quickly identify where any network degradations occur and how to resolve them before they affect a significant number of subscribers. The same applies to the devices connecting to the network. Issues can be pinpointed for specific handsets (and segmented by 5G devices) before services are offered in a soft launch. 

The soft launch for friendly testing 

The soft launch phase opens up the network to friendly testing (employees, employees' families, and not paid subscribers). At this stage, it is critical to cover all aspects of the network and fix problems quickly before launching full commercial services and opening the network to paying customers. Probe-based assurance enables the operator to monitor all services, connected devices, network performance, and customer experience smartly. With the ability to drill down from the macro to micro levels in a few clicks of the mouse, operators can quickly pinpoint and rectify any issues before commercial launch.

Initial commercial launch 

The initial launch is always phased to see how services and the network performs as subscribers are added. 10k, 50k, and then 100k subscribers are added in batches spread over a few before network launch, and then the network is opened to anyone. At this stage, cloud-native assurance monitors all the different services to make sure there is no degradation in service. Engineers can use the probe-based insights to check newly provisioned subscribers so the operator can focus on ensuring that the onboarding process goes smoothly and as successfully as possible. 

Full commercial launch 

Once full commercial services have been launched, it is critical for the operator to continually monitor the end-to-end service and detect any issues before they affect subscribers. At this stage, probe-based data provides network intelligence to multiple departments, including engineers, network operations, service quality, customer experience, and executive teams, so the quality of service can be carefully monitored and assured on a day-to-day basis. 

Ongoing service delivery 

As the operator continues to onboard new subscribers, it is critical to continually monitor the services and proactively rectify any network degradations. This is achieved by using the probe-based data to assess real-life customer experience by monitoring the Customer Experience Index (CEI) across all the different services, such as video-conferencing, VoLTE, video streaming, and Over-The-Top (OTT) applications. The CEI provides a 'realistic' customer experience understanding and allows the operator to assess service degradations and segment groups of impacted customers based on ARPU and how 'valuable' they are. 

Summary 

With a containerized probing strategy in place, operators can understand, manage, and troubleshoot the cloud-native core's complexity to ensure a superior customer experience for 5G. Probes provide subscriber analytics and service performance insights, real-time and historical end-to-end call tracing with detailed subscriber activity, such as calls, data sessions, and protocol messages. All this is critical for network engineers to understand how traffic flows, where there are degradations, and what to troubleshoot. 

RADCOM is the leading provider of probe-based, containerized, and automated service assurance solutions for 5G. RADCOM ACE provides operators with Automated, Containerized, and End-to-End assurance for 5G and designed to ensure a smooth transition to 5G. Probe-based network intelligence helps operators ensure that the technology transformations under the surface are transparent to the customer, and the customer experience remains high throughout the transition to 5G. Probe-based assurance assures the full-service lifecycle in a cloud-native network.

 

Disclaimer and forward-looking statements  

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