The world is moving into the fourth industrial revolution where the digital and physical are brought together, working in harmony. Technology is deeply embedded in our lives and 5G promises a future where people are always connected. For the telecoms industry, this is a critical development as the transition towards 5G and the services it will deliver will cause a shift in our approach to connectivity and our expectations from the telecom service providers. The fourth industrial revolution will be built on the shoulders of 5G, meaning the telecoms industry will play a major part in this evolution.
In the initial stages of 5G, we can expect to see enhanced mobile broadband, higher data speeds and better coverage for use cases such as Fixed Wireless Access. However, as 5G progresses, so will the role it plays in society. Connectivity will penetrate every aspect of our lives, from autonomous vehicles to smart-grid control, remote telehealth services to critical infrastructure. The use cases are endless, and many will require an ultra-reliable low latency network.
To meet these requirements, the 5G network has been designed as cloud-native from the basis. This means that network functions will be stateless, container-based components that enable a more agile and dynamic network. 5G is moving away from the traditional telecom-style protocol interfaces and allowing network functions to communicate and share data easily using APIs.
These innumerable opportunities mean that operators have a greater opportunity to redefine themselves as Digital Service Providers (DSPs), providing communication as well as content-related services offering new revenue streams. In order to succeed here, they will need even more than ever to deliver a superior customer experience. It won’t just be the quality of a call or internet connection. As DSPs operators will have to assure all of their services. This transition is not without its challenges.
Challenge 1: Cloudification of the network
5G will introduce both a new cloud-native network core as well as new radio access technology to be known as 5G New Radio (NR). In the past, networks had to be configured with elements from the same generation. However, in 5G, operators will be able to mix elements from different generations in different configurations, which presents challenges as well as opportunities to the operators.
The cloudification of the network will add a layer of complexity to the network with network functions being dynamically controlled in software and not hardware. Furthermore, operators will need to support the legacy elements in the network while managing the growth in traffic, which 5G will produce. Over time migration to a fully cloud-native environment will be required. With so much of the underlying network changing in 5G, operators will need to lay the foundations to assuring services in a cloud-native platform and embed the fundamentals needed for closed-loop functionality. However, these will need to be cloud-based rather than traditional hardware-based solutions that are built for troubleshooting modern networks, that can scale and enable collaboration across multiple departments.
Optimizing and assuring network services across both legacy and virtual functions and environments will be essential if operators are to make this transition seamlessly, without disruption to customers.
To overcome this challenge, operators can deploy a Services Operations Center (SOC) and a Customer Experience Management (CEM) solution. Together these allow the operator to monitor the end-to-end service quality across multiple network domains. Using real-time analytics and smart insights the operator can see which areas require optimization and where to prioritize resources when there are service degradations. A SOC and CEM solution needs to provide root-cause analysis and troubleshooting data at both a high and a granular level, with drill-down capabilities to the network or subscriber level.
Challenge 2: Encrypted traffic
There is an increasing trend towards encryption. Over 50% of all data is now encrypted, and YouTube sends 97% of its traffic over encrypted connections with a goal for this to be 100%. The expectation is that this will be the case for all video traffic across the internet. Given that most of the data we consume is video, this leaves operators in a blind spot when it comes to an understanding of their customers' Quality of Experience (QoE) and Quality of Service (QoS).
Furthermore, with 5G encryption is becoming the default, the network core is being designed with a Service-based Architecture (SBA) that is encrypted using TLS 1.3. If an operator chooses to adopt TLS 1.3 for their core this will affect passive probing and an operator’s ability to understand their customer QoE and 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 need to take a multi-faceted approach to gather the network data and understanding the customer experience. By utilizing a heuristic approach and deploying machine learning to smartly monitor the data, operators can analyze patterns of data without decrypting the traffic. These patterns can be used by the operator to set Key Quality Indicators (KQIs) to measure the user’s QoE. If there is an anomaly in the data, the operator can perform drill-down troubleshooting to resolve the issue before the user is even aware, delivering superior customer experience.
Furthermore, operators need to extend the data sets they collect to understand their 5G QoE and QoS with some traditional sources being limited, and new data analytics functions being introduced into the architecture. The Network Data Analytics Function (NWDAF) provides a centralized function for data collection and analytics, correlating all the data to provide smart insights into the service quality and network performance. For example, the NWDAF creates the load KPI’s that are provided to the Policy Control Function (PCF) and Network Slice Selection Function (NSSF). Operators must deploy a stateless containerized solution that will still act as an independent audit of the network, taking the multiple data sources and correlating them into smart insights on the customer’s experience.
Challenge 3: Data monitoring in 5G
5G, with its endless opportunities and use cases, will generate infinite quantities of data. The architecture is such that operators can click in components from multiple vendors and sources. As a result, of the 5G core changes, various data types will need to be collected and correlated from numerous feeds. However, the sheer volume of data means it is impossible for operators to monitor all the data all of the time. To deliver a superior customer experience in 5G, operators will need to move to an on-demand approach to service assurance. Whereby data is collected from multiple sources, but storage is reduced to a minimum, and on-demand capabilities are enabled when service degradations occur to zoom in and resolve specific issues quickly and efficiently.
A solution that is stateless and container-based will help support on-demand monitoring as it has a low footprint and consumes minimal resources. Data acquisition and processing functions can be performed right next to the VNF, enabling a more efficient process. Investigations into service degradations can be launched on the fly and be spun up to perform in-depth on-demand root cause analysis to restore issues which may affect the customer service. Once the service quality has been restored, the solution can be spun down, freeing up valuable cloud storage space.
Taking an on-demand approach to network monitoring does not mean neglecting nine-tenths of the data that is flowing through the network. It involves using smart and intelligent tools to sample and filter the traffic until an issue is detected, at which point the operator can investigate further and troubleshoot on-demand. Freeing up these resources enables a faster and more efficient network, which will ultimately deliver a superior experience to customers in the era of 5G.
Challenge 4: Delivering new use cases
5G will deliver a plethora of new use cases, some of which will be new revenue streams for operators and all of which will present their unique challenges.
Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) is a priority use case for 5G deployments. For early 5G adopters, it will offer faster data speeds and an improved quality user experience. As the consumer trend leans towards increased consumption of content online, the battle for capacity demand will be crucial. Harnessing the potential of eMBB will require the operator to manage the network capacity with smart sampling and whitelisting, which another reason a stateless on-demand monitoring system will be essential. Meeting the customer’s expectations for eMBB will require the operator to deliver seamless content anywhere, at any time, and through any device.
The speed and performance offered through 5G make a case for Fixed Wireless Access. Again, this is one of the first use cases for 5G with massive potential for growth. FWA will enable operators to reach customers in remote locations, where perhaps physical fiber lines are not cost-effective and, as a result, suffered from poor connectivity. FWA solves that as the customer needs to purchase “Customer Premise Equipment” which can be easily set up and installed. Service Assurance will play a key role for FWA in monitoring the service delivered and catching any connectivity issues, the result of which would render the customer completely cut off. In an age where connectivity is part of our day-to-day, ensuring the QoE will be critical to delivering superior customer experience.
Gaming is one example where the operator can leverage monetized services to deliver a superior customer experience. Enthusiastic gamers require ultra-low latency and high throughput for real-time reactions for multiple players at once. Operators can offer packages that guarantee a minimum and maximum latency. These parameters will enable the operator to meet the agreed SLA and delight the user, leading to improved customer experience.
Finally, 5G services like Vehicle to Everything (V2X) will require network-wide analysis to validate and improve the service. Ultra-low latency will need to be combined with ultra-fast throughput as data will need to be exchanged between vehicles in real-time. Operators will need to smartly monitor multiple network slices to ensure service levels match expectations, and more importantly, requirements.
5G has infinite potential and possibilities, which will have a long-term effect on how we interact with connectivity. However, the sheer scale of 5G requires a change in the network architecture to one which is cloud-based. This is dependent on a containerized solution which allows an on-demand approach to network monitoring with minimal data collection. These features will help free up vital cloud storage space and make for a more efficient network.
For these changes to take shape, service assurance will be needed to support the transition as well as providing automated, closed-loop optimization that will enable operators to meet their SLA’s and deliver a superior customer experience in 5G.
RADCOM Network Intelligence is powered by RADCOM I.C.O.N which also enables our NWDAF. RADCOM I.C.O.N is an Intelligent, Containerized, On-demand, Network Analysis solution, enabling minimal data collection, indexing, and processing for smart insights and visibility from the RAN to the core. For more information about RADCOM I.C.O.N download the RADCOM whitepaper here.