5G is no longer a hype, but reality as operators progress with their 5G rollouts. According to statistics by GSMA, by 2025, 5G networks will likely cover one-third of the world’s population. The transformation of the network in terms of speed, performance, and security, with lower latency and higher reliability, will create new opportunities for a variety of industries including agriculture, constructions, entertainment, healthcare, utilities, mobility, and transportation. In effect, there will be few areas in our lives that remain untouched by 5G.

In order to deliver many of the exciting use cases promised by 5G, the network architecture has been designed as entirely cloud-native. This comes with its own set of challenges, including how the network will be monitored and will require operators to switch to an assurance solution that is also cloud-native.

A 5G core is extremely complex, with thousands of Cloud-Native Network Function (CNFs) that are dynamic by nature. This cloud architecture, combined with the fact that for the foreseeable future operators will continue to run their legacy networks, adds an extra layer of complexity (especially as services will run through both architectures).

To fulfill the promises of 5G, operators need to focus on their customer experience strategies to tackle the increasing network complexity, level up and achieve the superior customer experience that subscribers will expect from 5G. To do this, service assurance must take a dominant role in any operator’s strategy. It can no longer be an afterthought or an add-on but must be embedded from the outset.

This blog will examine some of the ways the 5G network sets itself apart from its previous legacy generations and how, by adopting a 5G service assurance solution, operators can deliver a superior customer and service experience for 5G.

 

1. Containerization

In the 5G network, being fully cloud-native and containerized is the default. Containers are a standard unit of software that combines code and all its dependencies into one package. One of the benefits of using containers is that they are a cost-efficient solution and that they allow applications to be deployed quickly, efficiently, and securely. This means that operators can innovate at speed and rapidly improve their time to market for new services.

With this transition to container-based networks, 5G service assurance also needs to be containerized and built with a microservices architecture. Containerization enables such assurance capabilities as dynamic scaling, which provides operators the ability to scale in/out at the granular level of each microservice component. Containerized 5G service assurance is also stateless, has a low footprint, is easy to deploy on-demand, and offers high performance. It integrates seamlessly with Kubernetes (k8), which controls these containerized functions and is essential to enabling automation in the network.

 

2. Volumes of data

With 5G, there will be a significant increase in the number of devices connected to the network, which will, in turn, create a surge in the volumes of data flowing through the network. Managing this will require operators to adopt automated processes in order to dynamically operate and monitor their network, understand what is happening in real-time, and resolve issues quickly.

With so much data, manual monitoring is becoming redundant and ineffective. The complexity of the 5G network is such that 5G will demand service assurance solutions to move from all-encompassing monitoring to smart, efficient, and dynamic monitoring. Deploying an assurance solution that enables automated anomaly detection and root-cause analysis will help operators detect and resolve issues in real-time, which will proactively improve the customer experience.

Operators can also use dynamic 5G assurance to choose which types of data and areas of the network need to be monitored and when rather than monitor all the traffic, all the time; otherwise known as smart sampling. 5G service assurance can be deployed to monitor essential services such as voice calls or media delivery for a subset of the subscribers. Alternatively, 5G assurance can monitor all of the data for a select group of VIP subscribers. Meanwhile, dynamic sampling can be utilized for other monitoring purposes, and on-demand analytics can be provided, offering automated root-cause analysis and anomaly detection.

 

3. Encryption 

The 5G core has been designed using a Service-Based Interface (SBI), where encryption will be the default. This could pose an issue for the operators as it may affect the ability of legacy passive probes to decrypt traffic and leaves operators blind to what is happening in the network. Operators still need to gain visibility into their customer experience and assure the service quality remains high. To combat this, operators need a service assurance solution that can gather, process, analyze and correlate data via multiple sources, including event-based feeds, network packets, OpenTracing from numerous vendors, network interfaces, and event notifications. A smart 5G-oriented service assurance solution can then convert these data points into insights helping operators to deliver the optimal customer experience for their 5G services.

This service assurance solution must offer Service Based Architecture (SBA) readiness for both SBI and non-SBI interfaces, supporting complex Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS). This gives operators the ability to collect smartly, correlate, and process multiple data types delivering the end-to-end network visibility they need to offer the optimal customer experience in 5G.

 

4. Built for 5G

Unlike previous iterations of telecom network architectures, 5G requires fundamental changes to the underlying network design in order to be able to deliver the complex use cases that 5G promises.

The 5G network architecture moves away from point-to-point reference-based architecture to a service-based architecture that provides network agility, scalability, and the ability to be more cost-effective. The essential ingredients to the new architecture are that the network is cloud-native, built using microservices architecture, and supports stateless network functions. 5G Service assurance will be no different and will also be built with a service-based architecture. This will allow effective in/out scaling and efficient data retention. The microservices architecture will enable the ability to add more resources on-demand and remove resources when they are not needed, keeping the network lightweight and agile. 5G service assurance will also be stateless in design, which allows the solution to be distributed and dynamic.

A new function in the 5G core is the Network Data Analytics Function (NWDAF), which, at its most basic, provides a centralized network function for data collection and analytics, enabling closed-loop functionality. The NWDAF has been explicitly designed for the centralized collection and analytics of information. Just as the 5G recipe suggests, the NWDAF is built using a microservices architecture. It is fully cloud-native and stateless, making it a lightweight and agile solution for the central collection of data.

5G service assurance will be another essential ingredient. As mentioned previously, the 5G network is highly complex and needs a smart assurance solution to monitor and provide feedback to the orchestrator. However, for 5G assurance to work, it must integrate seamlessly into the operator’s network and must also be built with this service-based architecture in mind.   

5. Automation

The key to unlocking the potential of assurance for 5G lies in automation. Traditionally, network monitoring has been a manual process, reacting to issues as they happen. This kind of monitoring will cease to be effective in 5G, not least because of the quantities of data and the complexity of the network.

Deploying automated assurance for 5G is mandatory. As the cornerstone of a next-generation network, 5G service assurance will be the nerve system responsible for driving automation, ensuring services are optimized, and enforcing a unified customer experience. As the central brain of the network, the assurance solution will effectively have smart sensors monitoring the network, and reacting in real-time, offering closed-loop functionality to help resolve the issues. This means any changes to service quality are detected automatically. In conjunction with the network orchestrator, assurance is there to catch an issue, identify the root-cause, and report back to the orchestrator for quick issue resolution.

Another example of how automated assurance will be critical in 5G is network slicing. One of the earliest use cases for 5G is network slicing, which allows the operator to divide the network into slices, serving different customers with different needs. So, for example, an operator can offer super-fast download times to avid video streamers, Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) to gamers, and Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC) to governments looking to develop smart cities. Network slicing offers new revenue streams to operators. So, to ensure that these Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are met, automated assurance that can monitor each slice separately and provide insights will be a vital component in monitoring the network and dynamically assuring each slice is delivering the agreed policies.

 

Conclusion

5G is a massive shift from earlier generation networks and requires a new approach. There will be significantly more data, most of it encrypted, which will pose challenges to the operator. There is a new network core, new network functions, new architecture, and challenges for operators to overcome.

A network architecture that delivers so many new functions requires a new approach to service assurance. An automated, containerized, on-demand, and dynamic service assurance solution is a must for operators to monitor and manage their 5G network effectively, delivering that all crucial end-to-end network visibility. RADCOM is the leading provider of cloud-native, containerized, and automated service assurance solutions with AI-driven insights and complete network visibility. RADCOM delivers Automated, Containerized, and End-to-End visibility of the 5G network with RADCOM ACE.

 

For more information on RADCOM ACE click here

 

This blog post may contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. To read more about forward-looking statements, please click here.