6 Challenges of 5G, and the 9 Pillars of Assurance Strategy


The opportunity for 5G is immense with global leadership of national importance, as 5G has the potential for enabling billions in economic growth and millions of jobs in the industries of tomorrow.  To make 5G possible, everything will change. The 5G network will involve new antennas and chipsets, new architectures, new KPIs, new vendors, cloud distributions and new frequencies — and unprecedented complexity.

The communications industry is feeling urgency to be first to market with 5G, especially since the 5G timeline has accelerated.  But, acceleration creates risks.  It dramatically compacts the R&D period, increasing the risk of failures, security breaches, and the potential that 5G will fail to deliver the new experiences promised.  Besides the potential for technological risks, there is financial risk — as long as the industry is still in the spending cycle for 4G, the cost of accelerating 5G requires new capital investment and cost efficiencies.

The Six Challenges of 5G

New architecture, new complexity:  5G will introduce a major paradigm shift evolving our networks to a completely new architecture including a new core, new radio, new spectrum, and new devices and chipsets.

Being all things to all users:  A significant challenge with 5G is the need to simultaneously service consumers and industry verticals, including transportation, high value manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture, smart cities, etc.  The range of options puts pressure on networks to be all things to all users.

Lofty goals and huge expectations:  The ambition of 5G cannot be understated.  We’re looking at massive improvements in data rates, device density, traffic capacity, throughput, latency, and spectrum efficiency.  5G needs to deliver on these goals, as consumers will base their willingness to pay on how they experience 5G, while industries will judge adopting 5G based on the proof that 5G can deliver new capabilities and quality of service.

New Radio, new frequencies:  New frequencies, such as millimeter wave, and new technologies, such as Massive MIMO and Beamforming, mean the complexity of the radio has grown exponentially.  The new frequencies offer huge potential in regard to capacity, but the use of these frequencies’ is challenging due to propagation and penetration characteristics. 

Network virtualization:  5G is dependent on the success of network virtualization to allow the network to simultaneously service different industry verticals, enable service agility and realize cost efficiencies.  But, virtualization comes with a steep learning curve and complexity.  The ability to mix vendors is one of virtualization’s benefits and also its greatest hurdle, since there is no unified, rigorously defined standard to guarantee interoperability, nor a methodology to assure continuous and consistent performance.

Security:  5G introduces new, wide-ranging security challenges.  The massive increase in connected devices and pervasive use of virtualization with edge distributions will exacerbate security threats and broaden the attack surface.  Examples of new security threats include: DDoS to deplete virtual resources, man-in-the-middle attacks in Cloud RAN distributions and network slice faking.

When such complexity meets such urgency, test and assurance becomes critical.

The 9 pillars of a 5G test and assurance strategy

Automation:  Automation is critical in a 5G world of increasingly complex and dynamic networks, where changes happen faster than humans can process.  Automation is at the heart of harmonizing, accelerating and reducing costs of continuous processes, such as testing, lab management, launching and assuring networks and services across development and operational domains.

5G Emulation:  Network and traffic emulation can play a pivotal role in simplifying the complex testing of 5G networks, devices and services to help validate their readiness.  A network emulator can be used to test both the performance of a real network or emulate network functions and services that are physically unavailable or complex and costly to configure and access.  Emulation allows for simple, cost effective, repeatable and predictable testing, reducing the complexity and economics of delivering 5G.

5G Test Methodologies:  Current test methodologies and strategies are not optimal or cost effective for 5G.  New test methodologies — both conducted (cabled) and Over the Air (OTA) — are required to test new 5G radios and key tenets of 5G device performance, such as location accuracy, 5G core network evolution, new 5G fronthaul Ethernet connectivity and 5G user perceived experience.

5G Network Validation:  Network deployment and migration to 5G will be an evolution from 4G extensions, through 5G non-standalone to true standalone 5G.  To ensure such an evolution, network validation must cover validating the massive scale of 5G, compliance of the 4G extensions and features like slicing, new radio interworking, and network integration and interoperability. 

DevOps Continuous Testing:  A DevOps Continuous Testing (CT) practice improves efficiency, enables more releases (faster time to market), gets better utilization of resources and proactively addresses quality issues.  Key tenets of CT are automation and harmonizing test tools and methodologies across the DevOps lifecycle providing a set of common tools, controls and analytics.

Cybersecurity testing:  With increasingly sophisticated security threats and a broadened attack surface in 5G, threat prevention solutions must perform advanced security functions under constantly rising and more complex user traffic.  Continuous security testing and auditing of the 5G environment is key to pre-emptive identification of vulnerabilities and prioritization of risk mitigation.

Lifecycle Service Assurance:  There is a need to continuously test and assure 5G across the lifecycle from network infrastructure validation through service testing to operational assurance.  A new approach to testing and assurance, based on DevOps principles, is called Lifecycle Service Assurance (LSA).  LSA unifies and automates testing and assurance, leading to significantly faster development cycles, enhanced service agility, reduced operational costs, and new revenue potential.

Active Testing:  Active Testing is a proactive approach to service assurance that can be highly automated and repeatable.  It goes beyond passive monitoring by generating small amounts of synthetic traffic, emulating certain parts of the network, and actively monitoring the performance of services.  Active Testing is ideal for continuous monitoring and proactive troubleshooting.

User Experience Evaluation:  Measure what matters the most, the users experience.  Consumers will judge the success of 5G and their willingness to pay based on how they experience 5G.  User Experience Evaluation objectively evaluates user experience on major 5G devices and networks.

As we can see, 5G is more than just a technology transformation—it’s a business transformation and a paradigm shift that calls for a new approach to test and assurance.

About the author: Stephen Douglas is Solutions & Technical Strategy Lead, Internet of Things, Spirent Communications. Stephen works for Spirents strategy organisation helping to define technical direction, new innovative solutions and market leading disruptive technologies which make a real difference. With close to 20 years’ experience in telecommunications Stephen has been at the cutting edge of next generation technologies and has worked across the industry with multiple Service Providers, Start-Ups and tier 1 OEM's helping them drive innovation and transformation. Stephen is an ardent believer in connected technology and strives to challenge, blur and break down the silos which prevent innovation and business success.

Edited by Erik Linask
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