4G to 5G: avoiding the gap of disappointment

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Danny Itzigsohn, Senior Director, Technology & Strategy at TEOCO, takes a look at what can be done to increase the chances of 5G delivering on its promises.

Great excitement has surrounded the switching on of live 5G networks around the world; from South Korea, to the UK through to the US, many operators have reached a milestone moment in their 5G journeys. But while these advancements are a step in the right direction on the road to full, commercial, interoperable 5G, it is only the tip of the iceberg.

Today’s 5G is non-standalone, which means that it relies on both the 4G core as well as the 4G RAN to function. In that sense, 5G today is more of a 4G-5G hybrid (what is called a NSA – Non-Stand Alone 5G implementation), and it will continue to be for some time yet. 5G is currently deployed mainly in densified “islands” of limited coverage and sometimes leverages 4G connections to achieve improved throughput (Dual Connectivity). As soon as mobile users move out of these “coverage islands”, they fall back onto 4G. As a result, mobile subscribers’ 5G experience could be largely dictated by their experienced Quality of Service (QoS) while on 4G, especially as the human mind is more likely to remember a negative experience over a positive one. For operators, this can present a challenge: How to maintain subscriber experience in a hybrid 4G/5G world?

Analytics equals success

One of the biggest challenges for operators when assuring their networks is visibility – or lack thereof. As with everything in life, you don’t know what you can’t see. For operators, a lack of network or service visibility could lead to degradations caused by faults or performance issues going undetected for some time. Maintaining consumer confidence in 4G and 5G service quality is critical to all operators – they simply can’t afford to allow network glitches to undermine network and service QoS or Quality of Experience (QoE). Consumers are becoming more demanding, and they’re not afraid to switch providers should they find their experience wanting. This has stark consequences for all operators looking to achieve 5G ROI by effectively monetizing early adopters.

To do so, operators must ensure they can monitor both 5G and 4G in a holistic manner to maximise QoS across both. We are still in the early days of 5G deployments. This means that 5G today exists in islands, or pockets, whereby only small geographical areas benefit from its enhanced broadband capabilities. But industry marketing will have consumers think otherwise. For this reason, it is critical that operators offering “5G services” are able to manage QoS and QoE as subscribers move between 4G and 5G. Subscribers will expect nothing more than a seamless experience as they move between 4G and 5G; failure to manage that could have a serious impact on 5G adoption and operator churn rates.

Operators must therefore have a crystal-clear picture of their network and services using advanced analytics, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, to understand the events, trends and outliers occurring across the network and its services. Most importantly, they must move from a reactive to a proactive and predictive approach, whereby they are able to anticipate service degradations or events before they have even impacted the subscriber experience. In addition to this, operators must apply advanced analytics in a correlative fashion to ensure they understand what is occurring across both 4G and 5G networks. This will become particularly important as data volumes associated with 5G grow drastically; 5G brings with it a significant increase in monitoring complexity, which will not only make it more difficult to identify network degradations, but will also make their impact on subscriber experience more challenging to address. By leveraging advanced analytics to predict service degradations, and understand outage and event patterns, operators will be better positioned to monitor QoS closely across both 5G and 4G networks.

Bridging the gap in a network slicing world

Advanced analytics will also prove particularly important in helping operators harness the power of network slicing. Network slicing is set to make the business of QoS monitoring even more challenging. In a network slicing world, different applications, services and end-users have varying network requirements challenging the underlying network’s ability to address all of them efficiently. Take for example connected cars: They will rely on ultra-reliable, low-latency communications (URLLC) for assisted driving and road safety slices and on mIOT slices for telematics; while passengers streaming UHD videos will require enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) for infotainment services. Taking the example of telematics services to connected commercial vehicles; it’s critical that these enjoy continuous connectivity through both the 5G and 4G covered areas. Failure to assure the required service availability could have significant repercussions on road safety and fleet operation’s efficiency. Operators must therefore use advanced analytics to ensure real time optimal subscriber experience on a per-slice and service basis. That means understanding what is happening across the entire network, but at slice-level too, and correlating the information gathered to guarantee QoS for each application or service.

Subscribers are becoming increasingly demanding—they simply won’t tolerate events that impact their QoS, not even slightly. Operators need to assure experience in real time for both their 5G and 4G subscribers; those who have invested in 5G handsets will expect a 5G-level experience, while those who remain on 4G will accept no disruption to their existing service. Managing this can be a tough balancing act and require operators to plan ahead and think carefully about the impact their new 5G networks will have on their existing infrastructure and services.

5G will undoubtedly revolutionize our digital lives, and huge opportunities are attached to this next wireless generation. But operators will only capitalize on these opportunities if they harness the right tools that will see them capable of guaranteeing QoS, and ultimately will see them succeed today, and tomorrow.

Why assurance and analytics are crucial for 5G and microservices

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Scott Sumner, Director of Business Analytics at Accedian, insists that future telecoms offerings are going to need a lot more management to succeed.

Mobile network operator (MNO) revenues are currently flat, thanks to today’s saturated subscriber markets and mature network technologies. To address this unsustainable situation, MNOs are planning for their futures by transforming themselves into digital service providers (DSPs). According to World Economic Forum estimates, operators intend to grow their digital services from nearly nothing to a quarter of their revenue by 2020.

To do so, they’ll need to take advantage of the disruption offered by 5G’s exponentially faster speeds and bigger bandwidth. In this way, they can go beyond simple data connectivity and voice, and take advantage of the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), content delivery, and enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) applications.

They’ll build up and grow a wide range of new and diverse digital services; everything from content streaming and broadcast TV, to remote smart home features, to other cloud-hosted services.

The foundation for all of these new services and capabilities will be the mobile network itself and the connectivity and intelligence it contains. The network will be the platform for future DSPs to deliver the new generation of services.

But becoming a DSP is a multifaceted transformation and won’t happen in one fell swoop. So what do operators need to do to evolve?

Network as a platform

If operators are to truly harness the expanded 5G network and service capabilities, they need to move from pipeline to platform provider. This should see operators transform themselves into mobile cloud operators where access to content and applications is provided via open APIs that allow the network to be consumed on demand, and monetized accordingly. This new “cloud native” operator will be able to manage and deliver services over a highly distributed, virtualized, on-demand environment.

In doing this, operator networks will be able to dynamically spin up and tear down resources, reallocating capacity as needed to deliver exceptional quality of experience (QoE) to customers. Ultimately, the network will become multi-tenanted, with secured slices providing virtual, private infrastructure that can be leased out to allow third-parties to plug into the network as they wish. All the while, voice and broadband service will continue to be delivered without interruption.

Microservices

As mobile cloud operators come into their own, the presence and use of microservices will become crucial. Microservices allow large applications to be broken down into small, loose, composable pieces that are able to act independently of each other. These microservices, managed and maintained using emerging network management and orchestration (MANO) solutions, allow for greater agility and better resource allocation and enable operators to meet the demands and challenges of 5G networks.

But while microservices provide great benefits to mobile operators, several challenges come with their implementation. Their deliberately fragmented, multi-tenant infrastructure means that traditional monitoring solutions are incapable of delivering the level of visibility required to bring “awareness” across the entire infrastructure. What’s more, the cloud native infrastructure requires operators to ensure every application has its required level of performance and availability, while converting underutilized capacity into revenue.

While this balancing act may seem like a tough nut to crack, the good news is that many leading operators have already shown it is possible by using real-time analytics to control the network, with performance and QoE measured as a feedback loop. The next step lies in applying this concept to the realm of a consumable cloud platform. This should see visibility extended into the mobile cloud, which is typically outside of the operator’s control.

If operators are to successfully harness their transformation into mobile cloud operators, with open source microservices, they must implement a new, augmented form of visibility to keep up with these cloud-native applications.

Augmented monitoring

Monitoring a cloud native microservices environment requires a revision of traditional monitoring capabilities. Indeed, monitoring should very much adopt a microservices architecture in line with the services it is monitoring. As lightweight agents, capable of being spun up in affinity with new services interacting with each other, new relationships and new resource demands will emerge and so the monitoring of these microservices will need to adapt to the ever-changing applications they assure.

Without total visibility into all consumers of network resources, including their unique demands and quality expectations, would-be DSPs will struggle to successfully choreograph service requirements and share measured service levels with ‘subscribers’ via the same APIs they use to connect to the platform.

Ultimately, the applications will be able to intelligently adapt to the network—in a similar way, for example, to how Netflix changes bitrate according to available bandwidth—while also permitting value-added service level agreements (SLAs). By delivering this assured mobile cloud, DSPs will go beyond competing on price, and towards differentiating themselves based on performance, user experience, and value-added rich analytics insight.

Seizing the opportunity

As 5G slowly creeps up on the operator community, there exists an opportunity to accelerate digital transformation strategies through cloud native infrastructure and microservices. But these new infrastructures cannot come to be value-adding propositions for operators if they are not monitored and assured in a way that guarantees complete coverage and visibility.

Operators need to take on the challenge of designing, standardising, and driving the adoption of monitoring microservices. Failure to do so will see telcos quickly miss out on the added opportunities 5G networks will offer.

 

Accedian Scott SumnerScott has extensive experience in wireless, Carrier Ethernet and service assurance, with over 15 years of experience including roles as GM of Performant Networks, Director of Program Management & Engineering at MPB Communications, VP of Marketing at Minacom (Tektronix), and Aethera Networks (Positron / Marconi), Partnership and M&A Program Manager at EXFO, as well as project and engineering management roles at PerkinElmer Optoelectronics (EG&G).  Scott has participated in numerous acquisitions and industry partnerships, and has authored numerous patents and conference papers on telecommunications technology.