The three phases of testing for operators deploying 5G

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Paul Gowans, Wireless Strategy Director at VIAVI Solutions, offers some top tips for getting your networks ready to switch to 5G.

The promises of 5G have been much heralded, from speeds of up to 100 times faster than those delivered by current connectivity to ultra-low latency in the range of one millisecond. The result is that end users already have huge expectations for the services and applications supported by 5G networks.

But 5G isn’t simply the next incremental update to existing communication standards. The services and network quality expected from 5G networks depend upon the seamless integration of many different elements. As such, innovative and rigorous testing is essential at every phase of 5G deployment, if network operators are to ensure delivery of consistent performance that both applications and users demand.

However, the inherent complexity of 5G represents a number of obstacles for any testing process. Unlike the linear expansion of 3G and 4G, 5G requires an exponential increase of RF channels, making channel emulation much more complex. Moreover, 5G’s infrastructure is vastly different, comprising massive MIMO (multiple-input/multiple-output), the use of new frequency bands such as millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum, larger carrier bandwidths, and beamforming. As such, the technology used in 5G test equipment must advance rapidly to compensate for this new level of intricacy.

For example, massive MIMO can have more than 256 array elements that require a larger number of radio channels. The addition of beamforming means the array elements that serve the device can dynamically change, so traditional cable testing is neither viable nor cost-effective. Meanwhile, mmWave testing is a challenge because it can only be demonstrated using over-the-air (OTA) testing and specialist chambers. As such, operators must take into account the fact that mmWave is more susceptible to propagation and interference from both within and outside of the network.

As these examples illustrate, 5G deployment testing can be complex and challenging. Consequently, the successful and seamless deployment of 5G depends on the application of an optimized test toolkit at each of three individual phases.

Phase 1: Before beginning

Robust technology verification and validation (V&V) are essential before any 5G deployment can take place. It is during this phase that virtual network functions (VNFs) and network services are verified to ensure quality and reliability from the instant the network is deployed.

Measuring the complete performance of the network requires the application of scalable 5G test systems with integrated data services that are capable of simulating real-world user behavior in 5G field trials. 5G V&V also is intrinsically dependent upon the use of software to emulate and measure millions of unique data flows to enhance load/capacity testing and benchmarking capabilities.

Operators should take into account the need to perform functional and load testing of base stations in production environments, as well as the need to lab test new 5G features and interfaces. End-to-end testing of the air interface at the system level, as well as infrastructure validation testing of pilot network deployments, also are key.

Phase 2: Up and running

Once the 5G network is operational, an operator needs an appropriate suite of test tools for activation and scalability. This includes base station analyzers that are augmented to analyze the spectrum and interference of 5G signals in the millimeter wave range. Plus, network technicians require complementary testing software that monitors and ensures network performance while verifying service level agreements (SLAs). This augments existing 5G activation, performance monitoring and troubleshooting.

Advanced fiber testing is equally critical to 5G network performance. By co-locating baseband unit locations away from busy antenna sites, centralized radio access network (C-RAN) architecture can help facilitate the coordination of radio resources in real-time.

Phase 3: Monetization opportunities

Once the 5G network has been successfully deployed, it creates a myriad of opportunities for monetization. Operators have the opportunity to charge subscription fees for a range of new services and applications, such as ultra-fast mobile broadband, mobile HD video streaming, virtual reality gaming and multitudinous IoT applications.

However, the viability of these services and applications relies upon excellent quality of experience (QoE). For example, the demands of 5G traffic density can be met and QoE optimized by connecting a real-time intelligence platform to virtual agents throughout the network lifecycle.

Furthermore, operators have the opportunity to monetize network slicing. Enabled by 5G, network slicing allows operators to create multiple virtual networks that share a single physical infrastructure. Each slice can then be used for a specific use case based on a number of factors, including quality of service (QoS) and latency. For an operator to successfully monetize a slice, however, the network must be adequately tested and validated for performance assurance.

As the potential of 5G continues to be realized, the ongoing development of new applications and services will require more innovative and cost-effective testing tools. Likewise, for the bandwidth and latency improvements promised by 5G to occur, it’s crucial for operators to employ robust testing tools throughout the deployment lifecycle.

75% of the telecoms industry think 2019 will be a great year

Three quarters of the respondents to the latest Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey feel positive or fantastic about the industry’s prospects in the new year.

There is hardly a better way to usher in the new year with a reality check on the industry we are in, and an informed look into the era we are entering. The recently-published Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey report can very well serve such purposes. Thanks to the enthusiastic responses by well over 1,000 telecoms professionals, the majority of whom having more than a decade’s experience in the industry, we are provided with plenty of optimism as well as sober assessment.

A strong contributor to the optimism towards 2019 is the fast rollout of 5G. Not only will the long-awaited 5G networks be switched on in different parts of the world, consumer mobile devices are so close to hitting the market. In addition to eMBB that has been offered on limited scale in the US and South Korea, more ambitious services will be launched to fulfil the 5G’s promises. But at the same time, 62% of the respondents believe the benefits of 5G have not been properly communicated to consumers.

“Only time will tell what a future 5G truly holds, but it’s safe to say there’s a healthy dose of reality within the carrier market. While the promise of 5G and all its intended benefits are still on the horizon, it seems the industry is still identifying which industries can be best served with 5G,” said Sigal Biran-Nagar, Senior Director for Corporate Marketing at ECI. “It’s likely that confidence in the technology, and the willingness for consumers to pay for it, will only grow after its reliability can be assured, and it’s been implemented for a long time, which would also give critical industries and others the confidence they need that it won’t fail.”

All of 5G’s promises are supported by key technology advancements. One of the most frequently discussed areas is virtualisation. The industry continues to show strong belief in virtualisation, with close to 80% of the respondents recognising the significance of NFV for the success of their business. But it does not mean it would be an easy ride for the enthusiasts.

“We are seeing NFV gathering momentum to ‘cross the chasm’. Most respondents think that NFV is important or critical, and their spending in 2019 will be maintained or will increase.” said F5 Networks. “But challenges clearly remain. Only 8% of respondents think NFV is easy to implement. And two thirds thought that the process could be simplified and that automated systems for purchasing could help.”

All the new technologies that make 5G possible also pose new demands for the capability of testing, measuring, and monitoring. More than ever they should already be extensively implemented at the pre-commercial stage due to the new lead use cases, the complexity of its air interface, as well as the central roles played by software and virtualisation.

“5G is on the horizon bringing new opportunities for business growth. CSPs need to tightly control their ecosystem and ensure 5G is done right to deliver on promises for a whole range of new smart applications,” commented EXFO. “Partnering closely with 95%+ of the top CSPs worldwide, EXFO provides next generation test, monitoring and analytics solutions to support operators end-to-end, from lab to live and from the subscriber to the core. EXFO solutions feature real-time network, service and customer insights, process automation, NFV service assurance, prescriptive analytics as well as troubleshooting embedding machine learning and AI.”

Meanwhile, the industry also recognises that 5G is much more than a technology. For the CSPs, it is a significant step on the journey towards digital transformation. Many operators are seeing 5G as a watershed moment to seriously expand beyond the connectivity utility. One third of respondents believe 50% of revenues could be generated by new digital products and services in four years’ time. Opportunities abound.

“The survey provided an industry viewpoint on how much revenue operators will generate from services enabled by digital transformation. This is the foundation for why transformation is needed in the first place,” said Martin Morgan, VP Marketing, Openet. “The survey also provided a health check on how far the industry is advanced in its digital transformation journey and how far it needs to progress to be able to meet their digital services revenue goals. What this means for vendors is that they can set out realistic transformation roadmaps with their customers using the survey results as an industry benchmark.”

One of these growth areas is IoT. 56% of respondents saw IoT as an important driver to expand their service portfolio, while 46% saw it as significant channel to deliver new revenues. Both the short-range IoT, the largest part of the total number of connections, and wide-range including cellular-based IoT, are expected to grow very fast in the coming years, with the latter registering a much faster pace of growth.

“Never before has the digital world impacted the physical world as it does today. IoT drives autonomously driven cars, turns on lights, controls the quality of water, and lets you know who is standing at your front door,” said Ronen Priel, VP Product and Strategy at Allot. “This requires ubiquitous connectivity and security. With 5G mobility, wireless technology, and Fiber to the X (FTTx), connectivity is sorted. But, security is lagging far behind.”

Security is indeed one of the biggest threats to the industry, and that goes beyond IoT. 74% of companies responding to the survey have seen an increase in cyberattacks to their customers over the past year. Businesses are busy shoring up their defence, but they need to recognise that as attacking techniques constantly evolve, so should the defending technologies and business processes.

“We are privileged to contribute to the Telecoms.com 2018 survey report. The survey revealed that end-users and network operators still rely on legacy technology: 63% of network operators use DNS blacklisting for end-user protection. Also, 45% operators are not confident that they are ready to manage IoT security requirements for their customers. It’s crucial to use next-gen technology and start protecting users proactively,” explained Einaras von Gravrock, CEO of CUJO AI.

Now that this report is in front us to provide a panoramic view of the industry today and tomorrow, it will be fascinating to observe how our fellow professionals are turning those promises into reality. You can download your copy of it here. Happy 2019, everyone!

Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey 2018

Welcome to the 2018 edition of the Telecoms.com Intelligence Annual Industry Survey report. The findings from our signature survey continue to provide insights and foresight into the dynamic telecoms industry.

Once again well over 1,000 industry professionals from a broad array of backgrounds responded to the survey with their first-hand experience as well as their perspective views on the current status and future trends of the industry. As our customary practice, the report started with an overall industry landscape before we delved into six key areas pertinent to today’s telecoms industry: NFV, 5G, IoT, Digital Transformation, Security, and Test & Monitoring.

A few key findings from the survey:

  • 75% felt positive about the telecoms industry’s business outlook for 2019
  • 79% believed NFV is critical to their companies overall strategy
  • 61% believed emerging technologies and services are critical to telecom’s long-term success
  • 75% saw digital transformation as very important

Fill in the short form below to download your free copy now.

By downloading a copy of this report the information which you provide will be shared with the sponsor(s) for informative purposes and your mutual interest in the subject matter or similar subject matter (including initial follow-up regarding the content of this report).

Budget is good start, but don’t get too excited – National Infrastructure Commission

The National Infrastructure Commission has given the UK’s Autumn Budget the thumbs up, but will the shiny new roads take much needed funding away from the country’s quest towards the digital economy?

While it might be a boring topic, roads and railways received a lot of attention during the budget announcement. But this is one of the bigger concerns for the NIC, which is wondering whether the a lack of private investment in such schemes would detract from government investment in other areas, most notably, next generation technologies for communications and energy.

“Today’s Budget includes a number of welcome measures for infrastructure – but the real test will be next year’s Spending Review and, crucially, the National Infrastructure Strategy that the Chancellor has promised,” said Sir John Armitt Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission.

“This strategy should bring together the roads funding from this Budget with longer-term funding for cities and projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail and Crossrail.  And it should include access to full fibre broadband and greater use of renewable sources for our energy.”

The budget, which was unveiled on Monday, featured plans to hold the internet giants accountable to pay more tax in the UK, as well as a £1.6 billion commitment to support the Industrial Strategy and R&D funding, including technologies from AI, future manufacturing, nuclear fusion and quantum computing. An additional £200 million from the National Productivity Investment Fund will also be pointed towards various schemes to encourage the rollout of fibre infrastructure throughout the UK, most notably in rural regions with primary schools to be the first to get special attention.

Looking specifically at the National Productivity Investment Fund, investments in fibre and 5G will increase to £715 million between 2019 and 2021, though whether this is enough to keep the UK on track in the global digital economy remains to be seen. The ambition set out in July in The Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review targets a nationwide full fibre network by 2033. Alongside the Budget, the government is publishing consultations to mandate gigabit‑capable connections to new build homes.

The consultation, which is being led by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, will aim to amend the Electronic Communications Code (EEC) to place an obligation on landlords to facilitate the deployment of digital infrastructure when they receive a request from their tenants, while also enabling telcos to use magistrates courts to gain entry to properties where a landlord fails to respond to requests for improved or new digital infrastructure. The EEC is starting to look like a very large stick for the telcos to swing around and force people to do anything they want.

What is slightly concerning is a lack of attention for 5G. In the budget document on the HM Treasury website, 5G is actually only mentioned once.

What is worth noting is this budget might actually mean nothing in a couple of months. Hammond has given himself adequate breathing room with a no-deal Brexit scenario looking increasingly likely, stating it would be back to the drawing board should the worst-case scenario become a reality.

Inward application of tech explains dumb pipe rhetoric

Every telco fears the ‘dump pipe’ label and the push towards commoditisation, but perhaps this trend is being compounded by an inward looking attitude in the application of potentially revolutionary technologies.

This is the conundrum; telcos are missing out on the cash bonanza which is fuelling companies like Facebook and Google, but to keep investors happy, executives are focusing more on improving profitability than replacing lost revenues, such as the voice and SMS cash cows of yesteryear. This might seem like quite a broad sweeping statement, and will not be applicable to every telco, or every department within the telcos, but statement could be proven true at Total Telecom Congress this week.

One panel session caught our attention in particular. Featuring Turk Telecom, Elisa and Swisscom, the topic was the implementation of AI and the ability to capitalize on the potential of the technology. The focus here is on automation, predictive failure detection and improving internal processes such as legal and HR. These are all useful applications of the technology, but will only improve what is already in place.

The final panellist was Google, and this is where the difference could be seen. Google is of course focusing on improving internal processes, but the main focus on artificial intelligence applications is to enhance products and create new services. Spam filters in Gmail is an excellent example, though there are countless others as the Deepmind team spread their influence throughout the organization.

The difference between the two is an inward and outward application of the technology. Telcos are seemingly searching for efficiency, while Google is looking to create more value and products. One will improve profitability of what already exists, the second will capture new revenues and open the business up to new customers. One is safe, the other is adventurous. One will lead a company down a path towards utilitisation, the other will emphasise innovation and expand the business into new markets.

Of course, there are examples of telcos using artificial intelligence to enhance offerings and create new value, but it does appear there is more emphasis on making internal processes more efficient and improving profitability.

This is not to say companies should not look at processes and business models to make a more successful business, but too much of an inward focus will only lead to irrelevance. We’ve mentioned this before, but the telcos seem to be the masters of their own downfall, either through sluggishness or a fear of embracing the unknown, searching for new answers.

The panel session demonstrated the notable difference between the two business segments. The internet players are searching for new value, while telcos seem more interested in protecting themselves. Fortune favours the brave is an old saying, but it is very applicable here.

EE shows its 5G ambitions are greater than the smartphone

EE is set to green light its first 5G trial in London, testing out its fixed wireless access ambitions.

Five businesses and five homes will have the chance to test out EE’s 5G broadband capabilities as the telco shows us it’s not all about bufferless cat videos on the bus. The trial will see 5G switched on at ten sites around East London in City Road, Old Street, Hoxton Square, St Paul’s and Chiswell Street.

Although details of the trialists are thin at the moment, EE has hinted it will make use of social media to find them. If anything else, it’s an interesting idea to increase follows across the various platforms.

“This live trial is a big step forward in making the benefits of 5G a reality for our customers, and in making sure that the UK is at the front of the pack for 5G technology,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer business.

“We’re focusing our resource and experience across EE and BT to ensure that we continue to lead the UK market with a mobile network that keeps giving our customers the best speeds and the best coverage. 5G is a fundamental part of our work to build a converged, smart network that keeps our customers connected to the things that matter most.”

Of course it wouldn’t be a proper trial if a politician didn’t get the chance to show off the fluoride smile to the world.

“We want the UK to be a global leader in 5G as part of our ambition to create a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone,” said Margot James, Minister for Digital. “Together with the Government’s own test beds and trials programme, industry initiatives like this will help deliver the benefits of this new revolutionary technology to businesses and consumers across the UK.”

While the main buzz of the 5G euphoria has been centred around improving the experience on your smart phone or filling the roads with autonomous vehicles, the fixed wireless access use case has been seldom touched in the UK. It certainly has been a talking point elsewhere, Verizon just launched it offering in very limited pockets of the US, though now the UK telcos seem to be catching on.

In recent weeks, Vodafone outlined their plans and trials for the 5G world, unusually selecting two rural locations as test beds, Cornwall and the Lake District. The explanation here; there is a need to trial all sorts of different use cases in different environments, with fixed wireless access being one.

Of course, 5G broadband connectivity does not offer the same reliability or potential of fibre-based connectivity (at least not until we start talking about 6G/7G/8G…) but it is a genuine use case which can be brought to the market in the near future. While we will have to wait until mid- to late-2019 for 5G compatible smartphones, routers will be on the market much sooner.

There’s a big difference between download speed and mobile video experience

Network rating outfit OpenSignal has started measuring ‘video experience’ as well as raw network performance and found they don’t necessarily correlate.

A new report entitled The State of Mobile Video ranks a bunch of countries according to their mobile video experience on an arbitrary scale of 0-100. This takes into account not just download speed but things like ‘traffic management’ (often referred to as throttling) and latency. These can all contribute to things like buffering and slow load times, all of which affect the overall video experience.

As you can see from the scatter graph below, taken from the report, there is a fair bit of variation in the correlation between download speed and video experience. If the correlation was exact then you’d just have a straight diagonal line, but as you can see the country with the fastest raw speed – South Korea – isn’t even in the top ten for mobile video experience.

Conversely the Czech Republic has been found to be top of the pops when it comes to mobile video experience but is also just outside the top ten for download speed. We spoke to OpenSignal CEO Brendan Gill and he revealed the main reasons for these discrepancies are traffic management and latency.

Another outlier country is the US, which has a relatively low mobile video score compared to download speed. A major reason for this is probably unmetered tariffs that theoretically allow unlimited video streaming but in practice feature fairly extensive restrictions on bandwidth. This practice is understandable but there is an argument that if those services are being positioned as ‘unlimited’ then there’s some mis-selling going on.

Latency is most pertinent when it comes to shorter video clips typically accessed over social media. If you’re scrolling through your social media feed you’re probably not prepared to wait more than a second or so for a clip to start playing. While this is probably a sad indictment of the modern attention span and certainly qualifies as a first world problem, that’s the environment we’re operating in and apparently US load times aren’t great.

Opensignal mobile video chart

Vodafone pulls out a genuinely good 5G demo – get ready for holograms!

While many 5G demos show technical progress, few wow an audience in the same way Vodafone did at its Future Ready press conference, unveiling the UK’s first live holographic call.

After CTO Scott Petty set the stage with a number of impressive announcements indicating Vodafone is perhaps not the cumbersome beast we have come to expect, an underwhelming skit involving a VR headset and England Women’s football captain Steph Houghton led irritable journalists towards a slumber. But with a drop of the curtain, the demo was unveiled in all its glory. And it was incredibly impressive.

5G will enable remote surgery and 4K gaming experiences, though there is little excitement generated through this announcements nowadays. Using 5G technology to underpin the experience, Houghton, who was located in a Manchester studio at the time, appeared in Vodafone’s Newbury HQ as a 3D hologram. The image was sharp, the lag was unnoticeable and all of a sudden the audience was engaged. It was cheesy, as Houghton showed off her skills and answered some questions from 11 year-old football fan Iris, but it was an excellent demonstration of the power of 5G.

“Vodafone has a history of firsts in UK telecoms – we made the nation’s first mobile phone call, sent the first text and now we’ve conducted the UK’s first holographic phone call using 5G,” said Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffrey.

What is worth noting is this is not a world first, KT is developing hologram calling as a flagship 5G service and has conducted a test call between Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam and its own CEO Hwang Chang-gyu. That said, this should not take the shine off an impressive demonstration.

Some might look at such an idea and scoff; what is the opportunity aside from showing off what the network is capable of, surely this isn’t realistic for the real world? But why not?

A decade ago it would have been inconceivable to consider video conferencing as a mass market product. In the early years it was reserved for the board room, due to the price of equipment and the software to make it work. Nowadays, Skype calling is as common as a sausage sandwich. We’re not suggesting hologram calling is going to be commonplace over the next couple of years, but who knows what is possible when the price point of technology starts tumbling down.

CTO Petty referred to the famous Bill Gates quote when discussing the potential for a mass market product; most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten. The mind runs wild when you consider what could be possible; GP consultations from your living room, distance learning would take on a new spin and some sports events, boxing for instance, could take the live audience from tens of thousands to millions by setting up holographic arenas all over the world. Healthcare, education and entertainment could be completely revolutionised.

It’s been a while since a 5G demonstration has genuinely got a room full of journalists excited; well done Vodafone!

 

FCC Commissioner eyes up 5.9 GHz for next-generation wifi

With yesteryears plan for driverless cars offering zero progress, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has suggested a rethink of how to use the 5.9 GHz band, toying with unlicensed spectrum for next-generation wifi.

Back in 1999, the US government set aside 75 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for dedicated short range communications, DSRC, designed for cars to talk to each other in real time to help reduce accidents. Of the 260 million cars on US roads, only a few thousand are DSRC compatible as autonomous vehicles have moved beyond DSRC to operate and communicate with other vehicles. Some might suggest this initiative has been nothing short of pointless.

Failure is not necessarily a bad thing, but recognising this failure and adapting is critical. This is one of the reasons the internet players are hoovering up cash everywhere. The National Transportation Safety Board estimates it could be up to three decades before the majority of vehicles on the road have DSRC capability, so you have to wonder whether this is a case of flogging a dead horse. Other aspects of the technology world are progressing with genuine ambition, Rosenworcel is suggesting this 75 megahertz of spectrum could be better used elsewhere.

“Earlier this year, it [Congress] asked the FCC to identify 100 megahertz of spectrum below 8 GHz for unlicensed use,” said Rosenworcel. “To meet this threshold, we need to take another look at the 5.9 GHz band.

“It’s the ideal place to explore wifi expansion because it’s adjacent to an existing unlicensed band. That means we have the opportunity to introduce new wideband channels – channels that will be able to take advantage of new standards and deliver speeds even faster than 1 Gbps. In other words, this is where we can develop next generation gigabit wifi.”

Spectrum is an incredibly scarce resource, and there is little room to accommodate technologies and projects which have offer little return. This is the situation the US has found itself in with DSRC. With little to no prospects on the horizon for DSRC to make an impact, you have to wonder how long it can hold onto the precious asset.

This is of course in comparison to wifi. Right now, there are over 9 billion wifi enabled devices, a number possibly increasing by 50 billion by the end of the decade, while nearly 70% of smartphone data is carried over wifi networks. Perhaps even the telcos will support such a move to offer more spectrum for wifi. The telcos are battling against network strain, and more effective wifi could be a means to relieve some of this pressure.

Sometimes decisions are incredibly obvious, and this seems to be one of the cases.

“There is no shame in correcting course,” said Rosenworcel. “And I think it’s time to be ambitious and find a way forward that puts the 5.9 GHz band to fuller use.”