5G Test Strategies

By: C P Manoharan, Spirent Communications

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5G, SD-WAN and cloud is the building blocks of telecom’s future and they demand new test infrastructure, labs and expert processes. Most importantly – they demand a new mind-set. Use case like: autonomous vehicle communications, industrial IoT, tele-health, augmented reality and beyond, brings intensive performance requirements against a backdrop of multi-layered domains of hybrid network complexity. Delivering on the promise of these new use cases with limited investment and expertise requires new levels of automation and a shift to continuous integration / continuous development (CI/CD).

Overcoming complexity with innovation:

Applications and underlying infrastructure have become phenomenally complex, making it difficult for telecom service providers and vendors to collaborate on new innovations. To address this complexity, the network should be segmented into domains with well-defined interfaces. Innovation pipelines may then be established for each domain, allowing domains to evolve independently. To accelerate innovation in each domain, pipelines should follow CI/CD best practices with continuous testing as a key enabler. Highly automated testing is enabling rapid validation and problem isolation as new functions and infrastructure are developed and then deployed into production environments.

Consolidating and automating physical labs with Lab as a Service (LaaS)

A LaaS approach pools physical and virtual resources across worldwide labs, so they function as one lab. LaaS manages and tracks utilization of all lab resources, so they can be rapidly reconfigured, test beds can be spun up and down on-demand and complex validation test suites can be fully automated. LaaS solutions enable zero-touch provisioning by connecting all physical, virtual and hybrid infrastructure and test equipment with programmable Layer-1 switches. Web interfaces deliver a “single pane of glass” where resources located in different global regions are discovered and made accessible to users worldwide and test beds can be designed and provisioned.

Because the continuous delivery process typically involves multiple suppliers and multiple internal teams the lab environment must enable state-of-the-art collaboration across all of these groups. LaaS should give each group access to the same automated test environment, so they can perform consistent validation as part of a larger innovation pipeline. LaaS must also integrate seamlessly with in-house or third-party automation tools to maximize use of all resources across the existing innovation pipeline.

Streamline collaboration between Service Provider and Network Vendors teams – adopt agile CI/CD practices with Test as a Service (TaaS)

Transforming telecom innovation may start with the lab, but it extends far beyond to network validation test cases, workflows and cross-team collaboration. Testing of previous generations of network equipment used to be much simpler because it focused on validation of well-defined physical network elements. With the 5G Core and its cloud native architecture, these monolithic network elements are superseded by individual CNFs (cloud native network functions) that may be deployed in traditional centralized locations or closer to the network edge to enhance performance. Likewise, SD-WAN introduces multiple layers to the network with CNFs distributed across the end-to-end network, from the core to customer premises.

This new reality requires that individual CNFs are validated both in isolation and as part of an end-to-end cloud network. To enable rapid collaboration and development, CNF validation must be automated and seamlessly integrated into systems for tracking feature requests, creating new builds, and managing the status of testing and bug fixes. This automated and integrated approach to validation, often referred to as Continuous Testing (CT), is a critical element of CI/CD, a best practice for accelerating cloud software releases.

Adopting CI/CD requires new capabilities; it includes, implementing a CI/CD environment for multiple vendors with a constant stream of releases , integrating automated CNF isolation and end-to-end validation tests into the CI/CD environment, emulating the network to perform realistic validation including interoperability testing of vendor CNFs  and validating both performance and security for network functions and cloud infrastructure.

The new approach: As networks have undergone a major architectural shift, we must now transform our telecom innovation pipelines – the way we design, develop and deploy new network-based products and services. We need to build a new approach and getting there requires a fundamental rethinking of the traditional approach to network labs, validation and deployment. As part of this, service providers and network vendors must take a hard look at what they can do themselves and when expert help is required.