By John English and Elizabeth Chamberlain
5G is on its way. In fact, it may already have arrived in your network with lab testing, early field trials, or initial rollout in locations such as the United States, Asia, or Europe. But do you have the tools for providing visibility to 5G, interoperation and lab testing, and monitoring and troubleshooting? For network operations and engineering personnel tasked with its operation, 5G will be unlike any previous network. It brings new radios with millimeter wave transmission, cloud radio access network (C-RAN), control-plane messaging running over 4G and user plane running over 5G, the expected introduction of containers for mobile edge computing and network slicing, orchestration/automation, and a plethora of new IoT devices and services.
For communications service providers (CSPs) to successfully roll out this next-generation mobile network, they must have complete visibility to the new infrastructure. Baking that visibility into your 5G plans now will avoid problems down the road for engineering and operations teams charged with monitoring, running analytics, and ensuring network security.
Defining the 5G Service Assurance Experience
Given that many 5G deployments will be in higher bands, 5G radios are expected to be massive multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) systems, offering multiple streams using multiple antennas directed to many devices. It will be like having 128 ears to listen to the mobile communications. To better plan and design for this new 5G network experience, mobile operators will need new geospatial propagation modeling tools to help determine how to most efficiently and cost-effectively deploy (micro) cells.
5G uses beamforming to focus the signal to the intended recipient while minimizing noise. Key benefits of this technology are improved coverage for cell edge users and reduction of overall interference. The RAN operation team will need radio frequency monitoring tools to ensure that the cells are delivering expected latency, bandwidth, and connectivity for individual subscribers and devices, as well as to continually optimize the cells as traffic patterns and topology change.
Another key 5G ingredient is network slicing—the logical partition of a network utilizing virtual resources that enables a service provider to provision a “network” with specific attributes (such as ultra-low latency and/or ultra-high bandwidth, or high density of devices) that can better serve a specific application, customer, or class of IoT devices and services. The ability to see and monitor these virtual network slices to assure quality of service will be indispensable for network operations teams.
In 5G networks, virtual resources such as containers that serve microservices at the edge will need to be dynamically spun up or down as needed. To respond in real time to rapidly changing traffic and device density with on-demand virtual infrastructure, mobile operators must employ orchestration. And to achieve this level of automation, the orchestrator will need real-time smart data—data that is prepared and organized at the collection point so it is ready and optimized for analytics at the highest quality and speed—to inform it.
Finally, to leverage the 5G network, mobile operators will want to monetize these new virtual network resources by providing service level guarantees for an application or class of devices and will want to take advantage of analytics to conceive new revenue-generating services. To do that, they will need 24x7 visibility and reporting to assure and validate delivery with the customer.
5G Phased Approach
For some mobile operators, the 5G network will be implemented in two phases. The first phase, called non-standalone (NSA), leverages the existing 4G network, primarily for control-plane traffic, and the new 5G network, primarily for user-plane traffic. The second phase, or standalone (SA), is a completely new 5G network that handles both control-plane and user-plane traffic. Some mobile operators are going directly to 5G SA and bypassing the interim phase.
The NSA initiative (3GPP R15) offers three different implementations—options 3, 3A, and 3X) that all leverage the existing 4G LTE network. Called CUPS (control and user plane separation), these Option 3 variations represent new modes of communication flows, integrating two mobile network generations that must be stitched together for monitoring and troubleshooting mobile sessions. Performance-monitoring solutions must support all the new 5G protocols in addition to those in 4G LTE.
5G Non-Standalone (NSA)
5G Standalone (SA)
For both NSA and SA versions of 5G, there will be new virtual infrastructure to manage in addition to the new network elements, protocols, and session flows. Furthermore, managing the transition from 5G NSA to 5G SA will be tricky for those mobile operators who deploy the interim phase, because the SA version will take over all the control communications that were handled by the 4G network in the NSA phase.
5G offers more speed and new technologies that compel CSPs to seek fast and accurate solutions for delivering critical visibility and actionable insights into network scalability, reliability, latency, and troubleshooting for automated decisions.
For 5G deployments, NETSCOUT’s carrier-grade monitoring solution, designed for the cloud, provides end-to-end visibility for any cloud, any network, and any workload—including cloud, virtual RAN, virtual core, and edge computing—throughout the 5G life cycle.
John English is director of service provider marketing and Elizabeth Chamberlain is a principal knowledge engineer at NETSCOUT.