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Accelerating 5G with Service Assurance

By: Steve Douglas

Any operator moving at breakneck speeds toward complex 5G rollouts will be the first to tell you this is not your father’s “G.” Previous generation network rollouts followed a familiar pattern, delivering notable incremental benefits aimed squarely at better user experiences. The rollout strategies remained relatively uniform from one generation to the next. 2G to 3G introduced us to competent mobile browsing and functional apps. 3G to 4G brought us ubiquitous media streaming and immersive social media experiences. A common theme that accompanied each generation’s introduction was that the service offered was largely best effort. It wasn’t until a range of service issues started to crop up that operators would start to consider assurance technology to bring experiences back in line with expectations. 

Operators know that following this same strategy for 5G would be at their peril. These networks are just much too complicated, with too many touchpoints and surface areas, too many different devices trying to access them, and too many different customer types waiting in the wings to leverage their power. And so, for the first time, service assurance is making its debut not when problems arise but before they’ll ever have a chance to. 

Host of new market dynamics assuring the need for assurance

Baking service assurance into 5G networks from the start has actually proven to be an easy decision for operators. The reality is that there are so many drivers demanding it that operators hardly have a choice. 

Let’s start with the network itself. 5G rollouts have been accompanied by pressure to move quickly. Yes, there’s cachet in being first, but a big part of it is that, because these networks will cost many hundreds of billions of dollars, there is eagerness to get to revenue quickly to begin recouping. With 5G still in its infancy, there are so many lessons yet to be learned. In many cases, this learning is happening on the fly. After all, they’re simply not jumping through the same process hoops required in previous generations. That means more risk, all but necessitating mechanisms to find and respond to issues as quickly as possible. 

Then there’s the complexity. The first phase of 5G is based on a hybrid approach, known as Non-Standalone, in which it co-exists with 4G. But legacy networks were not necessarily built to be force conjoined with their successors, which introduces complexity across the two network generations. Sure, previous generation transitions may have resulted in a shared backend core but signaling and processing would not have been split as they are in current scenarios. So now, operators must make sure the plate is always spinning on 5G because they can’t risk it falling and bringing 4G down with it. In this case, service assurance not only serves as a failsafe but also as a bridge to future evolution. With assurance in place, operators can add core networks and architecture to more safely migrate to 5G Standalone. 

Optics will surely play a role here, too. Consumers are generally happy with their 4G services as the most popular apps have been optimized to offer an ideal experience. With perhaps little exception, early consumer 5G adopters are not likely to see any major benefit at this moment when accessing the first 5G networks. Of course, the nightmare scenario is that they access 5G and actually see service degradation, an absolutely real possibility that has presented itself in our testing. We know that if word starts to get out that 5G can’t meet basic consumer needs, would-be lucrative enterprise customers may decide they will wait a bit to start dipping their toes in the water. This is not a risk that operators are willing to take, and they know service assurance is essentially their insurance policy in this regard. Finally, on the competitive front, Wi-Fi 6 is starting to develop some real mojo, requiring that 5G fire on all cylinders to differentiate the tech from the beginning. Once again, more features and capabilities deployed with little advance testing just means more potential points of failure that service assurance can guard against.



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