5G is a topic that has been and is being discussed a lot in different contexts. However, it is no longer just an interesting upcoming opportunity but a technology that has become reality.
While specific advanced 5G use cases including self-driving vehicles and remote surgeries are still in horizon, the first use cases focusing on very high-capacity broadband services have already been commercialized by over 150 service providers (GSA, June 2021). For these enhanced mobile broadband services – whether fixed or mobile – latency, jitter and packet loss or the availability are in practice not very different from the current 4G mobile broadband services. Still with 5G services, the service providers are not able to give any guarantees even for the bandwidth. When technologies related to the use cases in horizon are mature and thoroughly validated it sets new demands for the mobile transport network, which must ensure even 1ms low latency and practically no downtime.
For these use cases and services the network and infrastructure quality, performance and reliability play crucial roles and either make or break the success of the services. Therefore, service providers must have means to monitor this with adequate accuracy and guarantees. Failing to meet the commitments is a huge risk for the business in terms of losing customers and reputation. On the contrary – excelling with quality is a great business booster.
As a service provider, are you confident you can start delivering 5G services? When choosing the network performance monitoring solution right already with 3G and 4G services it is possible to just extend and evolve the same system to the 5G era – keeping the investments optimal and business continuity and processes unchanged.
Active or passive monitoring?
Network and service performance can be monitored passively or actively. Active monitoring, where test traffic is generated to mimic the actual traffic, provides the most versatile benefits for the service provider not only during continuous network performance monitoring but also in troubleshooting process, prior to service activation and network optimization. Passive monitoring, however, can complement the active monitoring as it provides insights of the actual traffic. To find the optimum the active monitoring together with passive monitoring capabilities should be the objective.
Network performance measurement and monitoring capabilities, active and passive, are typically part of the transport network elements to some extent. The challenge with this is that the solutions are vendor specific and the monitoring capabilities are often ‘just basic features’ on top of core product functionalities with no good evolution path. A separate solution, dedicated to network performance monitoring are likely to offer a better, strategic alternative catering long term business needs.
Key requirements for 5G network performance monitoring
Most service providers have their 3G and 4G network and services already deployed and the next step is to launch 5G. Network performance monitoring is naturally important for all mobile services but move to 5G brings some new requirements. The key question is how do I make sure I have the needed visibility to the 5G network as well? What are the required investments in order to achieve this? And how does it impact our operations and processes?
Our view is that service providers can and should evolve the mobile network performance monitoring from the current 3G and 4G technologies to 5G, with no rip-and-replace exercises and major operational changes. In order to succeed through this evolution there are a couple of things to consider and demand from the network performance monitoring solution.
- Scalability to a growing number of connections once the mobile network becomes more dense
- Accuracy and granularity down to the micro-second level enabling to identify service degradations also for low-latency services
- Flexible deployment both as physical appliances and virtual probes providing ability to migrate to cloud
- Cost and licensing model which enables a good business case
Performance monitoring that simply evolves
Choosing a vendor agnostic, dedicated network performance monitoring solution already for 3G and 4G services allows changing vendor strategies flexibly while maintaining constant visibility to network state. When this solution meets also the capabilities listed above it easy to extend the solution to 5G, step by step following the typical 5G deployment phases.
In 3G and 4G network the main focus in mobile transport quality monitoring is the backhaul, which is the network between the mobile core and the base stations. Active measurements towards base stations can be done centrally from an element at the controller site (in the core) and these measurements are sent to the management system, which calculates and displays the results in real time. Number if measurements is typically thousands since each base station has one or more measurements depending on the QoS classes used.
The first 5G deployments often use the 4G network architecture so that new 5G base stations connect to the existing 4G controller sites. For performance monitoring this means only provisioning additional measurements towards the 5G base stations. Optimally this does not require additional equipment at the controller site.
In the second phase of 5G deployments, when 5G core gets deployed the performance monitoring system would be deployed to new sites, which are often cloud based. When the virtualized probes share the same technology and features with the physical ones it is possible to evolve the deployed solution towards cloud. Measurements towards the 5G base stations would make use of the same measurements but configured with more precise and tighter thresholds in terms of latency, jitter and packet loss so that even the low latency applications can be monitored at adequate level and potential issues are raised before they become service impacting.
In the end, the same performance monitoring system would support the network evolution to 5G so that the entire mobile transport quality can be monitored accurately, cost-effectively and using the same operational processes. Configurations, monitoring and reporting are done via a single, centralized management tool – whether it is ad-hoc testing e.g. in service activation or troubleshooting phase or continuous monitoring. All investments can be done gradually, on a need basis leveraging the installed base.
Augmenting testing to user experience and applications
Performance and quality monitoring at network level, which is the layer common for all services, is the most fundamental for service providers. The key metrics to be measured and monitored are latency, jitter, packet loss and throughput. While these Key Performance Indicators (KPI) provide good insights on the network quality, there are still possible problems related to infrastructure and application performance that it cannot discover which are still visible for the end-users.
Therefore, it may be a good decision to extend the continuous measurements from network level to infrastructure and user experience monitoring. These measurements provide information to service provider on how usable the services are for the end-users and whether service and application infrastructure is working with adequate response times. In the most optimal case, the same performance monitoring solution can also support these. With a comprehensive set of measurements together with calculated and correlated results the service provider can stay confident as they can rely on accurate data of the network state that helps to localize issues and act on even proactively.
The most demanding 5G low-latency applications drive the need to increase performance and minimize the transmission delay. This is addressed with edge computing, which decentralizes the application processing towards the access network and moves applications closer to the user. User experience monitoring becomes even more important in this scenario as you want to measure how those low-latency user applications truly perform towards the edge and if there is need to do some network optimization.
System which takes you to 5G in confidence
Visibility to mobile network performance quality is important already in 3G and 4G services. Launch of 5G sets even stricter requirements for the network performance and service providers need to be prepared for securing the needed visibility to the 5G services as well.
When choosing the right technology and solution for the mobile transport network monitoring service providers can rely on having a reliable information of their 3G and 4G network state and launch the 5G with confidence using the same performance monitoring solution.
Creanord designs and delivers performance management solutions, which are used globally by more than 50 service provider networks. Creanord effectively combines both active and passive monitoring into a unique solution that is easy and cost-effective to deploy to any mobile transport network. Superior measurement accuracy and scalability with excellent reporting capabilities makes in inherently optimal and seamless to extend to 5G networks. With a broad suite of measurements from network to application-level service providers can ensure the quality of all 5G applications including the one requiring ultra-low latency. This is exactly the path many Creanord customers have taken.