In the golden age of digitalization, today’s innovation is tomorrow’s obsoletion; such is the pace of technological evolution. 3G and 4G – once considered the pinnacle of progress in telecommunications – are being replaced quickly by their dynamic successor, 5G. And it will continue with 6G and beyond. The continuously evolving landscape of telecom networks is witnessing a radical shift marked by the global deployment of 5G networks. Communication service providers (CSPs), cable companies, and any organization must leverage the next-generation network optimally and rapidly to remain innovative in the AI economy and meet/exceed customer experience expectations.

A GlobalData report states that the 5G infrastructure market will be worth nearly $92 billion by 2030. Thus, organizations must focus on expeditiously testing the technology and launching 5G-led services to gain a winning edge. Yet, the complexity of 5G can decelerate the testing and deployment of networks. How can this be addressed? The answer lies in eliminating manual testing and adopting test automation.  

Challenges in Network Testing

Manual testing methods, which are time-consuming and error-prone, are only outpaced by the changing requirements of the intricate cloud-native 5G architecture. The lack of a multi-cloud environment, proficient continuous integration/continuous delivery/continuous testing (CI/CD/CT) pipeline, domain expertise, interoperability and skilled personnel compound the challenges associated with the 5G infrastructure. The high initial total cost of ownership (TCO) for establishing 5G networks and the growing dependence on open-source tools and platforms adds to the complications.

From IoT and augmented reality (AR) to healthcare and vehicular autonomy, advancements in 5G have empowered use cases across industries and verticals, and these include:

  • Ultra-reliable and low latency communications (URLLC) deliver lower latency, higher reliability, and better bandwidth capacity
  • Private 5G wireless networks provide secure 5G services for private use to entities such as third-party providers and private organizations (campus, factory, mine, etc.) or groups of enterprises
  • Network slicing refers to the division and allocation of a 5G network into multiple customized logical networks known as ‘slices.’ Each slice has its dedicated resources and capabilities
  • Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) is the upgradation of 4G facilities for mobile users with enhanced uplink and downlink capabilities
These sophisticated functionalities, however, give rise to another challenge: continuous maintenance and updates for improving security, user experience, regulatory guidelines, and other factors. Therefore, transitioning from manual testing methods to automation is integral for overcoming the challenges of cloud-native 5G technology. Not only can automation enhance the testing of 5G networks, but it can also ensure quicker deployability and adherence to quality and compliance standards.

Enabling Enterprises to Overcome Limitations

The awareness of test automation’s ability to revolutionize 5G network testing raises a pertinent question: How can it enable organizations to overcome limitations? The answer: By integrating agile development methodologies with zero-touch automation frameworks. This integration facilitates the adoption of CI/CD/CT in developing and deploying testing processes within the Telco networks.

From initial network integration to ongoing performance monitoring, test automation tools and frameworks can empower end-to-end testing. They can address and improve various aspects of testing, such as network stress tests, network function capability assessment, gauge performance post new software updates, and repetitive tests to identify and eliminate errors. Further, a comprehensive testing framework tailored to match real-world conditions can minimize the risk of service disruptions during network upgrades in live environments.

With a streamlined approach to testing, enterprises can do away with errors characteristic of manual testing, save time, and reduce costs. Integrating AI/ML algorithms and models into the testing process allows for error detection, ensuring precise results through log and trace analysis, testing security vulnerabilities, and generating new test cases. This prevents network outages, enhances reliability and KPIs, and adapts to evolving use cases.

Multiple test cases can also be customized for 5G network testing, from functionality to performance and integration. Testing automation is reliable, consistent, and scalable. Additionally, incorporating standardized test protocols and APIs within the automation process guarantees compatibility across various network equipment and vendors.

Taking the ‘Service Route’ for Better Testing

Automating the testing lifecycle addresses various technical and business aspects, particularly with a test automation-as-a-service (TAaaS) approach. For example, manual testing extends the length of the testing cycle, which affects the implementation of the network. Furthermore, the costs associated with the testing process limit the ROI of the tested network. But with a TAaaS system, the time-to-market of the services and use cases is accelerated along with the parallel test execution. In addition, a resilient automation framework expedites test case reporting, optimizes ROI, and creates future-ready networks. As mentioned above, eliminating manual intervention also reduces TCO and enables the reallocation of essential resources to other initiatives of strategic importance to businesses.

 Through the utilization of open-source tools and platforms, TAaaS aids in the delivery of end-to-end support while nurturing a testing ecosystem that is collaborative and vendor-agnostic. In the case of production 5G networks, 24/7 network evaluation, powered by test automation, can help CSPs proactively identify and resolve errors or issues, thereby reducing the possibility of disruptions. Not only is high network uptime guaranteed, but seamless customer experiences are delivered.  

An ideal TAaaS-led 5G test automation methodology must adhere to the points below: 

  1. Requirements analysis/inputs: Gathering testing requirements, defining integration points, and documenting use cases for validation
  2. Manual test cases and regression selection: Creating and executing comprehensive manual test cases, including regression scenarios
  3. Test topology readiness: Ensuring network topology configuration readiness for testing
  4. Manual test cases execution: Executing manual test cases, collecting logs, and validating checkpoints
  5. Automation test design and libraries: Designing low-level test cases for automation, organizing test cycles, and building reusable automation libraries
  6. Test automation scripts: Developing, reviewing, and verifying automated test scripts
  7. Integration into a customer test lab: Integrating automated scripts, executing tests, and validating integration
  8. Automated test orchestration: Migrating scripts to the orchestrator for centralized management and facilitating seamless test execution
  9. Automation scripts sign-off: Reviewing results, obtaining client validation, and securing approval for test scripts

Making 5G Prowess a Reality

According to The Mobile Economy 2023, around 30 new markets will roll out 5G mobile services globally in 2023, and the total number of 5G connections by the end of the year should exceed 1.5 billion worldwide. This figure puts into perspective the increasing deployment of 5G. Consequently, the need for comprehensive and efficient testing processes is profoundly crucial. Test automation will serve as the benchmark and new standard for exhaustive network testing in the era of 5G and beyond. Experienced test automation service providers – with their expertise and technological resources – will play a crucial role here. Partnerships with experienced test automation service providers and network-centric entities, such as CSPs and cable companies, can maximize deploying capacity. 

 With demonstrated acumen in successfully implementing test automation for various enterprises, including Tier-1 CSPs, Wipro can be a valuable TAaaS partner. Wipro can create customized TAaaS strategies and provide the leadership and support required for network activation and smooth functioning – from development to implementation and testing.  

About the Authors

Nayan Rawal
Senior Network Engineer, Domain & Consulting, Wipro Limited

Nayan is a seasoned telecom engineer skilled in design, deployment, testing, and 5G SA architecture on public clouds. He is proficient in zero-touch test automation and lab-to-production service transition, with a background in telecom vendors, CSPs, and MVNE.

Vignaraj Sanmugalingam 
Practice Lead/Partner, Domain Consulting, Wipro Limited

Vignaraj is an experienced Telecom executive with extensive experience in Program Management and Quality Assurance. He recently completed two courses – Strategies for Artificial Intelligence at MIT, Boston and Digital Transformation/5G at Imperial College, London.