This paper has been authored in the context of the setup of 5G Network test labs for Telco Operators.
As telecom networks are moving from 4G to cloud-native 5G, OEM vendors are evolving their products / solutions from legacy to virtualized network functions (VNF).
Because the products are getting virtualized and delivered in agile mode, telco operators are challenged with quicker time-to-market of their products with utmost customer experience. Hence the need of setting up test labs arise to certify multi-vendor VNFs and devices before they are rolled-out in the production network.
Fig 1 – Agile delivery trends in evolving 5G technologies
The big question, however, revolves around getting the entire test cycle automated. The need of the hour for telco operators is to adopt / enhance a unified network test automation methodology / framework to reduce the lab certification cycle.
Since a telco operator has multiple RF bands to operate 5G network across multiple business segments, several test topologies are envisioned with combinations of Local Data Centre, Regional Data Centre, and National Data Centre deployment. A telco operator’s biggest challenge is to set up various combinations of Data Centres (NFVi) and test the solution. As the testing scope spans across devices and network applications, multiple test tools / simulators and a test environment need to be setup and maintained.
Hence, to address telco operator rollout vision, a single test partner who can set up and maintain various test environments by bringing in the required test tools, and develop an automation framework for faster field rollout, would add a lot of value.
Proposed Test Environment
Based on our prior experience working with multiple telcos, we envision three (3) test environments for a telco operator 5G test lab –
Fig 2 – Test environments to realize 5G services
NTI / PoC Testing
As part of the end-to-end solution, the telco operator’s preferred OEM vendors will bring their respective solutions and demonstrate them in the telco operator 5G test lab. The objective of this phase: OEM vendors will un-plug plenty of product defects and correct them, complying with telco operator requirements before they offer their product for acceptance in stable pre-deployment testing. This environment is usually unstable as multiple OEM vendors will be working in parallel to test and troubleshoot their solution.
In this phase, all components of the telco operator 5G network from multiple OEM vendors will be integrated and tested for end-to-end services and 3GPP standards compliance. The test environment is pre-configured per telco operator production configuration and hence is a stable environment. Typically, pre-deployment certification has the below-mentioned test phases, viz. onboarding, functional testing, performance testing, and services testing from lab entry to lab exit.
Fig 3 – Lab certification cycle
In every phase of pre-deployment testing, multiple test environments and tools need to be configured, complying with telco operator services.
Post pre-deployment certification, the 5G solution will be configured in the selected Field environment with Test SIMs and end-to-end services will be verified. This is performed in close coordination with the telco’s Operations team. Hence, the test environment is very stable and under the control of the Operations team.
The output of this phase is approval for mass rollout in a telco operator’s production network as General Availability.
Test coverage in 5G Test Labs
Telco operator 5G network consists of Telco Cloud, Virtual Network Functions from multiple vendors, Network applications, and End-user devices. As a green-field operator, a telco operator’s objective is to integrate all 5G network ecosystems and certify the end-to-end solution in a controlled test lab environment before field deployment to:
Fig 5 – 5G ecosystem appliances
The various test phases and lab activities covered in 5G test labs are listed below:-
Network certification will integrate all the OEM vendors’ solutions, NFVi infrastructure, OSS/Orchestrator, and Network Applications. Since 5G is cloud-native and all network functions are VNF based, Wipro proposes the below test lifecycle for network certification:
Fig 6 – Phases of network lifecycle certification
Fig 7 - Test tools for network certification
Fig 8 : Connectivity view of Unified Network Test Automation framework
Device certification will cover all ODM vendor products (telco operator chosen/preferred 5G device vendors) certification from a Compliance, Functionality, and Interoperability perspective.
Fig 11 : Test coverage for device certification
Fig 12 : Test tools for device certification
Since the 5G network involves multiple combinations of cloud-native virtual network functions coupled with multiple deployment options and agile services delivery, telco operators will need a test partner who can set up these test lab combinations with ready-to-use automated test solutions, to ensure shorter lab certification cycles and remain competitive in the market.
In the days to come, telco operators will look for more innovative and commercially viable lab certification models like the l ab-as-a-service model.
Domain Consultant – Communications Business Unit.
He has over 20 years of telecom network testing experience. Ramesh also has working experience with multiple OEM vendors and telco customers ranging from lab integration to field acceptance. He has worked in wireless (2G, 3G, LTE, VoLTE, NFV) and wireline technology products / solutions. His core strength is in setting up test labs and performing functional acceptance testing.