Unlike previous 'G's, 5G is heavily focused on use-cases and applications for enterprise and public sector customers enabled by ‘guaranteed’ mobile connectivity and application performance. The business models for use cases such as connected cars, the more ambitious autonomous cars, remote health monitoring, and smart cities, hold great promise but are still being worked out and involve operators working with a range of third-parties to make them happen.
To guarantee the performance of new business-critical mobile services, mobile operators will be faced with a new responsibility, that of monitoring all layers of the networking stack, along with the application and service layers (Layers 4-7) way beyond the traditional perimeter of transport (Layers 1-3).
If operators are to bake, frost, and serve an outstanding 5G customer experience, they will need to bring performance assurance to both the network, and the application and service layers. This requires a new approach to service assurance, one that achieves granular visibility into all layers.
A recipe for success
There’s no doubt about it: networks are getting increasingly complex, and a big part of 5G is gaining efficiency in managing the huge network demand for mobile capacity. Operators are addressing this through simplification and automation of operations, standardization of hardware and software, and the proliferation of open systems to enable integration.
Managing this complexity is hard enough, and made all the more difficult due to mobile consumers’ increasing demands; a poor mobile experience is no longer tolerated as it once was for 3G. Indeed, today’s operators’ Net Promoter Scores (NPS) reveal some of this subscriber discontent, with an average score of 32 out of 100 awarded to telecoms service providers.
Mobile operators all offer basically the same phones, the same packages, the same speeds. What’s left to win over and keep customers? QoE and performance. While operators are working to improve the overall digital customer experience with better portals, self-care and more personalized packages, ultimately, customers expect direct access to their apps and services at any time, and at any place - and expect them to work well.
Getting performance assurance right is therefore a key part of operators’ journeys to 5G. Preparing now for 5G and new digital services means operators have to be able to provide end-to-end assurance for the networks they already own. Getting complete network and application visibility in place for 5G networks will build trust to open up the network to third-parties and their myriad and diverse applications, each with different network capability requirements and performance expectations.
Mixing up a cloud-native future
5G necessarily brings new spectrum, multi-access edge computing (MEC), software-defined networking (SDN), and virtualized network functions that will be hosted in cloud data centers and chained together to deliver new ‘services’ on demand.
5G-transformed networks will effectively become “mobile cloud platforms” that allow application and content providers to host their services and reach customers over a programmable mobile infrastructure.
This new cloud-native environment will see services and applications depend on the interplay and orchestration of dozens of micro services, which must be efficiently deployed and dispersed over ubiquitous locations, on-demand, through open APIs. All the while, the mobile cloud must maintain a cohesive, integrated compute experience offering the resilience and scalability of ‘traditional’ clouds.
In this cloud-native 5G world, it won’t be enough to simply look at network performance to identify traffic glitches. Services will be delivered much faster than today and operators will need to be able to dynamically manage provisioning, testing, monitoring and service assurance - per session, per application. Operators must elevate their thinking when it comes to performance assurance, looking beyond traditional network layers. That’s the only way they can bring assurance to all layers: network, application, and service.
Above and beyond human control
Managing this multi-layer, cloud-native environment is far beyond what humans can handle; we’re just too slow to understand and react appropriately to the dynamic network, application and service changes involved.
What will work to effectively manage this mobile cloud? Near real-time and granular visibility into and control over the full extent of the network (including its wireless and fibre backhaul components) and the services running on top. Lacking this visibility and control, service providers will struggle to create a tightly integrated layer of services and node connectivity, operated and managed efficiently to ensure the expected quality of experience .
Essentially, 5G networks must perform like a flawlessly conducted orchestra; a feat no human is capable of achieving with current monitoring solutions.
To overcome the limitations of human speed, we must give way to an age where customer-centric network performance can be realized through machine-based learning and automation. This is where ultra-fast orchestration comes in: reacting within microseconds to changes within the network. Artificial Intelligence supports this by self-learning from network KPIs to rapidly establish what constitutes “normal” or acceptable impairments, relative to issues that are affecting end-user applications. An AI-driven analytics layer can smartly correlate performance data from both the network and application layers to identify the real customer-impacting issues to fix first and drive network self-optimization loops.
A new nervous system
For the mobile cloud to properly succeed, an integrated, micro service-based nervous system will need to live within the network, providing sensory feedback needed to maintain performance and stability.
Ensuring every application can meet its required level of performance necessitates that visibility is extended to the performance of services and infrastructure traditionally outside the operator’s control. This can only be achieved with distributed, passive network and application performance monitoring run at the multi-access edge (MEC) and complemented by core network visibility. This allows operators to see service transactions occurring locally, in the cloud, and even on end user devices.
Ready for consumption: the 5G promise
If 5G is to deliver its promise of significantly better customer experience, operators must start paying closer attention to their network and service health. The complexity brought about by 5G means many operators are being challenged to come up with a new approach to network performance, service assurance and customer experience management.
But overcoming that challenge will enable operators to achieve peak performance in their ever-evolving, complex networks - starting now, and working towards future 5G. If operators want to have their cake, and eat it too, a new approach to network performance and service assurance is needed, and fast.