As service providers continue to march down their individual 5G paths, none has the luxury of doing so in a vacuum. Instead, a series of interrelated and interdependent network trends—namely network functions virtualization (NFV) and edge computing—are happening concurrently alongside 5G, each drawing significant attention in and of themselves. NFV is, of course, a core assumption of the new distributed architecture behind 5G, whereas edge computing opens a wealth of new latency-sensitive use cases for 5G, some of which (such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence) are buzzworthy in their own right.
A look at the challenges telecom service providers face isn’t complete without examining these three key technology areas, alone and together, so NETSCOUT teamed with the analysts at Heavy Reading, a trusted online community for security professionals, to survey providers on their plans, prospects, and potential pitfalls of 5G, NFV, and edge computing, including the challenges and benefits of monitoring and service assurance in this emerging environment. The results indicate service providers are keenly aware that service optimization and assurance are critical to providing the customer experience that users of these new services will demand.
Here’s a sampling of what service providers are thinking as their networks evolve to 5G:
- Supporting demanding applications such as enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive machine-type communications (mMTC), and ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC) was the single-biggest technical challenge for the launch of 5G according to survey respondents, with 21 percent citing this issue, followed by delivering guaranteed latency for mission-critical applications (18 percent). These next-gen applications will need end-to-end visibility to monitor and enforce accompanying service-level agreements (SLAs). Implementation of network slicing (15 percent), and network optimization (15 percent) were the next-biggest technical challenges cited, speaking to service providers’ perceived challenges with virtualized infrastructure and orchestration.
- Performance monitoring will be equally critical in the new mobile core, say 49 percent of respondents, followed by radio access network (RAN), cited by 48 percent.
- Among network monitoring capabilities, service providers identified unified performance management as their most-needed capability. In an increasingly hybrid world of 3G/4G/5G physical, traditional, NFV, and cloud infrastructure, holistic monitoring solutions are critical. Respondents again cited network slice monitoring as a top challenge for assuring that virtual resources spun up for specific services, applications, and customers are meeting promised SLAs.
- The top priorities cited for 5G service assurance automation were quality of service (34 percent) and performance management (33 percent), again showing how critical maintaining SLAs and ensuring the good customer experience will be to the success of 5G. Akin to this, service providers labelled ultra-low latency as far and away the toughest 5G feature to assure.
- In terms of network slicing, configuration capability—allowing customers to adjust and modify the network functions as well as underlying resources within the network slice instance provided for them—was cited as the largest operational challenge (42 percent), followed closely by monitoring capability (36 percent). Having the visibility to proactively monitor the network slice to ensure it delivers the requisite performance, and to troubleshoot if things go wrong, will be key.
- When it comes to NFV, services providers saw the biggest challenges coming from service orchestration (34 percent) and service assurance (30 percent) across hybrid networks. Network operations and engineering teams must prioritize the resolution of these challenges with the rollout and ongoing operation of NFV deployments. At the same time, service providers recognize that the speed at which the network operates, and the low latency required for next-generation applications will require real-time analytics and automated root cause analysis, which they cited as the two most important aspects of NFV service assurance.
- And finally, on the network edge, video/augmented reality, smart cities, and connected cars remain the top emerging applications. Service providers expect edge computing to deliver the biggest benefits in terms of improved service performance, new services enablement, and network traffic optimization, while high CapEx and unclear ROI remain the single largest challenge presented by edge computing.
Visibility Without Borders
Service providers have spent years growing their tool sets to get visibility into the performance of their network and services. In this increasingly hybrid network world, however, those solutions, built for silos, won’t give network engineering and operations the tools they need to manage their 5G implementations successfully. As service providers look to deliver advanced services utilizing 5G, NFV, and edge computing, they’ll require a more holistic, end-to-end view that spans the multiple domains in which their services now live. NETSCOUT calls this visibility without borders, and it’s key to success throughout the 5G lifecycle.
Download the Heavy Reading Survey
John English is director of service provider marketing at NETSCOUT.