Quality Assurance in the 5G Era: Testing the Robustness of Network Infrastructure

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The rollout of 5G has become a hot topic of conversation, but what does it actually mean for our everyday life and the future of technology? Post 2020, we’ve seen how much we rely on the digital world to stay connected. As a result, our networks need to be fast, reliable and ready to take on the ever-increasing demand for tech – it’s estimated that by 2025, more than 2 billion devices will be connected. That’s where 5G comes in.

To ensure such growth is possible and successful, our 5G networks need to withstand the increase in traffic, and, as a result, the robustness, security, and resilience need to be tested frequently. Read on to understand the importance of quality assurance and its impact on our evolving networks infrastructure reliability.

Understanding the Role of Quality Assurance in 5G Networks

There’s no doubt that the potential of 5G and what it can do is exciting, but to make it work, quality assurance needs to be at the centre of any future strategy. But why is it so important?

Put into its simplest form, quality assurance means being proactive and looking for any errors or flaws, including any problems in the process, before they become an issue for customers. Differing from its predecessors, 3G or 4G, 5G will be unlike anything seen before, meaning entirely different testing is needed. One of the most crucial changes for quality assurance testers is adjusting to the 3GPP specification and its implications for their acceptance test strategy.

And, of course, the quality of any service or product keeps customers and clients returning to businesses. Whereas outages, security breaches, and similar can harm not only the reputation of businesses but also their profits. Zendesk found that after more than one bad experience, 80% of consumers would do business with a competitor instead. This solidifies the importance of quality assurance and its potential impact on business, but what tests should be run on a new 5G network before rolling it out to end users?

Key Testing Methodologies for 5G Network Components

When it comes to key testing methodologies, there are several potential options; however, three key areas should be considered: functional testing, performance testing and interoperability testing. Combined, these three methodologies allow for comprehensive coverage and accuracy.

Functional Testing

As the title suggests, this methodology focuses on validating functionality when it comes to different protocol layers while ensuring that they adhere to the standard specifications.

Performance Testing

Assess the network’s capability to handle high volumes and data traffic. In addition to this, performance testing analyses latency and throughput, doing so through packet loss while also identifying any potential bottlenecks or possible performance issues that would cause frustration or disruption to end users.

Security Testing for 5G networks

As we previously mentioned, it’s predicted that there will be a sharp increase in the sheer number of devices connected, including IoT devices in our homes, meaning security is crucial. Security testing for 5G networks should not be underestimated. To ensure a safe and reliable network, multiple tests should be considered, including:

  • Security Compliance Testing (CST)
  • Basic Vulnerability Assessment (VA)
  • Enhanced Security Assessment and Penetration Testing (PT)
  • Incorporating Public Key Information (PKI) security

Combined, these give a broad scope of testing, adding an extra level of security. These, alongside working with machine learning and AI (more on that later), can work to spot and stop threats before they become an issue.

A person's hand about to press a glowing shield with a lock on it, alluding to security

Interoperability Testing in the 5G era

This testing is all about understanding compatibility, including networks, devices and applications from various vendors, which will be needed to cement seamless communication and eradicate interoperability issues. Keep reading for a more thorough look at the role interoperability plays.

Tools and Techniques for Comprehensive Quality Assurance

Several tools and techniques can be employed to ensure top quality assurance in telecommunications, combining automation with human knowledge and preventing cyber-attacks before they can penetrate the network and cause chaos.

Network Simulation Tools

Network Simulation Tools can be a great way to understand how a network performs and any issues that may arise before giving access to end-users.

There are many network simulation tools that allow a range of areas to be modelled, including: NS-2, NS-3, Optimized Network Engineering Tool (OPNET), QualNet and OMNet++. Each has its merits and should be considered based on what is needed and available.

Automated Testing Frameworks

Due to its complexity, using automated testing frameworks for 5G has been noted as crucial to the testing process. As it says in the name, the process is automated, which reduces the likelihood of human errors and, as a result, improves efficiency overall. Some benefits of automated testing include increased speed and efficiency, more exhaustive tests and comprehensive coverage, consistency, repeatability, and cost reduction.

Open-Source Tools for Stress and Load Testing

A key part of 5G network testing is stress and load testing. To help with this, open-source tools such as J-Meter and seagull can be helpful. There are also free and trial versions of SOAP UI and Postman that may benefit testing.

Combined, these tools and techniques can aid in comprehensive quality assurance in telecommunications, which, as a result, furthers the success of 5G networks.

Performance Validation in 5G Network Systems

One of the key areas that need to be considered regarding the expansion of 5G is the performance of base stations and antennas to ensure that they are up to the task. Both base stations and Remote Radio Units (RRU) are becoming more integrated regarding antenna and radio solutions. To make the most of 5G, there are several test challenges that both base stations and antennas will need to overcome; OTA testing helps unlock the power of 5G and should be explored in this context.

Optimal performance for different network services

Alongside the growth of the 5G network is the increase in IoT technology too, as the market is expected to grow from $13.9 billion to $59.7 billion by 2028. As one goes hand in hand with the other, testing how 5G works on multiple networks and making interoperability key is crucial.

A colourful PCB board in pink and purple colours with 5G illuminated on it in blue

Ensuring Security, Mitigating Risk and Ensuring Resilience in 5G Networks

Due to its increased capabilities, 5G will mean more devices than ever can connect, which, in turn, means more data being shared across the network. While this is a positive in terms of people staying connected, it also comes with its security concerns as the potential for cyber-attacks increases, something that cybercriminals will be aware of. As all businesses know, cyber-attacks can have a devastating impact, including, but not limited to, loss of revenue and customer trust.

One way your 5G network can add an extra layer of security is by using AI and Machine Learning to help identify potential threats in real time by analysing behaviour and identifying patterns. This works, for example, with an AI algorithm recognising a potential security breach when an unusually large volume of data is being transmitted. Once the issue is flagged, it can be appropriately dealt with, hopefully, a cyber-attack will be stopped before it has a chance to start reducing the reliability and the resilience of the network itself.

Interoperability Testing for Seamless Connectivity

We previously mentioned the importance of interoperability testing as a critical methodology regarding protocol testing; however, its significance in the role of a prosperous 5G network cannot be understated. End users expect a seamless experience and have little time for disruption or potential excuses, they want to be connected, and they want to be connected now.

While we can assume that many of the larger interoperable interfaces will be compatible with 5G, it’s important not to forget that interfaces from smaller suppliers and the need for multi-vendor deployments need to be tested too. Together these changes can assist in building more robust, cost-effective networks while also increasing the likelihood of further innovation and collaboration – not something that anyone wants to miss out on.

It also goes without saying that most end users will expect a certain level of compatibility, which is why both compatibility and existing networks should be thoroughly tested and prepared for seamless connectivity.

Alt description: A number of circles with a 5G symbol in the middle on a dark background

Delivering Seamless 5G Experience to End-Users

It’s estimated that by 2027, 75% of the population will be covered by 5G, meaning that end-users will expect a smooth and seamless network that they can rely on. This is possible through early adoption, rigorous testing of the network and allowing innovation to blossom as 5G grows.

By providing reliable and low-latency connections, user experiences will be enhanced, and happy customers are more likely to stay with a business; in fact, Brain and Company found that increasing customer retention rates by just 5% can increase profits by between 25% and 95%.

With these kinds of figures in mind, the importance of thorough quality assurance cannot be questioned.

Quality Assurance, 5G and the Future

It’s important to understand that quality assurance for the 5G era is an ongoing and crucial task. While the tips, tricks and methodologies mentioned are important, their real promise comes when they are actioned together to create a robust 5G network that can and will live up to the task ahead.

As the 5G era quickly expands, those within the industry must act fast and invest in the tools needed to provide quality assurance processes so that end users and customers experience a seamless and efficient deployment of the 5G network with as little disruption as possible. The businesses that do so at this stage will set themselves apart from competitors, giving them a firm footing in the world of 5G and beyond.

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