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How is 5G technology transforming the typical wireless testing industry and will this market create new opportunities in the next 5 years?
The evolution of wireless technology has changed the way people communicate with each other. With the ease of access and availability, enhanced efficiency, cost-effectiveness, it is preferred by a huge population across the globe.
No worrying about sitting around one place to get the mobile network signal, achieving the freedom to roam around freely, and still stay connected with the wireless Internet connection. Moreover, today’s tech-savvy generation is becoming dependent on this technology to share information and conduct the work process easier to improve their productivity.
With more and more people embracing digital means to connect with their people, the demand for wireless technology is increasing. Telecom operators understand this need and are utilizing this space to develop new standards in Wireless Technology, the recent being the fifth-generation cellular network technology i.e. 5G.
However, it involves extensive wireless testing before the technology becomes feasible and scalable. As per the Global Forecast to 2024 report, the wireless testing market is projected to grow from USD 10.4Million in 2019 to USD 14.4 Million by the year 2024 at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 6.7% in the entire forecasting period.
Key components of wireless testing to meet 5G test demands
5G evolution has certainly evoked the need for wireless testing.
Here are some of the crucial elements to be considered while performing 5G mobile network performance testing:
- Real-life User Experience and App emulation: Though 5G testing needs will vary depending on the industry, some of the common factors comprise early defect detection, testing capabilities on multiple functions, speed in development, and updating test systems with consistent delivery of traceable and repeatable results at each iteration. It’s important to validate end-to-end RAN and Core data points with the emulation of UEs, traffic modeling and dynamic subscribers.
- Using existing 4G architecture to validate 5G connections: To provide high-speed connectivity to its users, telecom operators need to address crucial validation requirements for 5G as they utilize the current 4G network-based architecture and use cases.
- Introducing new technologies with 5G: Testing 5G Core (5GC) is highly critical to measure the Quality of Experience (QoE). New protocols, network slicing, service-based architecture, virtualizations are some of the innovations that have emerged in the wake of the new mobile network technology.
Challenges involved in wireless testing for 5G
- Transferring cells to a beam-centric network is a complex task that entails huge Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) transmissions and 3D beamforming digital technologies that can augment throughput/speed, capacity, and expand user coverage.
- Internal/external classification of 3D geolocation is critical to identify the mobile network hotspots and augment the accuracy level for network planning and optimization for telecom operators.
- Massive MIMO and beamforming require advanced antenna array including tens or even hundreds of RX/TX antenna elements.
- End-to-End use case verification for a specific industry. For instance, oil and gas companies have a huge interest in Industrial IoT (IIoT) which comes with complex requirements like massive IoT applications, ultra-reliable low latency. Huge diversification of devices in such enterprises comprise of sensors, robotic controls, untethered AR/VR, automated guided vehicles that produce different kinds of throughput, density, latency, etc and should be checked through 5G wireless testing.
- Large deployments of 5G with network densification will lead to the urgency of automation of procedures including data collection, processing, and analysis.
- In order to support the ever-increasing end-user data rate and the capacity of the system to deliver high throughputs in Gbps, compact over-the-air testing solutions for base stations and schemes of higher-order modulation are crucial. This will help in providing consumers with Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) applications such as HD video streaming and implementation of Massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC) in smart cities.
Building a test strategy to accomplish 5G wireless testing initiatives
Telcos need to have a test strategy that can help them simplify the complexity of such a long overhaul of 5G wireless testing process for faster 5G deliveries:
- Use-case based testing: Enabling various testing solutions as per the use case i.e. employing strategies based on a particular application for any industry vertical. For example, functionality verification and performance assessment of C-V2X (Vehicle-to-Everything) devices, using wireless simulation tools to test complex automotive scenarios based on compatibility of 5G devices in a lab environment.
- Automation of testing: It helps in handling the dynamic behavior of each segment of the network and tracks every action with its analytics capability. For e.g. In network slicing, an important use case of 5G, slices are changing constantly as per its usage and requisites and can be easily used, created, and deleted. This can only be possible with the automation and can understand the alterations faster than human. Also, network slicing guarantees customers a certain level of QoE, automation tools would be required to perform soak test to validate QoE that is assured by sliced 5G network to end-user. Such analytics and machine learning-driven automation can upgrade 5G system testing with shorten the time taken for deployment.
- Implementation of 5G device testing solutions: Telecom companies need to have a set of strategized solutions to perform rigorous 5G wireless testing. Some of the specialized testing solutions include – functional testing, field testing, user acceptance testing, performance testing, and many more. 5G drive test tools are put into action for undertaking the drive testing process. Case in point – A load generator with multiple 5G devices cascaded to act as a single load generator creates data traffic on 5G nodes to evaluate its performance.
- Need to optimize legacy testing structure: 3G/4G based testing frameworks can be further leveraged to conduct 5G testing that is already inbuilt with inter-RAT (Radio Access Technologies) and Inter System Handover testing scenarios. Enhancement in the current logging and debugging mechanism can accelerate the bug resolution activity during the testing of System Under Test (SUT). A unified mechanism across all test tools for e.g. load, functional, performance, RF tools will overall improve end-to-end (E2E) debugging for both i.e. mobile network simulation (virtual mode) and mobile network testing in a real environment.
Recent developments in 5G by top telecom operators
As 5G is experiencing a surge in demand on a daily basis, so is the increase in requests for wireless testing. It is important for the MNOs to upgrade their traditional testing methods and come up with new faster and efficient testing techniques. The impact of 5G is not just limited to the telecom industry but has various use cases across a plethora of industry verticals. No doubt, in the near future, most of the devices in every home, machines in factories, robots, cars, medical equipment will be connected through the one single network.
Leading telecom players are extending their capacity to build new-age 5G networking capabilities, improving the 5G mobile network capacity:
- ‘5G Security Architecture’ is the recent technological development that enables Secure Network Transformation. Cisco combined Artificial Intelligence (AI) and deep learning to build such a network, orchestrating physical and digital resources with equal proficiencies resulting in optimized network efficiencies.
- AT&T claims to be the pilot company to provide 5G services in the US. To accomplish this, they installed gigabit 5G connections in three US cities namely Waco (TX), Kalamazoo (MI), and South Bend (IN). Recently, it collaborated with Cradlepoint, a global leader in cloud-based wireless edge solutions for ease in the facilitation of Wide Area Network (WAN) solutions to the organizations.
- Russian company ‘Mobile TeleSystems (MTS)’ joined hands with Ericsson to build a modern mobile network infrastructure for 5G. Agreed on the terms to provide MTS with its Radio System products and solutions to thousands of sites in MTS’ footprint, this will be an ongoing project till 2026.
All the above-mentioned factors set to grow significant demand for testing in the wireless industry for the next five years (2020-2025) across the globe. The rise in the demand for mobile networking technologies like 5G will lead to new opportunities for businesses. Though moving from one generation to another i.e. 4G to 5G is a herculean task, new innovative ways of mobile network testing can pave the way towards testing and validating the mobile network in a seamless manner. Moreover, many businesses and skilled people involved in this testing space can expect new opportunities as 5G deployments will continue to grow, increasing the mobile network data traffic in the upcoming years.