One of the biggest conversations around service assurance for 5G has been that it will need to be built into the systems early in the deployment process — and Spirent Communications says that it actually sees that happening.

The company recently announced a 5G service assurance win with an unnamed, Tier 1 U.S. mobile network operator. Spirent’s VisionWorks “active service assurance” solution will be deployed, initially for end-to-end performance assurance across the operator’s Nonstandalone 5G network in more than two dozen markets. From there, Spirent said, there are plans for it to “expand to hundreds more over time and to support the roll out of Standalone 5G beginning next year.” In an interview at Mobile World Congress Los Angeles, Stephen Douglas, Spirent’s head of 5G strategy, discussed the implications of the 5G service assurance contract.

“The big, real difference is, rather than bringing service assurance in at a later state, as the networks start to get slightly more rolled out, they’re engaging with service assurance at this very, very early stage to help them as they start turning up the new cell sites in their new markets, and then to continuously monitor for quality and performance of the networks as they roll out,” Douglas said.

“The big change for them was this realization that traditional service assurance methods, such as using passive probes and pure telemetry monitoring, was not actually going to give them the visibility that they require now with this new dynamic, hybrid network that they’ve got,” he said. Spirent has been working on what it calls “active service assurance” — software test agents, deployed end-to-end across the networks, that generate synthetic traffic to proactively identify issues before they impact actual customers.

In addition to the expected growth as the carrier expands its 5G NSA deployments, Douglas noted, there’s also a coming migration to standalone 5G as carriers move to the next stage of the generational transition from 4G to 5G and pursue new markets such as industrial markets.

Speaking of new verticals leveraging 5G, Douglas also discussed Spirent’s role in supporting 5G testing in an automotive context. At Mobile World Congress Barcelona earlier this year, Spirent touted its 5G “digital twin” solution, which Douglas described as a “network in a box for 5G” that emulates all parts of a 5G network, from the radio to core. That solution is being leveraged by the Midlands Future Mobility (MFM) initiative of the University of Warwick’s Warwick Manufacturing Group, in what Spirent says is the “first emulated 5G standalone core network dedicated to researching next-gen mobile use cases, including connected automated mobility, in almost unlimited testing scenarios.” MFM is designed to be both a digital and real-world ecosystem for test environments, including both emulated and physical test environments that includes 480 kilometers of public roads as well.

“We’re helping them bring 5G into their testbed environments to allow the auto manufacturers to bring their vehicles in there and test them in a controlled environment with the full 5G network, including the standalone core,” Douglas said, added that the test environment is aimed at helping “test things like network slicing, new, differentiated services, but also disaggregation of functions out at to network edge, which is going to be critical for the automotive industry.”

He described the testbed environment as a 360-degree, simulated environment with the car on the equivalent of a treadmill, where conditions such as pedestrian encounters, dusk and nightfall can be run. The vehicle systems react as though they are in the actual environment — and with Spirent’s 5G digital twin emulation added, the radio environment can be tested as well, including 5G and satellite.

“We can manipulate it in any way we want, to run all the what-if scenarios,” Douglas said.

“The desire for the auto industry is that will hopefully accelerate a lot of the testing and the prototyping they need to do  and reduce at least some of the mileage that they physically have to do on test track or real, live roads,” he said. In addition, “one of the headaches they’ve had at the moment is getting access to experimental licenses for spectrum. They might only get them for a few months at at time , but that doesn’t really  justify the effort that they need to put in. So having a an environment which replicates or emulates that for them, long-term, and is under their control, is very beneficial.”

Watch the full interview with Douglas below, in which he also gives key takeaways from a panel discussion on power issues in 5G.


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