From outside the telecoms industry, it’s sometimes hard to appreciate the sheer size of the 5G rollout. Due to the higher frequency spectrum used by these newer networks, the number of cell sites must expand considerably to deliver the coverage and capacity needed to meet growing consumer demand. For a market like the US, this will likely equate to tens of thousands of sites and hundreds of billions of dollars in investment. Alongside the planning, building, or upgrading of physical sites, there will be tens of thousands of hours spent on test and assurance. Considering the types of newer 5G use cases requiring an “always on” connection, poor connectivity or blackspots can become a major issue for both operators and expectant customers.
Hitting the road
Test and assurance for 5G has many elements that span all parts of the industry - from handset and mobile device manufacturers all the way through to engineering teams building out networks. One of the most time intensive areas within the test and assurance process is vehicular (drive) testing. This testing method is used for initial service launch assessments of new network features and recurring benchmarking efforts to assure Quality of Experience (QoE) performance metrics are met.
Drive testing as a concept has been around since the first cellular networks of the 1980’s and, in many ways, the process has remained basically the same. In essence, a two-person team in a vehicle capture connectivity and performance data from the network using a mobile device. This data is then collated and analyzed to provide service assurance and highlight any issues that need to be addressed.
Drive testing has traditionally required a reasonably skilled technician along with a driver and a whole lot of time. To be honest, most engineers would rather not do drive testing compared to more interesting tasks. It is also not a great use of an in-house engineer’s time. As a result, over the last few years, several major operators and device manufacturers have enlisted the help of specialists such as Spirent for advanced tools or engineering services.
Most would agree that test and assurance is vital but time consuming. Yet across the world, operators are in a bit of a race to launch 5G. The first to market advantage is clear and as a result, any innovations that can streamline critical steps in the assurance process are welcomed.
The latest updates to Umetrix that add automation and remote monitoring is one such innovation that is arriving at almost the perfect time. Umetrix is a solution suite that is designed to assure the quality of the video, data and voice experience on any device, operating system, or network. Over its lifetime, this family of products has been used to conduct millions of tests, whether in labs or out in the field. The newest iteration of Umetrix Data adds several breakthrough capabilities that aim to reduce the cost of field collection while speeding up the processes.
Under the banner of automation and monitoring, instead of having to have two person teams out on the road – with a driver in front and an engineer managing devices in the back - the Umetrix Data solution can now be used with a single driver with racks of devices managed via a remote operator. From a centralized point, Umetrix customers can potentially manage hundreds of devices and vehicles with full capability to define and run tests, collect data, and make changes on the fly. It seems like a simple shift, but the impact is incredibly significant.
Not only does Umetrix Data cut the number of people involved in drive testing potentially in half – or potentially double the number of tests you can conduct - the accuracy and quality of the data is improved as the testing can be much more rigorously controlled and standardized across every vehicle out in the field. In addition, the skill set needed to analyze the data is now brought into centralized locations for that analysis - instead of having valuable engineers constantly out on the road.
Faster with better data
All the core capabilities of the Umetrix platform remain the same – but now, remote operators can improve the process significantly. In our first tests with beta customers and our own drive testing as a service team, we have managed to cut the time it takes to run a predefined set of drive tests by around 40%. And through a standardized and highly automated process, we were able to deliver more consistent results faster. For a task like drive testing that has remained roughly the same for nearly three decades, it’s an innovation that makes us incredibly proud and it’s now commercially available
Looking to the future, we can see the automation and remote management capabilities of Umetrix being used in more scenarios such as the deployment of 5G private enterprise networks. By making the processes simpler and highly automated, customers can potentially self-test 5G connectivity across a campus using just a software client on a smartphone with a remote analyst guiding the process.
But what does this upgrade to Umetrix mean for the wider goals of 5G? In simple terms, it will help 5G networks roll out faster without skimping on test and assurance processes while allowing operators and device manufacturers to use skilled engineering staff in more productive ways. For 5G network users, it should mean better and more reliable networks that have been properly tested. Definitely a case of win, win.
Learn more about the Umetrix Data solution and its automation capabilities.