Raise your hand if a subscriber has ever complained to your company because she wasn’t getting the Quality of Service (QoS) she was paying for. We’re guessing that a lot of readers will have raised their hands. Sometimes, complaints like this arise because of forces beyond the control of the backend offices that actually handle QoS (if the subscriber lives on the border of your LTE coverage, for instance, and simply can’t get a strong enough signal to achieve the level of service she’s paying for), but there are certainly times when these issues arise because of an error in the provisioning process.
Every year, Gartner gives a rundown of what it predicts will be the major strategic trends for companies to explore in the coming year, and 2019 was no different. The leading research and advisory firm has some lofty expectations for the year ahead—including practical blockchain applications, an increase in distributed cloud computing, more focus on transparency, and the democratization of expertise, among others—but one of their new strategic trends in particular caught our eye at SEGRON: hyperautomation.
As of a few years ago, more than 90% of software testers reported that they were automating between 50 and 100% of their tests. Of the survey respondents who had automated, about a quarter saw ROI immediately, another quarter within 6 months, and another quarter within a year. Fewer than 10% failed to reach ROI. Naturally, the telecom domain is its own beast, and in all likelihood the numbers for automation adoption would look a little bit less robust—but an examination of similar trends adjacent to the telco industry can still be telling for network operators and testers.
Let’s say you’re migrating all of your subscribers to a highly redundant HSS database. You know it’s going to be a long process, but you want to set an ambitious deadline and perform the migration before your next quarterly all-hands meeting. As such, you put together a list of the things that are most likely to cause delays. And what should be at the top of that list? Depending on how your current test operations function, service verification could be your prime suspect.
Way back in the day, if you were on the go and needed to make a phone call, you kept your eyes peeled for the nearest payphone. You would drop in your coins and the operator would connect you to your desired call recipient. After the time you paid for had run out, a live operator would butt in and let you know that in order to extend your call you needed to add more money. Today, the idea of something like this happening during a VoLTE call seems a little bit absurd—but in point of fact it represents a need that all telco operators still grapple with: real-time provisioning of services based on what the user has actually paid for.
Let’s say you have a small system whose functionality you want to test, and you determine that there are five distinct use cases that require verification. As a technically-adept test engineer with a fair amount of programming skill, what do you do? In all likelihood, you simply script up each test case individually, so that for each use case there’s a unique piece of code that needs to run in order to make sure that everything is working smoothly. This makes sense, and as test automation has become more common (in some sectors, anyway), we've seen a lot more people doing just that. For a limited number of test cases, this is probably the smart thing to do. But what happens when it’s not half a dozen use cases that require scripting, but hundreds or thousands?
As the Internet of Things (IoT) grows and expands, the number of different elements that will have to consistently connect to any given network is expanding with it. Of course, some of these elements are more impactful than others. For instance, as of March of 2018, an EU directive requires that all new passenger cars be equipped with an EU eCall system. Because every second can be vital after a serious accident, it’s essential that in case of an accident the eCall device transmits emergency data to the nearest emergency center (PSAP, or “public safety answering point”) and/or trigger an emergency call. This means that in every EU country your network must automatically relay relevant information (e.g. vehicle type, direction, number of passengers, engine type, VIN, GPS coordinates, etc.) from the eCall modem to the correct emergency center in case the driver is too incapacitated to speak.
End-to-end testing: for many telco operators it’s the holy grail of service verification, but it can also be a slow, laborious process that adversely impacts time to market. Even if you’ve managed to automate your relevant equipment and collect success and failure data from the relevant end-points, you might still find yourself in a position where hard-to-read data and hard-to-program use cases stop your end-to-end tests from running as quickly as you would like. When this happens, you’re in the uncomfortable position of either sacrificing high levels of test coverage by cutting the test off early, or delaying your network migration or device rollout to accommodate slow testing.
As recently as a few years ago, the idea of a smart home—in which all of your appliances and other sensors around your home are networked together digitally—still seemed more like science fiction than a fact of life. And yet, today you can walk into many new homes and use your smartphone to control the temperature and the lighting, you can preheat the oven remotely, and you can get alerts to your mobile device if your smoke detector or burglar alarm goes off. It’s the type of home that technologists have dreamed of for decades.
At some point in their growth and development, most businesses regardless of industry eventually reach a point where they realize they can’t do it all themselves. Either they need help marketing their product, or some of their more tedious HR tasks could be outsourced, or their testing operations could be made more efficient by partnering with an outside agency. Some companies outgrow this stage and ultimately reclaim their ability to do things in-house, but others continue to grow with their partnerships in tact. Neither approach is necessarily better than the other—but they both present distinct pros and cons.