Let’s say you’re planning to migrate to a new high-redundancy CS core network—what’s the first challenge that comes to mind? For many of you, it might be network architecture. The structure of modern telco networks is increasingly complex, and any new network rollout is going to be much more involved as a result. To wit, you’ve got to make sure that you’re setting up the core network protocols correctly (in accordance with the 3GPP standards), that your network can interconnect successfully with other networks, that it has functioning access layers for end users devices, and much more.
At telco operators around the world, test engineers and operations managers are experiencing a bit of a conundrum. With networks growing in complexity by the day and manual testing getting more time consuming than ever, the need for automation is becoming obvious. At the same time, not all automation is created equal, and testers need to make sure they’re equipped with the right tools for the challenges that await them as modern networks continue to evolve.
Since the introduction of LTE in 2009, most telco operators have had to maintain three networks in parallel—2G, 3G, and LTE—with smooth interworking between the three of them, sometimes even in the course of a single phone call. Not only that, but operators need to offer their customers seamless connections with a host of other legacy systems, from ISDN to POTS. Each time the larger telco landscape gets more complex (which happens practically by the day), the presence of existing legacy systems amplifies that complexity—making life increasingly difficult for the testers tasked with verifying network functionality.
At most telco operators, end-to-end tests are the dream. Given that each new network update or service offering potentially requires dozens of testcases verifying conformance, acceptance, functionality, and performance, true end-to-end tests that validate the entire functioning of the network from the end-user’s perspective are daunting and often difficult to accomplish (especially if you’re testing by hand). As such, your average network tester might balk at the idea that end-to-end testing wasn’t enough to ensure high network quality—considering that going end-to-end is no mean feat in itself.
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 in a management position at prominent European network provider, and you’re trying to assess network quality. Some of your biggest questions are about testing: How quickly are your regression test suites running after network updates? How frequently do your tests uncover bugs, and how do those bugs get resolved? To gain answers to some of these questions, you contact your test team, who send you the most recent test reports—but you can’t make heads or tails of them, and your questions remain unanswered.
It’s no secret that test quality has a direct impact on quality of service, meaning that high quality tests can and do correlate with telco operators’ ability to attract and retain customers. And yet, as telecommunications networks become more and more complex, maintaining high quality tests for things like subscriber migrations, new network rollouts, device acceptance, etc. is becoming more difficult and time consuming than ever. Obviously, testers need to find a way to maintain coverage and quality levels—even in the face of growing network complexity—but the path to doing so is not always clear.
Network quality has long been a top cause of customer churn for telcos. Yet organizations often continue to struggle with delivering adequate quality because the demand for more data has negatively impacted voice service. That demand will likely grow; according to a recent McKinsey study, consumer demand for data will increase by 40 to 80% per year, depending on customer patterns and geographic region. While data might seem more urgent, voice is still important. Telcos that wish to remain competitive are placing new emphasis on network quality testing.
Automation is often treated like a magic bullet, a cure-all for increasing demands on testing personnel who face new network quality concerns, additional devices, and other challenges every day. However, the truth is that automating any process, especially a critical one like network testing, is fraught with pitfalls. These five best practices can help ensure the success of network testing automation.
End-to-end testing—it’s all the rage right now in any number of industries, and with good reason. As global technologies become more connected and more thoroughly interwoven into the fabric of society, more thorough and efficient testing will become not just a luxury, but a necessity. As such, it should come as no surprise that a number of testing automation providers have cropped up in the past few years, covering everything from software security to telecoms. This, too, makes sense on the surface: how different could testing solutions for different industries really be? If you can automate verification for a new social media platform, why can’t you do the same for VoIP verification?