A few months ago, Apple became the world’s first $3 trillion company. It did so, shortly after the release of its new model of iPhone.
Apple’s experience doesn’t represent everyone, but it does illuminate a key point. The fortunes of a company can shift quickly in the technology sector. Just as they can quickly climb, so too can they fall precipitously. In recent months, we’ve seen Tesla stock drop by 12% and Meta – Facebook’s parent company – experienced a humongous drop in February when its valuation lost 26% of its value; $332 billion in just one day.
The point here is that markets can be fickle. Dramatically so. In fact, market valuations can rise and fall in a matter of minutes and can hinge on all manner of factors.
When it comes to mobile network operators, customers depend on their reliability and performance. If they can’t get that, then it’s very easy for them to switch to a competitor. It’s a comparatively small choice for consumers, but if enough small choices like this are made, then it can have a huge impact on companies.
Growing customer expectations
Customer expectations around mobile connectivity have risen quickly. It wasn’t too long ago that our modems made a cacophonous screeching whenever we wanted to connect to the internet.
These days, we use connected technology without even thinking about it. We seamlessly swap between one application or function to the next, and rarely think about performance lags or increased latency. We just expect these devices and services to work. When they don’t, we can change providers almost as seamlessly.
5G is going to push those expectations higher for two reasons. Firstly, the bar for performance and reliability will be sharply raised for mobile connectivity as 5G will provide faster connection and download speeds than we’ve ever seen.
Secondly, its greater bandwidth will mean that it can accommodate more dense and numerous connection requirements. That means that those 5G networks are going to start competing with traditional Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for desk and laptop connections. By the same token, it will explode the range of potential uses for mobile internet. Smart cities, autonomous vehicles and massive IoT use cases are going to be enabled by 5G.
Not only will we expect more from mobile internet, but we’ll also need more out of it too. Given the new role they’ll play in the technological landscape, 5G networks will likely make mobile operators more sensitive to market shifts and the whims of consumers.
Testing is the key
However, the capabilities of 5G are not a foregone conclusion. Its promises of performance and reliability have to be lived up to before products and services are ever released into public hands. They’ll be realised through thorough and careful development.
That’s why testing is of paramount importance. 5G networks need to prove that they can work under any and all conditions they’ll be used in. If they come to market without those assurances, then operators risk those aforementioned market blowbacks which can shake an otherwise healthy company.
This isn’t just about protecting the downside either, but rather reinforcing the upside. Differentiation will be an important way for operators to carve out their own particular portion of the 5G market. The question for many operators will not be how they can provide the best overall service, but how they can serve their particular corner of the 5G market, be that gaming, autonomous vehicles or smart utilities.
Testing is key to securing the bottom line
Service providers and operators need to test their offerings rigorously and under as wide a variety of conditions as they are likely to experience in the hands of consumers. That can be a difficult task, especially as a product or service is in development.
Previous iterations of mobile technology were tested within labs. However, 5G testing requires levels of accuracy, speed and latency that lab testing can struggle to accommodate.
This is where a digital twin could be useful. These can virtually recreate the infrastructures and processes that a network might face in the real world. The digital twin provides a software-based testing environment that can continuously evaluate those networks as they develop and advance. What’s more, is that it can test a hopeful 5G mobile network under any and all conditions which it might face in the hands of consumers.
Take, for example, the millions of connections and transactions that a 5G network will host at any one time. That intense level of traffic can be effectively emulated with a digital twin. It can emulate impairments so that operators can see what happens when part of their infrastructure fails and adjust accordingly.
It can recreate those critical component parts of 5G technology, such as RAN array, GNSS satellite signals, relevant radio frequencies, base stations, front hall devices and the interactions between evolving core networks and the cloud edge.
It can also emulate network slicing: 5G’s ability to partition parts of the network – called “slices” – and then configure those parts to the individual needs of the users. This is important because differentiation will be a key part of 5G’s offering.
While performance is a critical part of 5G service, so is security. Given that 5G networks will be software-based – operators now have to confront risks which they never have had before: cyber threats.
The “bricks and mortar” infrastructures of yesteryear were largely air-gapped from the broader internet, protecting them from the kinds of threats that other connected industries have had to deal with for decades. However, 5G’s virtualised, software-based infrastructure gives hackers fertile new ground to exploit victims and make money.
Cyberattacks are not just used to directly steal money from victims, but to manipulate market standing too. Cyberattack is a troublingly common tactic for certain businesses who want to gain an edge. They’ll launch an attack on a competitor and cripple their service. Several years ago, Kaspersky research carried out a study which showed that 43% of businesses blamed their rivals for cyberattacks launched against them.
The security controls that police a 5G network also needs to be rigorously tested. Digital twin can be used here to emulate the complex multi-vector attacks that a 5G network is likely to face.
Integrating testing into the development process
The digital twin can test assets as soon as they come on the network and continuously evaluate them throughout the development process.
When used effectively, digital twin should become a core part of the mobile network development process and should eventually become part of a Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) environment. This will allow operators to use this continuous testing to constantly improvise and refine their infrastructure.
Consumers can be fickle, and connected technologies have made it easier than ever for them to change their allegiances from one provider to another. Network operators can gird their bottom lines by ensuring the reliability, performance and security that 5G offers before products and services are ever released onto the market. That process begins by integrating testing into the foundation of the development process.