“Just over a year ago, that sounded like science fiction”: How virtual testing and massive automation play into Dish’s network strategy

The ability to automatically, virtually and concurrently test new standalone 5G services, slices and software updates in the cloud is key to Dish Network’s network strategy and differentiation, according to Marc Rouanne, Dish EVP and Network Director. for its wireless activity. Rouanne said the ability to quickly test and certify network software and services was part of Dish’s vision for its network. With yesterday’s announcement of Dish’s selection of Spirent Communications to enable large-scale, automated 5G baseline testing, Rouanne offered new insight into how Dish plans to leverage rapid, virtualized 5G-based testing capabilities. on the cloud that Spirent provides.

Dish says it will be the first telecommunications company to run its service in the public cloud and that it is partnering with AWS on the cloud infrastructure. It must be able to test and validate its 5G network functions and services on the AWS infrastructure – and in July of this year, Spirent announced the ability to do so, with a new Landslide 5GC automation package that the company said at the time. is “designed to help operators rapidly deploy 5G networks on AWS.” The package combines AWS’s continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI / CD) pipeline with Spirent’s 5G testing capabilities to enable operators to “objectively, rapidly and continuously” validate network functions and services, according to the testing company. Doug Roberts, senior vice president and general manager of Spirent, said the 5G automated baseline testing is made up of Landslide, along with Spirent’s Velocity and iTest automation framework to produce a “unique automated test library specifically for autonomous and non-autonomous 5G applications “.

The abilities that this supports, Rouanne says, are “extremely disruptive – more than anyone thinks.”

Dish, he says, made the strategic decision early on that his testing and laboratory strategy would be virtual. “The telecommunications industry is a very slow industry, due to the way labs are set up between vendors, operators and then go to market, where the lifecycle to move software and capabilities from development of the supplier is very long. until commissioning, ”he explains. This period averages about 12 to 18 months, says Rouanne, although he recognizes that some “pockets” can move faster. This, he continues, has “made the telecommunications industry vulnerable to attacks from the over-the-top. [players]”, And therefore major applications such as messaging or videoconferencing” have been difficult for telecommunications operators to remain in the domain of telecommunications operators “. This speed of software development has fostered the OTT ecosystem.

“We decided that with 5G SA, which is a service-oriented architecture, we could do something different”, explains Rouanne. “A very important part of our decision to go to the cloud with AWS was that we wanted not only to have the network in the cloud, but also all the testing capabilities.

“We can create a new test environment within our own, which is like building a new lab,” he continues. “Imagine I wanted to test end-to-end security. I can create a new end-to-end, subnet-scale lab, much larger than any lab an operator would have – I can do it in a matter of hours. I can do another one for roaming testing. I can do another one for vertical testing. And everything is automated.

He goes on to explain that Dish has asked all its suppliers and partners to come and test in these virtual labs. This is important, says Rouanne, because the different laboratories used in the development stages of telecommunications software are not necessarily representative of the network where the software will ultimately be used. They have different attributes, platforms, paths, or maybe use a different Kubernetes layer. “They look alike, but they are different,” adds Rouanne. “Which means when you move software from a vendor lab to an operator lab, you have to reorganize everything. And usually it takes weeks before we can start testing – whereas natively now with Dish we have our vendors lab testing in the cloud, in the replica which is exactly the same as our network. We have the same stacks, we have the same networks, subnets, security, everything is the same. So when our suppliers perform testing, they perform testing in a virtual lab that is simply part of our network. This is a great thing.

Likewise, he says, Dish’s virtual testing strategy also plays into its strategy to be able to deliver one of 5G Standalone’s most anticipated capabilities for businesses: network slicing.

“Our network is designed with slices in mind, which is unlike any other network today,” explains Rouanne. “The problem with slices is that if you don’t think about life cycle management of slices, you can’t just run them. Our ambition is to be able to offer one or more units to any company. Each company can have several slices: high speed slices, very secure slices, monitoring slices. … The problem is that they will have different requirements, so they will have different characteristics. They will have different abilities. Some may optimize latency, some may optimize cost, some may optimize reliability, redundancy, or security – or all. This means that the wafer test must be specific.

Such tests in a traditional laboratory would be sequential and highly manual, explains Rouanne: Test a wafer, probably for several months; test a second unit for several months; and so on, changing the configurations within the lab between test runs. “Because we are testing in the cloud and can create wafers or live test environments, we can maintain test environments in parallel for different slices and different verticals,” he says. “If you don’t have that ability, I guess you can make a few, a handful of slices – two, three, four.” But you won’t be able to break down by company, so you won’t be able to provide them with what they really want: their own subnet that they have mastered. ”

But running parallel wafers and test environments at this scale requires massive automation, Rouanne continues. Most operators, he says, run a lot of their tests manually, because they do it sequentially with a limited number of parameters. “At the scale we’re talking about, with all these environments paralleled and sliced, there’s just no way to do it manually,” he said. From day one, he continues, Dish told its vendors and software vendors that it would require everything to be tested in the cloud and, ultimately, be able to create tickets automatically and virtually, log them. correlations in network behavior, etc. active network operations. “It’s like automating a factory,” he adds, asserting that Spirent ultimately had “the right mentality and the right ambition” to be chosen as Dish’s partner to do this.

On behalf of Spirent, Roberts explains that the company has embarked on a multi-year journey to transform its traditional box-based business to the cloud. “What we’ve achieved, as a company… is that the cloud is there,” said Roberts. At the same time, he says, “5G itself is fundamentally changing the very infrastructure and the architecture itself.” It is no longer possible to choose a custom chassis and plan to update it several times a year. This means that the test infrastructure had to change, as did the networks themselves. “If you think about the test infrastructure, whether it’s in the lab, in pre-production, or in production, it really boils down to monetizing the model of the lab itself,” says Roberts. “Before, we used to spend 90% of our time just building the lab: what is the infrastructure, how much rack space do we need, the HVAC components. Whether it’s a co-located data center or an independent, self-managed data center housing the lab. By having replicable virtual labs hosted on the AWS infrastructure, Dish aims to avoid most of these physical hardware issues and focus on testing software and services in a much faster time frame.

5G also means working with vendors who have different rates for updates. Some have new releases every week, Roberts points out. “We are now faced with testing and certification requirements which in some cases work and take place in cycles of two to three days,” he said. “So the ability to build, on-demand, a lab infrastructure with fully controlled 5G test emulation and certification capabilities, in minutes, is literally the new normal, the new table stakes… in the industry. industry. However, I am very aware that just over a year ago it sounded like science fiction.

Rouanne says Dish had to start with the much more manual processes that existed at the time, and now programs them all into Spirent’s system as the company moves towards deployment and a new milestone for its network.

“I think that’s the tip of the iceberg of something much bigger, which is all of this automation and access to data,” says Rouanne. The partnership with Spirent, he says, “takes us to the next level in terms of agility and speed. … We have always planned for automated tests and capacities, this is the key to our deployment. We’ve always said that we want the software lifecycle and the innovation lifecycle to be two big differentiators for Dish. Spirent is therefore essential to bring us this.

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