‘Just a year ago, it sounded like science fiction’: How virtual testing and massive automation play into Dish’s network strategy

The ability to automatically, virtually and in parallel test new 5G Standalone services, slices and software updates in the cloud is the key to Dish Network’s network strategy and its differentiation, according to Marc Rouanne, Dish EVP and chief network officer for its wireless business. Rouanne said the ability to quickly test and certify networking software and services has been part of Dish’s vision for its network. With the announcement yesterday of Dish’s choice of Spirent Communications to enable automated, large-scale 5G core testing, Rouanne offered some new insights into how Dish plans to leverage the fast and virtualized cloud-based 5G testing capabilities that Spirent provides.

Dish says it will be the first telecommunications company to run its service on the public cloud, and it is partnering with AWS on cloud infrastructure. It must be able to test and validate its 5G network features and services on AWS infrastructure – and in July this year, Spirent had announced the possibility of doing just that with a new Landslide 5GC Automation Package, as the company said at the time ” designed to help carriers quickly deploy 5G networks on AWS. ” The package combines AWS ‘Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI / CD) pipeline with Spirents 5G test features to enable operators to “objectively, quickly and continuously” validate network features and services, according to the test firm. Doug Roberts, SVP and GM at Spirent, said the automated 5G core test consists of Landslide plus Spirent’s Velocity and iTest automation framework to produce a “single, automated test library specifically for 5G Standalone and NonStandalone applications.”

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

Dish, he says, made an early strategic decision that its testing and laboratory strategy would be virtual. “The telecommunications industry is a very slow industry due to the way labs are set up between suppliers, operators and then the go-to market, where there is a very long lifespan to move software and capabilities from sales development all the way to in-service,” he explains. This timeline averages about 12 to 18 months, Rouanne says, though he acknowledges that some “pockets” can move faster. This, he continues, has “made the telecommunications industry vulnerable to over-the-top attacks [players]”And therefore, large applications such as messaging or video conferencing” have been difficult for telecommunications to retain in the telecommunications domain. “This software development speed has benefited the OTT ecosystem.

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

“We can interrupt a new test environment in ours, which is building a new laboratory,” he continues. “Imagine I want to test security end-to-end. I can disconnect a new lab, end-to-end, that is on the scale of a subnet that is much larger than any lab that an operator would have — I can do that within hours. I can do another for roaming test. I can do another for some vertical tests. And it’s all automated. ”

He further explains that Dish has asked all its suppliers and partners to come and test in the virtual laboratories. This is important, says Rouanne, because the various laboratories used in the stages of telesoftware development are not necessarily representative of the network in which the software will ultimately be used. They have different attributes, platforms, paths or maybe use a different Kubernetes layer. “They look the same, but they are different,” Rouanne adds. “Which means that when you move the software from a vendor lab to an operator lab, you have to rebuild everything. And usually it takes weeks just to do that before you can start testing – whereas initially, with Dish, we ask our suppliers to test in the lab in the cloud, in the replica that is exactly the same as our network. We have the same stacks, we have the same network, subnet, security, everything is the same. So when our vendors test, they test in a virtual lab that is just part of our network. That’s a big thing. ”

Similarly, he says Dish’s virtual testing strategy also plays into its strategy to offer one of 5G Standalone’s most anticipated capabilities to businesses: network cutting.

“Our network is designed with disks in mind, which is very different from any other network today,” says Rouanne. “The problem with discs is that if you do not think about life cycle management after discs, you can not just spin them off. Our ambition is to be able to offer one or more discs to any company. Every business could have many disks: Some high-speed disks, some very safe disks, some surveillance disks. … The problem is that they will have different requirements so they will have different features. They want different options. Some can optimize for latency, some can optimize for cost, some can optimize for reliability or redundancy or security – or all. Which means that the testing of the disc must be specific. ”

Such testing in a traditional laboratory would be sequential and very manual, Rouanne says: Test a slice, probably for several months; test another disc for several months; and so on, changing configurations within the laboratory between rounds of testing. “Because we test in the cloud, and because we can cut slices or test environments live, we can maintain test environments in parallel for different slices and different verticals,” he says. “If you do not have that ability, I would guess that you will be able to make a few, a handful of slices – two, three, four. But you will not be able to cut per. Business so you will not be able to deliver what they really want: Your own subnet that they master. ”

But running disks and parallel test environments on that scale requires massive automation, Rouanne continues. Most operators, he says, run a large portion of their tests manually because they do so sequentially with a limited number of parameters. “On the scale we talk to all of these environments in parallel and in slices, there’s just no way you can do it manually,” he said. From day one, he continues, Dish has told its vendors and software providers that it will require everything to be tested in the cloud and eventually be able to create tickets automatically and virtually, log correlations in network behavior, etc. in active network operations. “It’s like automating a factory,” he adds, saying that Spirent ultimately had “the right mindset and ambition” to be chosen as Dish’s partner.

For Spirents, Roberts explains that the company has been on a multi-year journey to transform its traditional box-based business into the cloud. “What we realized as a business … is that the cloud is here,” Roberts said. In parallel, he says, “5G itself fundamentally changes the infrastructure itself and the architecture itself.” It is no longer an option to choose a custom-built chassis and plan to update it a few times a year. This means that the test infrastructure has had to change, along with the networks themselves. “If you think about the test infrastructure, whether it’s in the lab, about pre-production, or whether living in production, it really goes back to revenue generation of the model of the lab itself,” Roberts explains. “We used to spend 90% of our time just building out the lab: what is the infrastructure, how much rack space do we need, the HVAC components. This is whether it was a co-located data center or a self-owned, self-managed data center that hosts the laboratory. “By having replicable virtual labs hosted on AWS infrastructure, Dish aims to avoid most of the physical hardware-related issues and focus on testing the software and services in a much faster time frame.

5G also means working with vendors that have different cadences for updates. Some have new releases every week, Roberts points out. “We are now facing test and certification requirements that in some cases actually run and roll on two to three day bikes,” he said. “So the ability to spin up, as needed, a laboratory infrastructure with fully researched 5G test emulation and certification capacity in minutes, is literally the new standard, the new table posts … in the industry. However, I know very well that for just a year ago sounded like science fiction. ”

Rouanne says Dish had to start with the much more manual processes that existed back then, and now program them all into Spirent’s system as the company moves toward implementation and a new phase of its network.

“I think this is the tip of the iceberg of something much bigger, which is all this automation and access to data,” Rouanne says. The partnership with Spirent, he says, “takes us to the next level in terms of agility and speed. … We have always planned automated tests and options, that is the key in our implementation. We have always said that we want the life cycle of the software and the life cycle of innovation to be two major differentiators for dish. So Spirent is the key to bringing it to us. ”

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