5G Mobile Network Testing: When Coverage Matters

2019-03-29  |  4 min read 

Wireless networks have evolved drastically over the past two decades. 5G greatly elevates network complexity with massive multiple input multiple output (mMIMO), millimeter-wave (mmWave) frequencies and beamforming, and a flexible air interface. Performing network testing is critical for successful 5G commercial deployments.

5G network trials have started and will increase in 2019. Service providers across the world are eager to capture the 5G opportunity to fuel growth and profitability. However, their leadership in 5G depends on the rollout of effective networks. Currently, the onus is on network equipment manufacturers (NEMs), who must install these networks and prove to operators that they meet their criteria despite severe technical challenges.

Field testing is a must to validate network coverage. To reap the maximum benefits from mobile network testing, engineers must understand 5G network specificities that generate new considerations. They include:

  • Shift to beam-based coverage measurement
  • Multiplication of reference signals
  • Impact of mMIMO on system capacity
  • Reduced information provided to scanners  
  • Implementation of network slicing

Using different forms of MIMO and beam steering to improve performance, 5G new radio (NR) lacks the cell-level reference channel that existed in long term evolution (LTE). Engineers must now carry out beam-based coverage measurements.

mMIMO has a tremendous impact on system capacity. The spatial distribution of UEs is a key factor that impacts the real gain from mMIMO. Distributing various test UEs across the cell area when testing for capacity gain is important to alleviate gain from mMIMO.

With 5G NR, scanners only receive limited system information. UEs receive the rest of the information on demand at the time of a connection. Using both scanners and UEs is a must in 5G mobile network testing.

Network slicing is a new concept for networking architecture. The 5G NR-based network with network slicing automatically detects the application type and applies different QoS settings to each over-the-top (OTT) application. Depending on the applications used by subscribers, the network operates differently, which requires testing quality of experience (QoE) via active methods and with real OTT applications.

Due to 5G’s multiple step function increases over its predecessors, field network testing is critical. Mobile network testing is key to accelerate successful commissioning and acceptance at operators and effective commercial deployments.

However, mMIMO and beamforming will disrupt drive testing by generating new requirements and demanding different test solutions. mmWave frequencies will also spur new challenges due to their dramatically different characteristics, which limit their penetration into various materials and increase their sensitivity to various elements.

Engineers should make sure not to perform 5G field network testing hastily and partner with experts to overcome the new measurement challenges of testing 5G networks in the field.

Learn more about this topic by downloading the Redefining 5G New Radio Drive Testing  white paper and consider joining us on April 4, 2019 for the Redefining Drive Test for 5G Keysight webinar.