It’s Time to Fix Roaming Testing
Roaming testing and launch is notoriously slow, time-consuming, and inefficient. Roaming teams are shrinking, just as 5G roaming comes over the horizon, and all networks across the world will have to set up new services with hundreds of other networks adding to an already substantial testing backlog.
The Rocco Genesis Roaming Hackathon challenged participants to develop the best solution to automate and streamline IREG and TADIG testing, with criteria including practicality, cost, and ease of implementation; ability to increase launch throughput; service assurance; billing accuracy; and partner ownership.
Cellusys proposed an approach using a centralised cloud-based platform which communicates with standardised API endpoints in each network and simulates test SIM exchange using probes. RoamBot received wide audience support and was chosen as the winning solution.
The solution aims to ride the momentum of the increasing prevalence of standardised APIs by using API calls to network components to automate testing for all services from 2G to 5G. While this requires some initial investment for each operator, the dividends in terms of efficiency and throughput could be tremendous.
What is RoamBot?
RoamBot is a global, centralised, standardised, API-drive platform that automates the roaming testing process with APIs. This includes network configuration, IREG and TADIG testing, billing verification, and commercial launch.
Press play to watch the entry video below
How Does RoamBot Work?
Cloud-based RoamBot Platform
The centralised platform is the coordinator of calls to multiple API controllers. From this platform, the user can initiate outbound testing and launch with their partner networks with the touch of a button. The dashboard contains an overview by country and network of testing and launch status of each service, as well as a notifications panel for the user to approve testing requests, initiate troubleshooting, or other tasks that require a manual step.
Standardised Network API Controller
The API endpoint in the operator’s network must be able to access TAP files, CDRs, the billing system and any network nodes utilised in testing. The RoamBot platform initiates API calls to the endpoint to perform test setup, IREG/TADIG testing, and validate billing. As every network is different, it is up to each network to configure their internal network to the endpoint to process requests. The communication between the Roambot platform and the API Controller is based on standard API endpoints. The operator may implement the API Controller any way that they wish, as long as it supports the standard RoamBot endpoints. The API Controller must in turn communicate with the internal network to configure or retrieve data from the relevant network nodes. This communication from API Controller to the internal network is bespoke per operator.
This architecture of standardised communication on the external interface and bespoke communication on the internal network is crucial to enable all types of networks to effectively communicate and coordinate for testing, regardless of the size or type of the network, and regardless of the specific equipment vendors deployed in the network.
SIM Multi-Plexer and Testing Probes
Each network must have a testing probe to simulate usage for end to end testing. The operator only needs to send one set of test SIMs to the platform manager, who utilises a SIM multi-plexer to simulate usage for end to end testing and quality assurance.
It is being explored with the operator community if it is also possible to utilitise existing testing solutions that may already be in place with operators. The feasibility of this approach, and the potential impacts are being explored in collaboration with the operators community.
For 5G, there is also some level of debate over the level of testing that must be conducted for each new roaming partnership. The outcome of this debate impacts on the testing capability that must be included as part of the solution.
Any steps that were conducted manually would now be handled by API instead. Data implementation requires an API call to set up the network technically for the test (for example, routing info and enabling test IMSIs to attach to the MSC, SGSN, MME and AMF). For IREG testing, there is an API call to the probe to conduct all IREG tests configured in the test handbook. TADIG testing requires an API call to the API controller to request and gather the relevant CDRs, TAP files and BCE files to validate billing, and then an API call to configure the network for commercial launch. Once these tests are complete, roaming can be launched.
The Return on Investment
RoamBot has the potential to reduce the time spent on manual testing by 75 to 90% and increase throughput tenfold. This means operators can benefit from new commercial agreements sooner, and many fewer resources and manhours are required. In an average network, the initial investment in configuration to the API endpoint may pay for itself within a year. The benefits do not end with testing: standardised APIs reduce the friction for a wealth of value added services such as continued quality of service testing and more. An investment in standardised APIs is an investment in interoperability and the future of business.
All the Gs: 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G
While 5G already makes use of standardised APIs and represents a tremendous amount of resources that networks must already be forecasting, countless man-hours are already spent on inefficient testing for SS7 and Diameter services. RoamBot is not designed for the past, it is designed for the future with 5G and even 6G in mind, however to elegantly incorporate legacy technologies, we must invest to standardise these technologies in a way that was never done in their time. We can say that these technologies have incurred a certain amount of technical debt, owing to their continued use and overlapping architectures. Now is the time to get out of debt, bring 2G, 3G, and 4G into the future, and create more efficient, standardised, and interoperable interaction for testing and much more.
What else can RoamBot do?
The RoamBot platform could also be expanded to include automated troubleshooting, verifying all IOT discount agreements, ongoing service and billing testing and other services that require access to network components.
Settings and permissions could become more tightly configured to include auto-retry test options, required approvals for more steps, block and allow lists and specific SIMs for services and tests, and any other permissions that may be required to satisfy the requirements of security and commercial teams.
Standard APIs pave the way for integrations for things such as third party document management software, a plethora of value added services with other vendors and networks, and facilitate integration with other cloud services.
Where do we go from here?
The feedback and appetite for RoamBot has been tremendous. We are dedicated to making the solution a feasible and accessible solution for all players in the industry and will rely on collaboration and feedback from partners, MNOs, and other technology vendors to shape the future of this automated testing solution. Several themes have emerged in need of further discussion and input. We look forward to exploring them in more depth through working groups and user experience research.
Is Usage Testing Necessary?
IREG and TADIG are standardised tests created by the GSMA to facilitate roaming testing, however more networks are questioning if testing is really necessary. If configured properly, testing should be unnecessary, and many operators argue that as an industry we waste too much time and energy on testing that should be spent on configuration instead. Many operators will opt to forego testing in most 5G roaming scenarios, calculating an overall gain in throughput and efficiency.
The RoamBot platform would remain a valuable tool to operators that wish to launch without testing. The platform allows users to configure which tests are required for all outbound services, and therefore an operator could simply choose to require only some or none of the standard tests. In this case, the operator still benefits by automating the configuration to enable roaming with their Roaming Partner, without having to manually configure their network for this.
Avoiding vendor lock must be a priority for any industry-wide solution. Standardised APIs ensure that integration and interoperability with a variety of vendors and service providers create a flexible, robust, and future-proof solution for all operators and CSPs. At present, the most considerable hurdle involves compatibility between a central SIM multi-plex and testing probes in each network. Ongoing research and discussion aim to find a solution that allows for multiple probe vendors, or achieves testing simulation without the use of probes.
To ensure the solution is accessible to all operators large and small, and regardless of their operational priorities, RoamBot should add value with various tiers of adoption, and with less initial investment and commitment. An operator could make great use of the API controller, without the testing probe for example. This means that some testing and the commercial launch could be automated, however usage testing would need to be done and verified manually. An operator using only the API controller would also benefit greatly from the interoperability afforded by standardised APIs, however would still rely largely on manual testing.
The entire telecom industry – vendors and operators – must work together to define APIs that cover all industry needs. RoamBot seeks to increase interoperability among networks and vendors and will rely heavily on standards agreed by such working groups.
User input and feedback will remain at the forefront of our development efforts. We are already in discussions with many vendors, partners, operator groups, and MNOs to gather input as to how to make RoamBot the most viable and valuable solution for all industry players and fix roaming service testing once and for all.
If you would like to share your experience or insights with us, or learn more about RoamBot, please contact us!Tags: automation, IREG, TADIG
Categorised in: Blog