SCALABLE’s 5G Network CLONE: A Comprehensive Live-Virtual-Constructive 5G Testbed

June 29, 2021 by Leslie Provenzano

The recent Department of Defense (DoD) “5G to Next G” initiative aims to accelerate implementation of advanced wireless communications with applications worldwide. In October, the Department of Defense announced $600 million in awards for various 5G testing and experimentation activities across the country. Based on these initiatives, independent 5G infrastructure each with its own specific requirements on technology, applications, and use cases is planned to be deployed at a dozen U.S. military facilities. All the concurrent 5G R&D and T&E efforts will enable at-scale experimentation and evaluation of 5G capabilities and applications to modernize DoD operations under various settings.

According to NextGov Magazine, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; Naval Base San Diego, California; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; and Hill Air Force Base, Utah, all now have 5G technology testbeds as part of the “Tranche 1” phase of their plan. They are actively testing everything from telemedicine to Battlefield of Things initiatives. And the DOD is gearing up to begin the Tranche 2 phase, which will bring more testbeds online at more bases.

What is the 5G Network CLONE

SCALABLE Network Technologies (SCALABLE) has developed the 5G Comprehensive Live-Virtual-Constructive (LVC) Operations Network Environment (5G CLONE). The 5G CLONE testing and evaluation infrastructure leverage SCALABLE’s EXata high fidelity network digital twin emulation tools and capabilities to deliver a comprehensive 5G network testing capability that directly supports progression through laboratory testbed simulation, hardware/software-in-the-loop network emulation, field experimentation with model validation and verification, and targeted deployment for military use cases. 5G CLONE creates a virtual representation or digital twin of the entire 5G communication network, accurately modeling the 5G devices, communication links, operating environment, and applications running on the network. By replicating different missions and running multiple “what if” scenarios, digital twins offer an efficient and effective way to predict and assess the performance of the algorithm/model/system under test in various conditions. The system in the loop and hardware in the loop interfaces of EXata seamlessly integrate live and virtual 5G network components and applications into the testbed, providing a LVC testing environment with the necessary flexibility and fidelity to collect, access, and validate 5G technologies with quantitative data through the lifecycle of the DoD 5G Tranche 1 and 2 efforts. Advanced analysis and visualization tools provided by the 5G CLONE Testbed Infrastructure will process and analyze the performance data collected from simulation/emulation runs and derive key performance indicators to facilitate validation and verification against the 3GPP 5G standards, manufacturer specifications, or specific performance benchmarks.

5G Testbed: Integrating 5G Into Mission Applications

Through multiple-year efforts, a 5G testbed network infrastructure is planned. It will be used to evaluate the suitability of 5G technology in expeditionary operations such as Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) in Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE). Characteristics of the LOCE operating environment include:

1) Temporary and on-demand: The operational 5G infrastructure shall be able to be deployed ashore quickly, and be operated for a discrete amount of time; it can be rapidly torn down for redeployment elsewhere in the battlespace. Mobility of forces and equipment is vital.
2) Contested/Congested: In the congested spectral environment, besides the benign host nation activity as well as coalition/joint systems’ emitters, enemy may monitor and manipulate our activity/presence in the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. Therefore, the 5G infrastructure shall support spectral awareness, resourcefulness, and agility/flexibility, and cyber hardening throughout all layers of communication. This contested nature makes the ability to “reach back” for information resources is potentially at risk, thus intensive use of local compute capabilities are expected.
3) Austere and resource constrained: it is assumed that little to no host nation infrastructure to take advantage of (either because they are suspect from a security standpoint, or nonexistent); power sources and their supporting logistical tail present a challenge.

This project will evaluate the suitability of 5G capabilities including millimeter wave, massive MIMO, beamforming, Integrated Access Backhaul and mobile tower/relay, network slicing in supporting the operations of geographically dispersed troops; and their network availability and scalability in terms of coverage, number of UE devices, throughput and latency; and their resilience/survivability in the contested/congested environment in terms of LPI/LPD/LPJ. 5G CLONE will contribute to all phases of the 5G network infrastructure testbed development and systems engineering.

5G Network Testbed Infastructure Development

5G CLONE creates high fidelity network digital twins of potential 5G network testbed infrastructure to evaluate performance of potential hardware and software components and configurations in simulations of expected exercise scenarios. Once candidate components are selected and procured, 5G CLONE’s hardware/software-in-the-loop testing capabilities will enable rigorous assessment of 5G network testbed infrastructure capabilities in the laboratory prior to field deployments and experimentation as depicted in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. 5G CLONE and its Hardware/Software-in-the-Loop Testing Capabilities

Field measurements during controlled experiments will be used to validate the network digital twins performance and ensure network behavior is fully understood.  For example, Figure 2 provides a representative example of EXata network coverage predictions that will be validated with field measurements prior to introduction of 5G network applications.

Figure 2.  5G Network Coverage Visualization

5G Network Experimentation

5G network applications specific to the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) in Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE) will be tested using the same systems engineering approach as the 5G network testbed infrastructure development.  As developed applications become available, they will first be integrated with the network digital twin simulation in the laboratory to evaluate their performance in multiple mission scenarios under variable conditions as shown in Figure 3 below. As the applications mature and demonstrate capability, hardware/software-in-the-loop testing can be used to further assess and understand their performance.  Finally, field experiments can be used to ensure applications perform as expected when deployed.  For example, the candidate 5G network planning application can be assessed using EXata to determine how well the plans they produce perform under specified operational and environmental conditions in the laboratory using simulations and hardware/software-in-the-loop emulation with field experiments validating the predictions obtained and providing valuable feedback to the 5G network planning application developer to ensure their system is prepared to support Fleet Marine Forces exercises.

Figure 3. Testing of 5G Applications in 5G CLONE Testbed Infrastructure Fleet Marine Forces

Exercise Deployments

Prior to exercise deployments, the 5G CLONE will be used in conjunction with the 5G network applications to support mission rehearsals. These will ensure operators understand expected network performance during the deployment and have an opportunity to adjust their exercise plans as needed.  During exercise execution, the 5G network testbed infrastructure digital twin will be leveraged to evaluate potential impacts of changing operational and environmental conditions in real time using available sensors and observations.  After the conclusion of the exercise, the 5G CLONE’s analysis tools will be used to investigate any issues that occurred during the exercise and ensure that future exercise plans take them into account.  Network traffic captured during the exercise can be played back through the network digital twin emulation to identify root causes of any observed anomalies or message transmission issues as shown in Figure 4 below.

Figure 4.  Live Exercise Traffic Playback in 5G CLONE Testbed Infrastructure

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