Importance of 5G Network Testing

October 5, 2021 by Leslie Provenzano

5G wireless technology promises a revolution in communications with substantially increased data speeds, significant capacity expansion, improved reliability, and much lower latency. By 2030, the 5G market is expected to be around $720 billion, according to IDTechEx latest technology forecast and report. Leveraging 5G-enabled communications, a large number of applications and services are being launched that will impact virtually every industry and require network testing. This includes telemedicine, smart cities, intelligent vehicle communications such as V2V and V2X, and IoT/autonomous systems supporting critical infrastructure. It will also improve tactical communications for the military and help enable the Internet of Things (IoT).

5G network testing is challenging and will only become more so as an increasing number of devices share the wireless landscape. 5G network testing is critical for understanding, protecting, and ensuring the resiliency of network operations. Terrain, channel characteristics, user density, traffic profiles, existing 4G/5G network deployment, and available locations must all be considered. Network testing, modeling, and analysis offer a cost-effective, convenient way to obtain metrics in real-time for network planning prior to deployment.

Why 5G Network Testing is Critical?

As global cellular networks evolve to 5G, they are enabling and expanding an all-things-connected world. These new 5G system environments create challenges for wired and wireless network planning, network analysis, and cyber threat analysis. Therefore, network testing is critical across every industry.

Throughout all domains of the defense sector, there are growing concerns surrounding 5G networks and developing testbed infrastructure. Many are investing significant resources to have their labs and contractors perform testing and analysis to understand the impact of 5G networks on mission objectives. For example, the DoD is spending $600 Million for 5G experimentation and testing at five installations with seven more planned. We are helping support these initiatives using our digital twin capabilities to create a 5G Comprehensive Live-Virtual-Constructive (LVC) Operations for network testing capability.  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. It offers the defense community an efficient and effective way to predict and assess the performance of the algorithm/model/system under test in various conditions.

Also, Defense and commercial telecom organizations are working together to determine how to manage the old 3G/4G/LTE networks with the introduction of 5G. There are many questions and concerns about these networks and the security and infrastructure being developed. For instance, how they can work simultaneously and what security upgrades are needed, remembering that more devices create more risks. Therefore, network planners, managers, and operators are seeking new tools for network testing and analysis. We are helping our customers with these challenges and recommending our 5G network planner. Like Mission CLONE, it uses digital twin technology to help them understand how to adapt to evolving traffic and resource demands as well as to changes in protocols and technologies. It allows safe experimentation with different solutions and the determination of the optimal configuration for networks. It also helps in understanding their resiliency to cyber threats and in developing a plan to mitigate them effectively.

Concerns with managing how communications are working to ensure safety in an urban mobility environment is becoming critical. Linking transportation and technology is essential for safety. As we shift to 5G technology, these 5G networks must operate with extreme reliability in an urban environment containing interfering signals while retaining high relative speeds, very low latency for dynamic connections, and safety-critical message receipts. Urban mobility and safety around 5G will continue to be a challenge as these environments evolve, making network testing and analysis a top priority.

Benefits of Network Testing include:

Determining the optimal layout of base stations (cell towers) to provide adequate coverage over a given geographical area.

Uncovering any potential capacity and coverage issues and determining whether applications (voice, video, messaging, etc.) will perform satisfactorily over the mobile network.

Shedding light on how applications will perform in the presence of other types of traffic which compete for the same resources and assessing the interference between the 5G network and other commercial and tactical wireless networks deployed in the region.

Allowing operators to understand and assess the cyber resilience of 5G networks (i.e., the vulnerability of the network to cyber attacks, the effectiveness of the security measures to counter and contain attacks, and the ability of the network to deliver services even when subject to cyber attacks)

Simplifying 5G Testing Using Network Digital Twins

A network digital twin refers to a computer simulation model of the communication network, along with its operating environment and the application traffic that it carries. The digital twin can be used to study the behavior of its physical counterpart under a diverse set of operating conditions, including cyber attacks.

The use of the network digital twin reduces recurring costs and lead times and provides an easier way to perform analysis, testing, and optimization. The framework enables testing of a large number of 5G networks in a low-cost, lab-based setting with a small hardware footprint while reducing risk in fielding frequently changing network devices and programs. The network digital twin’s ability to respond exactly like a live network can play a key role in testing cybersecurity and helping to defend the networked systems against evolving cyber threats.

Given the complexity of most 5G networks, creating a digital twin which accurately represents the topology, configuration, and traffic of an existing physical network can be challenging. Without developing an accurate digital twin that represents their entire network at scale, communications not operating as planned in the live environment or a cyber breach are risked. Network planners need to understand how to adapt to evolving traffic and resource demands as well as to changes in protocols and technologies. They cannot risk poorly designing a configuration for their networks which could become costly and reduce optimization.

Digital twins can help plan for the impact of cyber attacks on 5G network. They are also useful when introducing new technologies into an existing network. The user can see how the technologies will work together, run tests, analyze the results, and, more importantly, help reduce risk and ensure security for critical networks. Therefore, SCALABLE is exploiting its revolutionary 5G network digital twin technology to develop a 5G network planner.  All portions of the network are represented in the digital twin from MIMO antennas, millimeter wave (MMW) spectrum, multiple access technologies for the Radio Access Network (RAN), and its connection to the core network operations. The end goal is to support a diverse set of users, from service providers, network planners, application developers, and system administrators to quickly and effectively plan 5G deployments, upgrades, or reconfigurations to meet their key performance metrics.

As industry leaders in network digital twin technology, SCALABLE has also developed an accurate 5G model library to help evaluate the performance and behavior of 5G cellular networks. Our network testing and analysis tools give our customers the competitive edge to understand operational and business challenges across the 5G lifecycle.