Using Network Digital Twins for 5G Network Planning

March 31, 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.  Leveraging 5G-enabled communications, a plethora of applications and services are being launched that will impact virtually every industry: from tele-medicine to smart cities, from improved tactical communications for the military to enabling the Internet of Things (IoT).

Unlike previous cellular technologies that relied on an essentially fixed network of conventional towers or base stations, 5G will significantly expand the use of small cells (pico and femto cells) and mobile cell sites to expand access in congested environments. The diverse mix of applications, with dramatically varying requirements on latency, bandwidth, and reliability, will add an additional layer of complexity to the effective deployment and optimized performance of 5G networks.

An end-to-end 5G network digital twin that incorporates all facets of its operations can provide significant value and dramatic cost savings in both planning 5G network deployments and improving their performance under what are likely very dynamic operating conditions. The deployment and operation of 5G networks is particularly challenging in military contexts, where 5G holds much promise for both base deployments and tactical operations. Given the diverse range of critical services that will be provisioned on these networks, it is imperative that we have the ability to assess their cyber resilience and ways to mitigate any identified vulnerabilities.

SCALABLE is exploiting its revolutionary 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 planner can be used to assess the operation of 5G networks in stand alone as well as non-stand alone (NSA) mode interoperating with existing 4G cellular technology. 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.

Figure 1 defines the user workflow and the intuitive interface to support the workflow for the 5G network planner.  The planner will provide a unified, intuitive interface that supports all phases of the planning or assessment exercise from Scenario Design to Report Generation, via the modular, extensible web-based workflow. Scenario design includes tools to import/support network laydown and device configuration, cyber attacks, traffic, and other attributes.  For wireless scenarios, additional attributes like mobility, terrain, and other relevant environmental factors can be imported or described via an appropriate GUI.

Multiple experiments can be specified to assess alternative scenarios to compare relative performance.

An optional AI-based optimization algorithm is under development to optimize the placement of the primary towers (gNB) to maximize performance via different objective functions (platform coverage, traffic throughput, energy).  The placements can be used to optimize coverage and/or traffic throughput while taking into account traffic, terrain, radio, and network characteristics.

Figure 1: 5G Network Planner: Unified Workflow

A built in graphics visualization interface provides an operational view which can be optionally overlaid with various network performance metrics and displayed as graphs or heatmaps (Figure  2).  The network planner computes coverage for each transmitter, including antenna patterns/beamforming and environmental conditions, and computes the system coverage based on aggregate performance, including mobility and interference.

Figure 2: Coverage Visualization for a planned cellular network

The planner has a small hardware footprint and does not require any specialized equipment for deployment and use in the field.

Network planners can use digital twins to adapt to evolving traffic and resource demands as well as to changes in protocols and technologies. Operators and planners can safely experiment with different solutions and determine the optimal configuration for their networks.

For more information on SCALABLE’s approach to network simulation and network digital twins, visit our website or reach out to us directly to learn more.