As telecommunications technology transitions from 4G to the incredible promise and potential of 5G, one thing is clear: the new technology is not just an incremental upgrade, but an exponential leap in terms of speed, accuracy, latency and complexity. Indeed, the complicated nature of 5G is both one of its great advantages — allowing incredible next-generation capabilities in automation, robotics, virtual reality and more — and a huge challenge when it comes to safe, secure, successful implementation.
The many elements that comprise and impact a 5G network or application are constantly and quickly changing. That’s largely due to the fact that 5G makes communications and connectivity move much faster than ever before. And, as with any relatively new technology, there are considerable risks and uncertainties. One undeniable takeaway regarding the implementation of 5G applications such as delivery drones based on network slicing is that the traditional ways of testing and assuring are inadequate and need to be augmented with new techniques and processes. Instead of just running tests in a physical lab setting and then performing infrequent reviews with occasional updates after installation, 5G requires testing that is always on and that can implement solutions, whenever needed, in near real- time. With the advent of 5G, which in many ways is a brand new, very different technology compared to 4G, there is a need in developing solutions for testing and service assurance. These dynamic new testing procedures are vital to moving 5G applications forward. That’s why we should expect to see innovative companies who are embracing 5G and Industry 4.0 to create the smart factories, manufacturing and logistics centers of the future.
The testing and assurance of 4G and earlier telecommunications technologies typically took place in lab settings, where each procedure was costly in time and money and required careful planning and bundling to effectively manage expenses. Labs are still in use today, but less so because planning, modeling and optimizing 5G in this way is often prohibitively costly and complex.
The technology requires extremely high levels of accuracy, speed and latency that can be difficult to manage. There can be constantly changing problems with signal interference, things moving around and hard surfaces that reflect waves to cause distortions and false readings. There are also issues with capacity and processes being dynamically allocated from the core to the edge and networks becoming virtualized, disaggregated and sliced.
For these reasons, testing and assurance has increasingly moved to automated software that runs via emulation on a copy of the network for which the 5G applications are intended. This allows products and services to be cost- effectively developed, monitored and tested for performance around the clock, and quickly repaired when delays or other problems occur.
In order to handle all the above emulation and simulation cloud provide a benefit and they even seem so alike. There are, however, subtle differences that end up having a profound impact on testing and assurance. While simulation is a system that behaves similarly to something else (to provide an idea of how something works), emulation behaves exactly like something else. It follows all of the rules of the system being emulated, creating an exact, always-on replica that functions precisely the same way and exhibits the very same characteristics and outcomes. Through this ability to continuously monitor and deliver reliable results, emulation brings strong advantages simplicity, cost-effectiveness, repeatability, and predictability — to the testing of complicated real-world network conditions. This, in turn, translates into greater flexibility, convenience, confidence, monetary savings, and momentum for R&D or smart-factory efforts, including the eventual commercial rollout and delivery of 5G products and services. Emulators are used to test both the performance of a real network as well as those network functions and services that are too remote, complex, and costly to easily configure and access. For example, 5G RF Channel modes can be emulated to test a 5G New Radio base-station (gNodeB); a Next-Generation 5G Core network can be emulated to allow for the testing of 5G New Radio.
The emulated, software replica of the 5G physical network is referred to as the Digital Twin and it allows for continuous prototyping, testing, assuring and self-optimization of the living network. Hardly a new concept, Digital Twins have a history of prior usage in aeronautics, manufacturing and building design to help simulate complex systems.
But for 5G, it’s still a relatively recent development that’s unquestionably groundbreaking. Although a twin, in real life, doesn’t always perform and respond in the same ways as its counterpart, this one does. That consistency allows continuous prototyping, modeling, and research and probably makes it one of the best, most reliable 5G R&D tutors ever. The Digital Twin enables testing on demand, without interruption, where any aspect of the physical operations system can be examined within the context of any possible situation, i.e. traffic congestion, security breaches or equipment going down. As a result, testing and assurance experts are able to develop new use cases virtually at will and accomplish far more at less cost in time and money than ever before. The 5G network Digital Twin continues to evolve beyond the lab in NEP’s to become a parallel living system that’s part of the operational CI/CD environment. As such, it’s equal to become the future of 5G research, development, and service assurance, with some predicting it use as mega-capacity test beds capable of prototyping the performance and security of entire digital economies.
But even now, the system is remarkable considering that any number of test scenarios can be quickly configured, run, optimized and validated through flexible features such as:
- Agile change management verification
- Continuous proactive performance and quality assessments
- Continuous proactive cybersecurity assessments
- Continuous topology optimization assessments
- Rapid fault isolation, triage, and resolution verification
The Digital Twin simplifies and streamlines 5G testing for R&D, manufacturing and logistics centers and telecoms worldwide. When combined with other innovative solutions such as Drivenets desegregated router technology the Digital Twin represents an ideal testing-on-demand solution. With significant advantages for modeling and supporting dedicated, next-generation operations, it’s rapidly becoming the preferred choice for realizing unified connectivity, optimized services, and secure communications within a specific location, i.e., campus, factory, or geo-fenced area.
Consider the following:
C-V2X Virtual Drive Testing
Virtual as opposed to real drive tests reduces the number of physical miles required to be driven and enables the modeling of a multitude of complex what-if scenarios and environmental conditions. This is helping Connected Vehicles provide more convenience, safety, and infotainment options than ever before. With the Digital Twin, all aspects of C-V2X connectivity can be tested, refined, and optimized to deliver the experiences that modern drivers and passengers demand.
Private 5G Networks for smart factories
Telecoms have a complex set of communication requirements (i.e., ultra-low latency, ultra-high reliability, high device synchronicity, time-sensitive networking, ultra-high levels of security and data privacy) and environmental challenges. The Digital Twin gives private network operators a cost-effective mechanism to continuously model, plan, optimize, and assure how 5G and ubiquitous connectivity benefits the smart factory.
CSP Network Operations, Planning and Service Quality Management
As networks become virtualized, disaggregated, and sliced, with capacity and processes being dynamically allocated from the core to the edge, attempting to continuously model, optimize, and assure becomes a complex and costly challenge. The Digital Twin of the physical network allows CSP operations teams to continually test, configure and validate how the living network should behave in a safe, secure, non-disruptive, mirroring environment. In addition, the ability to rapidly evaluate optimal configuration and performance options provides a valuable input for network orchestrators to then self- optimize the live network.