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Exploring 5G’s Power and Promise to Optimize Resilient Defense Communications

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As adversaries become more adept at intercepting and disrupting mission-critical communications, the DoD continues to advance defense communications resiliency. 5G wireless is a key to supporting that goal. How does 5G support next-gen resilient communications? And how can defense leaders ensure 5G meets their requirements before deploying advanced communications technologies in the field?

As near-peer adversaries become more sophisticated at intercepting and disrupting mission-critical communications, the Department of Defense (DoD) continues to advance the resiliency of defense communications. It’s a multi-faceted endeavor to optimize network options (private and/or public networks), ensure that back-up base stations can assume a primary role on demand, and enhance mesh and mobile ad hoc network (MANET) capabilities for device-to-device communications.

In the ongoing effort to stay ahead, military leaders continually introduce modern technologies and techniques to the field. One of the most compelling emerging technologies is 5G wireless. Compared with 4G LTE, 5G offers high speeds, low latency, and a capacity for massive numbers of connected devices with less interference and better efficiency. The DoD is committed to advancing 5G for defense, noting in its Department of Defense 5G Strategy (U), “5G is a critical strategic technology: those nations that master advanced communications technologies and ubiquitous connectivity will have a long-term economic and military advantage.”

Yet, like 4G and 3G before it, 5G was developed for commercial use and is only recently advancing to meet stringent government and defense requirements. How does 5G empower next-gen resilient communications? And how can defense leaders ensure 5G meets their reliability, performance, and security standards – before deploying advanced communications technologies to the field for military advantage?

5G opens the doors to powerful defense network flexibility

Whether defense teams are operating on premise or out at the edge, 5G facilitates powerful network configuration options that increase the number of communication pathways and fast-track the time to access mission-critical communications.

5G promises to be a mission accelerant, introducing innovations and options along the resilient communications value chain:

  • Multiple network options. Military forces operating in foreign countries and remote locations must contend with numerous options for setting up a network. They can build their own network structure and bring it with them, “operate through” using existing cellular networks and infrastructure, or create a combined solution. An established public/friendly network has the greatest potential coverage and will already handle 4G LTE and 5G commercial communications. But there’s no match (yet) for the security of private networks. In each option, defense leaders must determine the essential set of capabilities to bring and deploy, to get the coverage they need. As 5G security and performance matures, that private network footprint will get smaller.

  • Base station redundancy. Another element of resiliency is having a back-up base station, should the headquarters go offline. Defense teams require a secondary, mobile base station that’s equipped to assume the role of primary transceiver for wireless devices on demand. As 5G is adopted in the field, primary and redundant base station technologies will need to serve as seamless connection points for 3G, 4G LTE, and 5G wireless devices.

  • Mesh and MANET network flexibility. Defense tactical communications rely heavily on peer-to-peer connections. Voice, data, and video messages must be relayed quickly and securely to and from a base station, as well as ground vehicles, satellites, and/or warfighters’ tactical radios. To send and receive messages, forces can create defined mesh networks or MANETs, where each wireless node can function as a sender, a receiver, or a router to relay messages across the decentralized, randomly configured nodes. The latest 5G standard, 3GPP Release 17, includes expanded sidelink relaying operations to support device-to-device communications, creating an exponential number of alternate paths among devices compared with previous platforms.

Defense leaders are actively exploring how – and how well – various 5G network models, technologies, and protocols work. Which combinations deliver the fastest, most secure, and most adaptable communications? What configurations give their forces an edge on the battlefield, while operating as safely and securely as possible?

To answer those critical questions, it’s not practical to conduct tests in the field. There are too many scenarios to configure and test. Variables are difficult-to-impossible to recreate for repeated testing. And 5G is still evolving while 5G-enabled technologies are still emerging. Instead, a network digital twin can support flexible and reliable tests and evaluations at scale in a lab environment, so defense leaders can confidently explore and optimize communications technology solutions before testing and deploying in the field.

Digital twins support robust 5G testing, evaluation, and defense decisions

Spirent 5G Network Digital Twin solutions provide an end-to-end 5G test network built upon network emulation, traffic generation simulation, and test automation. Continuous testing, evaluation, and optimization help ensure 5G communications technologies function in the lab and, more importantly, that they perform as needed in the field.

Digital twins accurately recreate the complex effects of massive traffic, cyberattacks, outages, and other interference, supporting the in-lab testing of thousands of interconnected devices on the ground, airborne, at sea – across a range of network configurations and dynamic MANET topologies.

Defense leaders can test and evaluate:

  • Security, performance, and reliability. All military communications technologies must, at a minimum, meet military standards. Tests and evaluations can reveal which technologies – and which combinations or configurations of technologies – best address those basic requirements.

  • Private, public, and combined network options. Evaluation of network use cases can determine how well an existing public/friendly infrastructure handles military communications. They can also explore the minimal set of network capabilities that defense forces need to carry to ensure the performance and security they need.

  • Base station redundancy. Testing and evaluations help determine the best available transceivers for military use and configurations to ensure seamless transfer from primary to backup, as needed. Ongoing testing can validate current and future technology solutions.

  • MANETs and mesh network topologies. By simulating massive numbers of devices connecting across high-speed connections, digital twins reveal advantages/disadvantages of various network topologies. They also explore the power and performance of MANETs, where each device can act as a transmitter, receiver, or router in a dynamic environment.

Supporting defense assessment and adoption of 5G for resilient communications

For over 25 years, Spirent has supported U.S. and allied government agencies, contractors, and service providers in their testing, evaluation, and validation of evolving and emerging wireless technologies. Our defense experts understand what’s on the line when evaluating and adopting innovations for military advantage and they know how to configure use case testing scenarios to get to the answers you need. We’re proud that Spirent’s Digital Twin solutions support robust and flexible testing of 5G, 4G, and 3G, so defense leaders can continue to advance resilient communications initiatives – and achieve battlespace advantage with 5G.

Learn more about Spirent solutions for Government.

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Stephen Douglas
Stephen Douglas

Head of Market Strategy

Spirent is a global leader in automated test and assurance for the ICT industry and Stephen heads Spirents market strategy organization developing Spirents strategy, helping to define market positioning, future growth opportunities, and new innovative solutions. Stephen also leads Spirent’s strategic initiatives for 5G and future networks and represents Spirent on a number of Industry and Government advisory boards. With over 25 years’ experience in telecommunications Stephen has been at the cutting edge of next generation technologies and has worked across the industry with service providers, network equipment manufacturers and start-ups, helping them drive innovation and transformation.