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Preparing for How 5G Is Changing the Game for Government Core and Edge Networks

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Federal government recognizes the vast potential of 5G to deliver superior mission outcomes. Realizing those outcomes is the challenge of 5G. How are defense and civilian organizations developing their core and edge network testing strategies for this game-changing technology?

5G is evolving faster than any previous wireless network technology, bringing with it unique and compelling capabilities. Promising extreme high-speed connections, ultra-low latency, and a capacity to connect massive numbers of people, machines and devices, 5G has captured the attention of commercial sectors across the country and around the world.

Government, too, is jumping on the 5G bandwagon. From remote oversight of transport and agricultural systems, to life-saving medical procedures and essential resilience and survivability of communications at the military’s tactical edge, 5G represents the potential for cutting-edge technology to deliver optimal mission outcomes. When it comes to 5G adoption, what challenges is government facing? What must be done to prepare core and edge networks for 5G to facilitate the achievement of the highest quality mission outcomes possible?

Government Challenges to 5G Adoption

Government has traditionally followed commercial organizations’ lead to evolve innovative technologies and prove their value. However, the power of 5G is seen to represent a new de facto paradigm shift in networking as it continuously evolves in real-time – and government is eager to be involved early. An example of that is their prioritized focus on 5G and Open RAN.

5G was primarily designed for broad commercial use. Government and defense, of course, have performance, resiliency and security requirements that exceed the needs of commercial organizations. The essential question is: Can 5G be reliably adapted to government's specialized requirements? For example, is 5G flexible enough to survive an attack on a defense network that can never be allowed to go down? Long before 5G is integrated into civil and defense networks, government must know the technology will work as intended in live, often rigorous and demanding environments.

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Long before 5G is integrated into civil and defense networks, government must know the technology will work as intended in live, often rigorous and demanding environments.

The way forward is to test with the right strategy, the right technology capabilities and the right people. By testing networks and devices across a multitude of use cases with a state-of-the-art testing approach, organizations discover issues, then adapt and improve their 5G network performance in real-world conditions. With the cutting-edge nature of 5G technology – and the critical need for a holistic and comprehensive approach – a DIY custom testing strategy can cost an impractical amount of time and money, with no guarantee of the results required.

How Digital Twin Can Help

The 5G Network Digital Twin is an example of a solution that emulates network functions and traffic to empower and expand an organization’s testing capabilities. Using a twin of the communication network, blended with the real-world network, the Digital Twin can test the performance, resiliency and security of technologies and services under the rigorous conditions anticipated in the real-world environment.

Enlisting a qualified Digital Twin expert test partner for government can guide federal civilian and defense organizations through unique use case development and testing, to ensure testing is targeted on the scenarios and conditions encountered in the live environment.
Use cases may call for millions of end users where Digital Twin can artificially stimulate and impair the network with synthetic traffic generation, cyberattacks, unexpected outages, noise interference, usage surges and more. Digital Twin can also integrate the test network with the live network to better understand real network behavior under test conditions.

The Digital Twin delivers essential 5G network performance validation at a significant reduction in cost and time compared to traditional real-world testing. This approach helps pinpoint vulnerabilities and resolve issues long before the 5G network is activated for the operational environment.

Digital Twin applications for assuring the Tactical Edge

Three Use Cases for Government 5G Core and Edge Network Testing

Digital Twin offers immense flexibility for networks to accommodate a wide range of use cases, including when critical communications must be delivered rapidly, reliably and with the highest level of quality. A selection of these use cases includes:

1. Secure and emergency communications network slice performance

Network slicing provides new ways to implement networks with multiple, different security and performance characteristics that are suited to specific operational needs such as classified and unclassified communications.

Digital Twin supports advanced network slice testing of the core and transport networks. Each slice can be dedicated in a secure and isolated configuration with its own defined performance testing capabilities and use requirements. A secure emergency communications network slice, for example, requires higher levels of resilience, reliability and priority over other communications in a congested and contested environment.

The Digital Twin can test that slice, alongside other slices in operation at the same time, to ensure it meets the specified set of requirements to deliver secure, prioritized communications. As part of the test, Digital Twin can introduce impairments that replicate system congestion to guarantee the slice meets key performance metrics under impaired conditions.

2. Multiple network slice priority and performance testing for different classification levels and use case requirements

Digital Twin supports multiple and simultaneous network slice capability testing, to facilitate testing numerous and diverse use case requirements across multiple slices. A core network, for example, might have a slice for telemedical use that supports remote medical procedures. Another may support battlefield drones collecting real-time visual intelligence. Both use cases demand reliable instantaneous connectivity and high-resolution video imagery, so Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communication (URLLC) would be the priority for those slices.

For teams running augmented reality (AR) training on a base, that 5G network slice can be configured to support massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC), with extremely high connection density by multiple online devices. While AR training is important, the associated network slice may not be prioritized over those supporting lifesaving or life-preserving slices on the same network.

The Digital Twin team can help to define, prototype and test the multiple slices – and the prioritization of each, when there are many slices operating simultaneously in one environment.

3. Edge distributed core network performance and resilience testing for multi-access edge computing (MEC) for low latency applications

One of the key tenets of 5G is low latency, to close the round-trip time lapse between an event and the communication transmission related to that event. One factor for latency is distance. The closer the event communication is to the message or data recipient, the faster the message is received.

Digital Twin helps answer the question of optimal proximity for scenarios such as autonomous vehicles or roadside drones, which are heavily reliant on video. Testing with Digital Twin can help to answer, “What capabilities must be at the edge? Which can be moved some distance away, and how far, to still meet operational requirements?”

From a global government perspective, the U.S. government is leading the way on 5G adoption, with other governments monitoring their actions and strategies to inform their own. As a vendor-neutral advisor to government security other advisory groups within and outside the U.S., Spirent engages in strategic consultations and tracks key developments for the 5G global roadmap. Using Digital Twin, we work hand-in-hand with governments to optimize 5G core and edge network technologies, reducing the risks associated with those capital investments.

Emerging 5G trends in government

In our 5G collaboration with government, we have observed two trends.

First, the potential of 5G is accelerating innovation in government, especially in the defense sector. The agencies and defense organizations are in the early phases of testing their core and edge networks as they experiment, adjust, and define their cutting-edge solutions for tomorrow – for on and off the battlefield. As well, the government maintains a high motivation to stay ahead of the 5G curve, and not risk falling behind.

Second, we see unprecedented collaboration within and across government and commercial organizations, breaking through silos to participate in multi-engagement environments. 5G is already realizing the promise of bringing networking to an entirely new level of capability. But there is more to come. With the right advanced testing strategies in place, in collaboration with the right testing partners and technology capabilities, the ground-breaking promise of 5G will deliver optimal mission outcomes across civilian and defense environments.

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Stephen Douglas
Stephen Douglas

Head of Market Strategy, Spirent

Stephen works for Spirent's strategy organization helping to define technical direction, new innovative solutions, and market leading disruptive technologies which make a real difference. With close to 20 years experience in telecommunications Stephen has been at the cutting edge of next generation technologies and has worked across the industry with multiple service providers, start-ups and Tier 1 OEMs helping them drive innovation and transformation. Stephen is an ardent believer in connected technology and strives to challenge, blur, and break down the silos which prevent innovation and business success.