5G/6G Test Network – the nexus of 6G Flagship
The nexus of 6G Flagship programme is the rapidly evolving, open 5G Test Network (5GTN), which first introduced its advanced network functions to researchers and developers in 2015. As a focal point of connectivity, it simultaneously links test beds, novel devices and applications; theory and practice; as well as research and business.
Bolstering 6G Flagship’s research vision, the test network combines the development of future wireless technologies with new business models and new regulatory propositions and thus enables the creation of completely new application and service concepts based on them. The 5GTN team led by professor Ari Pouttu operates the network, which is built on major cellular network components provided by 6G Flagship’s co-creator Nokia, and manages the more than 1 000 dedicated SIM cards, 2500 sensors, one of worlds largest indoor positioning systems, computation resources and state-of-the-art measurement equipment, that are available for trials, demonstrations and training – free of charge.
Unique in its diversity and structure, 5GTN provides access to multiple interfaces in advanced radio access networks (RAN), cloud-based virtualized core network controlled by SDN technology, and related service core network for applications. It offers several parallel 3GPP RAN technologies including NB-IoT, LTE-M, 4G-LTE (macros and picos), 5G NR macros as well as 5G proof of concept (PoC) on mmWaves (26-28 GHz). Recently, the architecture was complemented by 300 GHz radios supporting IEEE 802.15.3d. Also non-3GPP RANs, including WiFi, Bluetooth, and LoRa, are integrated in the platform. Open Air Interface (OAI) capable devices and core networks are also integral part of 5GTN. At the same time, in addition to normal smart phones, IoT sensors, pre-commercial non-phone centric end-user devices as well as data storage and networking devices are available as well as support for processing needs arising from vertical businesses especially related to mobile edge computing, IoT services and sensor management.
As a research platform, 5GTN is especially suitable for research on verticals, which will be driving the way future wireless networks are developing both from technical and application characteristics perspectives. “We emphasize piloting and testing in various verticals,” Pouttu says. “Our current focus areas are Industry and manufacturing, port and logistics as well as hospitals and health. We are also extending our capabilities in automotive and traffic, which are gaining increasing interest in the research community.
Currently we are making our smart car 5G and beyond enabled and we plan to demonstrate connected autonomous driving with tests expected on border crossings between Finland and Sweden.” The team also integrates promising new technology components to 5G Test Network, including e.g. lidar-based asset tracking and drone based new services, to increase flexibility. The latest hardware acquisitions, on the other hand, support 5GTN’s cloud-based radio architectural research, multi-mode radio interface integration and radio positioning, both indoor and outdoor as well as full 5G standalone core, which boosts 5GTN as an ideal open environment for testing end-to-end systems. “We would like to offer our research partners globally a flexible environment for international test cases covering use cases that are also global,“ Pouttu says.
For companies, 5GTN is an easily accessible integration framework where they can build and test technological and service-related solutions, and increase their expertise in developing, modelling and validating new concepts. The platform boosts research for challenging concepts never thought before and lowers the threshold and cost of innovation. Especially start-ups and SMEs benefit of the zero-cost option. If a user requires additional assistance or expert support to conduct experiments, compensation is considered on a case by case basis. Naturally, the platform also constitutes an excellent platform for any Horizon Europe collaboration.
5GTN offers a controlled environment for companies’ service development. “We can use slicing or sandboxing to isolate experiments from each other,” Pouttu says. “In addition, partners can run sensitive software also from their own computing resources that are connected to the wireless test platform over a VPN. Data from the experiments is handled confidentially if requested.” The roadmap for developing 5GTN towards 6GTN, was defined in 2018 and development has begun with full speed thanks to public infrastructure funding and collaboration with leading industry. The roadmap includes several critical steps, Pouttu confirms, starting with the introduction of 6G flavored TeraHertz proof of concept devices into the network. Full use of virtualization and cloud technology are included in the near-future targets of the upcoming 6GTN. As a result, the network becomes extra-secure and elastic with QoS and scalable resource pools for services designed to allow high-availability, high bandwidth and low latency for services. “This kind of capability is of critical importance when a test environment is built that can address the requirements stemming from different vertical needs,” Pouttu says. “Slicing with dynamic resource allocation will be possible according to use, which requires intensive research and a solid infrastructure for algorithm validation to ensure network performance in all scenarios.”
To address the fact that different vertical industries may have considerable differences in their working environments, it may be worthwhile to define testing environments, “golden references”, which are specific to a certain industry type. So, the goal is be to create a flexible and portable testing solution. With this approach, it becomes possible to evaluate new testing ranges regarding their compliance to the reference testing system and by that the compliance to the given performance criteria can be evaluated by different neutral bodies. “Only by taking this approach the industry required certification of 6G-industrial components becomes possible,” Pouttu states. “And only with such a certification will the technology be adopted inside critical environments.”
Currently, THz range solutions are already being tested in the test network. Future updates will expand the research of materials, devices, waveforms, signal processing or distributed data driven network control paradigms. Improved capabilities in the next few years will furthermore support research of future radio interface, and RF assuming mmWave/THz high-capacity backhaul and fronthaul with MIMO antennas enabling adaptive beamforming. “With the addition of 6G flavoured capabilities, our test network will become an even more powerful nexus for our own innovation and co-creation especially with companies, academic partners and public sector,” Pouttu says. “We can’t wait to demonstrate selected vertical use cases together with our partners in the near future.”
Ari Pouttu is a professor in Dependable Wireless Communications. He has scientific, engineering and management experience in fields such as synchronization, interference suppression, coding, modulation, and multiple access. He has been involved in cellular system designs since 3G (FP4 FRAMES). The projects under his command have resulted in system designs for positioning, defence, radar systems, and energy. Furthermore, case studies are being performed for media, sports, maritime and the future hospital. Currently, Pouttu serves as Vice Director of 6G Flagship programme. He also leads 5G Test Network research activities and the strategic research area, which develops solutions for business verticals such as industry, health, energy and automotive.