The recently launched fifth generation (5G) cellular networks will deliver enhanced wireless communications capabilities to consumers and government alike. Among the most anticipated improvements that have federal agencies racing to adopt 5G technologies are 100 times faster download speeds, a 10-times decrease in latency, increased network capacity, and spectrum access in the mmWave ranges that enables enhanced broadband capabilities.
To guide governmentwide adoption of 5G and related technologies, the Federal Mobility Group’s (FMG) 5G and Mobile Network Infrastructure Working Group (WG) over the past year has undertaken an extensive evaluation of 5G testing approaches.
Their work has culminated in a fuller understanding of 5G testing capabilities; a plan to promote the use of shared testing resources, thereby avoiding duplication by individual agencies; and establishing a framework to support federal agency use-case testing.
National Strategy to Secure 5G
Federal agencies are beginning to explore their options for using 5G to enhance mission delivery and business operations and deliver new applications and services that were not fully accomplished with 4G or WiFi technologies.
The National Strategy to Secure 5G and its implementation plan define four lines of effort to secure 5G infrastructure and systems. The FMG’s 5G testing framework aligns to the Strategy’s “facilitate domestic 5G rollout” goal and its focus on promoting to federal agencies the research, development, testing, and evaluation of new technologies and architectures that advance 5G technology via shared test resources.
Framework to Conduct 5G Testing
To collect information about available 5G testing capabilities, the working group visited labs operated by cellular equipment manufacturers, mobile network operators, federal agencies, and academia. The FMG members received overviews and demonstrations and toured each lab to identify capabilities and determine suitability for use by the federal government. The report on these visits, which is classified “For Official Use Only (FOUO),” is available here.
To further develop the framework’s elements, the working group scanned the federal landscape and identified 60 5G‑releated initiatives, which were grouped into subject areas (e.g., infrastructure, policy and standards, R&D, security, spectrum, supply chain). Working group members also submitted their agency’s 5G use-cases. These federal initiatives and use-cases helped to identify commonalities across agencies and define the framework.
The FMG testing framework—titled Framework to Conduct 5G Testing, builds on the insights gained from the lab visits and the initiatives and expected uses identified by federal agencies. It proposes a modular approach to support the diverse needs of different federal use-cases and explores the new and enhanced capabilities of 5G.
Testing Capabilities & Elements
FMG’s framework identifies the capabilities and elements needed to conduct 5G testing and provides a process agencies can use to identify which testing capabilities are necessary for its use-case(s). The framework includes:
- End-to-end 5G testing architecture and mapping to 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) 5G standards.
- A modular approach listing all possible testing elements needed for different use-cases.
- Two examples showing how to use the framework to understand the test elements and determine which are needed for a use-case.
- Performance and security metrics that can be collected on a 5G testbed.
The testing architecture is divided into four main phases, notionally based on the timeline for 3GPP 5G standards releases and 5G equipment/device vendor offerings. The framework’s modular elements are organized by architecture, spectrum, application traffic, network, and 5G innovations. Each subsection includes a description and considerations for the test element as well as associated test and measurement equipment (e.g., protocol analyzer). It concludes with an overview of framework security considerations.
In summary, this framework will guide an agency in selecting testing capabilities suited to its needs, whether it’s building its own testbed, leveraging external lab/testbed services or using a hybrid approach.