The U.K.’s Spirent Communications and the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) are partnering to emulate 5G network connectivity for autonomous-vehicle system testing. (WMG)

Emulating 5G networks for AV testing

Business and academia team up to mimic 5G network connectivity to help OEMs case test autonomous mobile-use scenarios.

As 5G technology applications spread throughout the auto industry, case testing is a vital aspect of attaining and maintaining efficiency. The U.K.’s Spirent Communications and the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) at the University of Warwick are working together to deploy digital-twin technology that emulates 5G network connectivity for testing autonomous vehicle (AV) systems in a controlled environment within a 3xD drive-in simulator.

One of the first emulated 5G networks dedicated to researching next generation mobile-use cases, the testbed is operated by WMG, who lead the Midlands Future Mobility (MFM) AV testbed in the U.K. A provider of test, assurance and analytics’ solutions, Spirent describes the program as a 5G-in-a-box network, which will help bring AV capabilities forward. “OEMs may come to us with specific use cases,” explained Dr. Matthew Higgins, associate professor at WMG. “A new component, sub-system or vehicle which needs its technology readiness level accelerated with specialist knowledge and/or equipment.”

According to Higgins, development scenarios currently under consideration by AV OEMs include 5G core network functions, end-to-end latency evaluation, data governance compliance and network traffic-load-dependent performance testing. Other examples could include 4G/5G interoperability testing, 5G network slicing evaluation and 5G end-to-end evaluation (user to core to cloud/MEC (multi-access edge computing)) in controlled and real-world contexts.

For several years, WMG has been involved in collaborative R&D that was initially focused on positioning, navigation and timing projects. It now leads the MFM AV testbed, which is aimed at offering a flexible, mobility-focused, connectivity research and innovation service within a cellular communications network. Bespoke solutions can be created around a user, combining the user’s technology and/or that of the5G research team.

“To provide the 5G core elements of the testbed, we have chosen to use the Spirent Landslide Core Emulator,” Higgins said. “It allows us the flexibility of testing any aspect of the 5G core either in isolation or in combination with over-the-air 5G transmitters and receivers.” The MFM is both testbed and proving ground, covering a 480-km (298-mi) route of mixed road types and use-case scenarios to answer the AV community’s most important questions and to accelerate AV adoption in the U.K.

Expansive testing potential
A full understanding of future 5G-enabled industries and how to “operationalize” them for business and consumer usage is now possible in a safe, controlled environment thanks to Spirent, Higgins explained. “We’ll be able to test with near-limitless potential; for example, determining how an intelligent vehicle, drone or manufacturing robot would perform on a 5G network that millions of people are using at the same time.” That would be infeasible on today’s live 5G networks that cannot offer an accurate picture of traffic to be expected at a saturation point many years from now, Higgins noted.

“Understanding fully how 5G networks can be optimized in support of new use cases through cost-effective testing and emulation is being made possible by MFM,” said Stephen Douglas, Spirent’s head of 5G strategy. He is confident researchers and commercial operations can work with MFM to amass data from use-case experimentation correlated with live 5G network behavior. This could include determining maximum responsiveness of AV applications, or testing how a robot connected to the network could accelerate a manufacturing task with “minimal latency, in a safe, reliable, and secure manner.”

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