5G For Science: How Research Will Benefit from Advanced Wireless?


5G Andrew

5G is the next-generation wireless network that will give you much faster Internet connections. That means massive files, like high-definition movies, that take you about six minutes to download over a 4G LTE network, could be downloaded in a matter of seconds over the 5G network. And because of its innovative design, 5G is about to change the way things like cars, TVs, and even buildings connect to the Internet.

The Department of Energy’s national labs, sponsored by the Office of Science, are currently working to identify opportunities on how science can leverage 5G and other advanced wireless technologies. The Office of Science recently published a report on its findings.     

ESnet Computer Systems Engineer Andrew Wiedlea helped facilitate discussions and report findings. We recently caught up with him to talk about the benefits of 5G and other advanced wireless technologies for science, and what it will take to make it available for research. 

What is 5G and Advanced Wireless? And, how could science benefit from it?

Floating Robots
Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley researchers unleashed 100 floating sensors to understand how water flows through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta on its way to pumping stations and San Francisco Bay.  The sensors transmitted data to the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center for assimilation and analysis. (Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt).

Scientific data movement is on the cusp of a new era for flexible, low-cost deployment of scientific sensors and data mobility. Advanced wireless capabilities offer the promise of solving the “last mile problem” for science, which is creating new ways for scientists to connect data from sensors, vehicles, and isolated locations, with U.S. Department of Energy’s world-class supercomputers. It’s important to note that advanced wireless will not replace high speed scientific optical networks for large-scale wired “backbone” connectivity, rather we will solve the last mile problem through the integration of advanced wireless- and wired- backhaul. 

5G technology is one part of this emerging wireless data connectivity era. In addition to emerging low-orbit satellite constellation non-terrestrial networks, terrestrial millimeter wireless (mmWave), 5G “New Radio” capabilities will be deployed both by commercial vendors and non-commercial entities (using open parts of the radio frequency spectrum-space) to support myriad uses. Because 5G operates over a very wide range of radio frequencies (600 MHz to 27 GHz) and also leverages advances made since the deployment of earlier cellular radio communication standards, such as software defined networking, beam steering, and improved signal processing, 5G will allow users (including the scientific community) to engineer wireless data transmission supporting novel sensing applications for the world around us.

What makes 5G different from previous wireless standards for science? 

accessibility-browsing-5g-business5G is built around three standards, each of which leverages network resources in different ways.  Each of these application models will be leveraged by scientists depending on their needs:

Enhanced Mobile Broadband: The main benefit of 5G comes from a great increase in the ability to spatially reuse the radio spectrum. In comparison to previous cellular network standards, 5G networks will support higher data rates, and an ability to support many more subscribing devices wherever this is needed.  For scientists, this will mean much improved options for sensor networks, Internet of Things (IoT) applications, lower wireless data costs, and (hopefully) less reliance on “sneakernet” or other improvised methods for data collection and movement.

Ultra Reliable and Low Latency Communications: 5G supports deployment modes based around defined service levels, which means users will be able to reserve “slices” of capacity in a way similar to reserving circuits on a wired network. This, combined with other capabilities, will allow 5G to support scientific uses where communications reliability is essential, such as when measurements depend on near-real-time interaction with instrument control systems or as part of operating mobile systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles.

Massive Machine Type Communications: 5G is also built to support deployment modes in support for low power, automated systems.  These capabilities will be of benefit for all kinds of urban applications, but particularly so for scientists leveraging 5G for urban or building applications.  Leveraging this standard, scientists will be able to deploy hundreds or even thousands of small, very power-efficient, sensors throughout buildings or other areas to measure energy or environmental factors.

Taken as a whole, the capabilities provided by advanced wireless (5G, non-terrestrial networks, and mmWave) will allow new kinds of science, both within the confines of the laboratory and outside in a world via commercial and national laboratory dense sensor networks. Both the types and amounts of data generated will greatly increase – as will the scientific opportunities to learn new things.

What role is ESnet playing in creating a 5G network for scientists?

Cori Supercomputer
Advanced wireless capabilities are creating new ways for scientists to connect data from sensors, vehicles, and isolated locations, with world-class supercomputers like the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center’s (NERSC’s) Cori system. (Picture by Roy Kaltschmidt)

ESnet’s mission is to ensure that science collaborations—at every scale and in every scientific domain—have the information and tools they need to achieve maximum benefit from global networks. This mission is not defined by a particular technology. ESnet works to integrate the compute, storage, and analytic resources operated by sites within the Department of Energy complex, and our scientific customers. 

Unlike previous generations of sensor or data infrastructure development, such as the Internet, Advanced Wireless and 5G advances are largely occurring without the US National Laboratory system playing lead roles. The challenge for scientific users is primarily one of connecting wireless technology (when needed) into the toolset made available by the Department of Energy to support US and global science objectives.  

ESnet inherently must support these customer efforts because we operate the high-speed scientific data network upon which the community depends now, and in the future as next-generation capabilities (ESnet 6) come to life.  We are also at the forefront of thinking about next-generation data movement and analytics through leadership roles with the National Science Foundation’s FABRIC program, software defined networking, and other projects supporting the Department of Energy’s future vision for the science laboratory system. 

At the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), where ESnet is headquartered, we are working to develop a community of interest on 5G and advanced wireless applications, and have been using this as a forum to develop ideas, and bring in external speakers to provide technical talks on 5G state of the art.  

ESnet’s Science Engagement Team is also starting to work with the Applied Physics Program and others to test aspects of advanced wireless technology, as well as how we can connect this to ESnet work in edge computing, our ScienceDMZ architecture, and other Berkeley Lab resources.  We have also started to develop research relationships with the UC Berkeley advanced wireless community, especially the Wireless Research Center to explore mmWave capabilities.  Outside of Berkeley Lab, we have been very active in the Department of Energy’s Enabled Energy Innovation Workshop (5GEEIW)  and related discussions for science uses of 5G and future requirements, as well as discussions with other labs and commercial entities about collaboration on testbeds and prototyping use cases.  These efforts will grow over the next year and hopefully, the report just released from the 5GEEIW will contribute to this progress. [link here]

Are there any experiments looking to use 5G? 

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Argonne National Laboratory’s  Waggle platform is a novel wireless sensor with advanced edge computing capabilities to enable a new breed of sensor-driven environmental science and smart city research. (Photo by Mark Lopez, Argonne National Laboratory)

Around the Department of Energy complex, many teams are starting to look at the use of 5G to support experiments.  There are also developing applications for inside building and laboratory use as well using unlicensed 5G spectrum—some of this application space is now served by either Wifi or wired connectivity. There is a need for some general networking research to explore how ESnet wired capabilities, such as caching and data transfer nodes, should be deployed as part of wired-wireless interfaces, and to develop patterns for scientific support for projects making use of advanced wireless technologies as part of ESnet support for science.

We, along with Argonne National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and other Labs, are developing ideas for 5G/Advanced Wireless testbed and prototype application testing environments.  At present, the availability of equipment and service is limited, but this is expected to change rapidly as the first generation of 5G handsets and other devices begin to flood the market.

What is the state of 5G now? How long will it be until scientists can access it?

5G is being commercially rolled out by carriers now, and the build-out of this service is expected to take several years.  Other resources, such as IoT 5G toolsets and hardware are also beginning to reach the market from Ericsson and other vendors.  Similarly, non-terrestrial network constellations such as StarLink are beginning to support limited communities of beta-testers, and mmWave resources are also becoming commercially available.  

Thanks to Berkeley Lab IT’s stellar work with Verizon, however, we hope that there will be options over this next year for Berkeley-community access to 5G testing resources, and similar opportunities to explore mmWave or non-terrestrial networks tools as we build relationships and capabilities.  We also believe that opportunities and resources will start to become available over this next year from the Department of Energy, and other funding sources to support science user testing and the uptake of advanced wireless.

How did you get into this work and what do you enjoy most about it?

I got into this area at the start of my career working on satellite mobile telephony, and later with the Department of Defense working on sensors and analysis systems. When I was supporting military forces in the field with analytics, the problem was always how to handle really data thin-pipes, and as part of this, we had a lot of trouble with existing radio, cellular and satellite options. 

As part of the research-support community, I’m most interested in how we can use 5G and advanced wireless technologies to allow scientists to do new things. It is really fascinating to be at a point of inflection, for RF wireless technology and the ability for almost anyone to be able to affordably collect data from the world, backhaul that data globally, and make sense of it.  

I think that we are in a great position to lead the way with open science “out in the world” which will leverage these new technologies and ESnet is a wonderful place to serve that cause.

Interviewed by Linda Vu, Berkeley Lab Computing Sciences