A month has passed since the Layered Realities Weekend, and it would be easy to assume that the Bristol 5G Testbed project is now over – but far from it. The exploration of 5G with the public was more a celebration of the end of stage 1, and for Zeetta Networks, the real business starts now!

It’s time now to shift from theoretical, to testing out in practice. Creating Bristol as a useable testbed for 5G experiments is possible now that the network has been built, and the Layered Realities Weekend was a brilliant chance for members of our team to show the public exactly what that network is capable of.

5G is still in flux, constantly being updated, adjusted, and tested. The aims of the 5G Testbed project are to create a 5G network within Bristol that experts – whether from the academic world or the corporate world – can run experiments on, flexing their 5G muscles, and putting their own theories into practice. But to maximise that efficiency, those experiments need to be run on a software defined network.

Why a software defined network?

Every 5G experiment that is run will have different parameters: different settings, different goals, and therefore will need the network configured to its own specific and potentially unique requirements. This is especially true when experiments are being run in parallel, at the same time, because the experiments become meaningless if they interfere with each other.

That’s where Zeetta Networks comes in. Our role within the 5G Testbed project is to provide our NetOS® technology as the controller for the 5G Testbed Bristol network, providing all those running experiments with one screen that allows them to define a service as a set of individual network functions, and request specific parts of the network. These can be tailored down to the smallest detail, and then run inside a data centre on a virtual machine.

It may sound complex, but in fact for the user, it is remarkably simple. After all, the researchers want to concentrate on the experiment itself, not on the network parameters for the setup. NetOS® offers click and drag operation, enabling more efficient setup for experiments as well as portioning the network as slices to prevent contamination.

Hasn’t this been done before?

Orchestration as a practice is already available, but what our NetOS® technology enables is the direct interaction between the virtual network functions and physical network functions. For example, a virtual network functions request could be: “I want a user to go through a firewall, and then a router, and then through to the server at the end.” A physical network functions request on the other hand could be: “I would like a WiFi network in Millennium Square.”

What we are enabling is the ability for the experimenter to request: “I would like a service set identifier in Millennium Square to be connected through a firewall and a router, and then to my server running my experimental application.” This is then automatically deployed and configured in seconds across the network devices and services in a way that does not affect any other experiments.

Zeetta Networks’ contribution to the 5G Testbed project integrates orchestration as it exists in data centres with orchestration required for a physical network, linking cloud apps to a tangible network. This functionality will be utilised within a variety of enterprise sectors, particularly event or location based WiFi applications that require multiple parties to interact. Whether it’s a hospital, shopping centre, or school, there is the functionality to integrate virtual apps and the physical network more efficiently.

Crispin Dent-Young, our Software Architect at Zeetta Networks, describes the project as ‘a true collaboration’ with the University of Bristol.

“This is intricate technology as you can imagine! None of us knew quite what was possible when we started – but we knew what we wanted to do, so we have collaborated throughout the process to push ourselves towards creating something dynamic and manageable for the multitude of organisations who will be using it.”

Does this mean that 5G is almost here?

Much of this is, by its nature, theoretical for the public. Experiments are only just beginning, and for a while their results will inform even more experiments, rather than final discoveries. It is still not possible to connect your mobile to a 5G network, and so the advances that are being made by academics and growing tech companies such as Zeetta Networks are yet to be experienced by many – but it won’t be long before the experimentation moves into commercial reality, and companies and individuals alike can start to enjoy the benefits that 5G brings.

Want to learn more about our involvement with the 5G Testbed project? Click here to get in touch.