5G on Powder

5G and beyond is an exciting and important area of wireless research. While commercial 5G networks, which are currently being deployed by MNOs, can be studied to a certain degree in situ, research facilities and tools that can leverage modern software-defined networks and radios are valuable because they allow researchers to manipulate the network at every level, without black boxes interferring with potential insight. Powder provides the most control possible to users for their 5G research, with remote bare-metal access to compute and radio hardware.

Powder can help kick-start your 5G research with a variety of ready-to-go experimental recipes.

Powder's sophisticated hardware, software, and networking infrastructure allows researchers to transition smoothly from simulation to real hardware in controlled-RF or indoor and outdoor over-the-air (OTA) environments. Powder 5G profiles are ready-to-deploy recipies for 5G experiments, targeting a variety of hardware and software, that you can use as jumping off points for your own research.

Outdoor Over-the-air Resources

The Powder Dense Deployment provides access to several outdoor 5G-capable pole-height sites, amenable to deploying gNodeBs. Each of these is equipped with an Intel NUC connected to an NI B210 SDR, which is in turn connected to a custom medium-power TDD RF front end. One or more of these sites can be composed into a 5G network, using OAI or the srsRAN Project, each with a LAN connection to near-edge compute running a 5G core network (Open5GS, OAI CN5G, Free5GC). Powder Mobile Endpoints (campus shuttles provisioned with RF resources and out-of-band networking) include Quectel RM520 5G COTS UEs capable of attaching to gNodeBs deployed to Dense Deployment sites.

Powder Dense Deployment with nearby Mobile Endpoint routes.

Powder example profiles are capable of quickly standing up an end-to-end 5G network and capturing time-coherent logs from relevent processes across all of the compute nodes in the topology, inluding the gNodeB, 5G core, and UEs. The mobile endpoints have access to a local GPSD client that users can use to understand how network performance varies with location, velocity, etc.

Snapshot of realtime data aggregation from an outdoor 5G experiment.

Indoor Over-the-air Resources

Powder currently provides an array of 5G-capable hardware in our Indoor Over-the-air Lab, including:

  • 4x NI X310 SDRs with UBX160 daughter cards with wideband antennas and fiber connections to near-edge server-class compute
  • 4x Intel NUC compute nodes, each with:
    • 1x NI B210 SDR connected to wideband antennas
    • 1x Quectel RM500Q 5G COTS UE module
The X310+UBX160+server combination is well-suited to running, e.g., OAIs 5G gNodeB, and we offer profiles that deploy the OAI CN5G and gNodeB with instructions for connecting up to four COTS UE modules simultaneaously, as well as srsRAN Project and Open5GS. Of course, the number and variety of radios in this space lend well to other interesting applications. For example, Powder users have used this lab to develop and test novel methods for sharing spectrum across heterogenous wireless networks.

E2E OAI 5G with COTS UEs using Indoor OTA Lab.

Controlled RF Environment

Powder provides access to multiple Paired Radio Workbenches, which allow users to experiment with real RF transmissions, but avoid the effects of external noise and multipath. Each bench includes a pair of NI X310 SDRs with UBX160 daughter cards and wired RF connections (through 30 dB attenuators). An OctoClock provides a common PPS and 10 MHz reference for the SDRs, allowing for time and frequency synchronization. Additionally, since RF transmissions on the benches propagate via coaxial connections rather than OTA, experimenters can use any spectrum the associated SDR hardware is capable of. We've made an example E2E OAI 5G profile available as a jumping off point for 5G in a controlled RF environment.

E2E OAI 5G with Paired Radio Workbench.

Simulated RAN

Powder users have access to a variety of server-class compute resources that can be leveraged for simulating 5G RAN elements. Starting with a RAN simulator may be useful depending on your research objectives and level of expertise with 5G networks. It may also be useful for research that involves adding features to or otherwise manipulating a 5G core. We provide example profiles for simulating the entire RAN (UERANSIM or srsRAN connected to an Open5GS core network) or just the wireless channel itself in an E2E OpenAirInterface 5G network (OAI CN5G connected to OAI 5G RAN with simulated RF links between gNB/UE). The latter allows for RF channel emulation via the OAI RF simulator.

Resources for experimenting with 5G on Powder

The following resources can help you get started with 5G experimentation on Powder. The profiles and supporting repositories can be adapted to meet your research goals.
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