5G wireless test bed boosts security research in Virginia

Universities throughout Virginia will experiment with how to best deploy 5G networks, focusing on security.

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Spearheaded by the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI), Virginia has become home to a developing 5G test bed. The 5G test bed will engage 39 Virginia universities, 320 faculty members, 65 private companies, four federal partners, and 45 other regional partners to experiment with 5G deployment, use cases, and wireless security, according to a Virginia Tech press release

With the development of the test bed, Virginia's universities will be the first in the US to be provided with state-of-the-art 5G equipment. This access will allow researchers to focus on top tier 5G security research and smooth 5G execution, the press release said. 

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5G initially began as the next generation cellular network, with 4G and LTE networks waning under increased and continuous smartphone use. But, the rise of Internet of Things (IoT) adoption and applications—spanning across industry verticals such as manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture, and more—created an influx of data that also called for a higher capacity network infrastructure. 

5G's promise of fast speeds, low latency, and higher capacity accommodation is why global 5G users are projected to reach 1.5 billion by 2024, according to GlobalData's Mobile 5G Commercialization: Market Demand and Service Revenue Forecast report. Virginia's test bed aims to simulate a realistic 5G environment so users can study the successes and limitations of the technology. 

The CCI has a host of regional nodes throughout southwestern, central, coastal, and Northern Virginia, each of which is secured by a major research university. These universities include Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, Old Dominion University, and George Mason University. A hub at the Virginia Tech Research Center - Arlington acts as the central headquarters for the network, the press release said. 

All locations will be able to share resources and collaborate across the 5G test bed. This 5G test bed, in particular, will be primarily focused on wireless security, one of the biggest 5G vulnerabilities. 5G enables more connected devices, which results in more threat vectors for cyberattackers. 

"For 5G, the networks aren't even live yet, and there are already half a dozen interesting papers on security vulnerabilities. The time is ripe to create the infrastructure to test them," Roger Piqueras Jover, chair of the test bed's advisory board, said in a press release. "The test bed will enable really exciting academic research and yield findings that will make 5G even more secure; it will also be a resource for technology startups working on improving 5G security."

The test bed will rely on open-source software, allowing anyone who is interested to access the project. "Researchers can explore innovative ideas; companies can test new technology; startups can demonstrate prototypes; and government agencies can conduct training exercises – all across the spectrum of 5G applications, from manufacturing to unmanned vehicles to smart-grid power systems," the press release stated.

The dynamic nature of the test bed will allow researchers in one region of Virginia to take advantage of capabilities utilized in other regions.  

When an interested user approaches the test bed with a prospective project, test bed staff will guide the user through the design and implementation process to effectively execute the experiments. An advisory board will then direct the user toward strategic research priorities, the press release said. 

One of the biggest experiments the test bed is exploring involves Virginia's cargo shipping industry. 5G can provide information in real time that shows how full shipping containers are, and where they are, which hasn't existed previously, according to the press release. By placing 5G wireless, battery-powered sensors on cargo containers and shipping lanes, this data can be accessed. 

The test bed will be fully operational and accessible by early 2021. 

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