High TechJuly 22, 2020

Taming the complexity of 5G networks

Model-based systems engineering can help ease the challenges of designing, integrating and rolling out the next generation of mobile telecommunications.
Avatar Tony Velocci

Designing and integrating 5G mobile networking is a massively complex challenge, but model-based systems engineering (MBSE) makes it manageable. Compass talked to Daniel Krob, President of the Paris-based Center of Excellence on Systems Architecture, Management, Economy and Strategy (CESAMES), about how MBSE can accelerate and optimize the design of 5G systems.

CompassHow does 5G differ from previous generations of wireless technology—its bandwidth, range, varied use cases, or is it something else?

Daniel Krob: The first thing you need to understand is that 5G represents not just the next stage of mobile telecommunications, but the cumulative result of 40 years of technological progress, with every generation building on what came before it. Each one has been 100 times more efficient than the previous generation, and this trend continues with 5G. Most people [working in telecommunications] think 5G is a super technology, which will enable a raft of new and varied use cases that were not possible before. These range from autonomous control of cars to mobile cloud computing.  

Productivity leaps of that magnitude seem astounding. Do you have any sense of the upper reaches of what 5G may enable as it evolves?

DK: Technologically, many engineers think 5G is limited only by our ability to continue miniaturizing antennas. At this point, all we know is there’s room for growth. The first step is to deploy it, and then we’ll begin to learn the true extent of 5G’s potential performance.

Help us understand the nature of systems engineering challenges in 5G. What makes the design, integration and rollout so difficult?

DK:  This is a complex technology whose deployment will deeply depend on how it’s used. 5G is just emerging, and so many of its actual end-use applications that take advantage of what’s possible will be developed in the next decade, after it’s fully deployed.

As an expert in model-based systems engineering, how would you describe the difference between classical engineering and MBSE? And how could those differences help resolve some of the challenges of making 5G as good as it can be?

DK: Classical engineering is perfect for systems with a manageable complexity. It’s based on an approach in which development is managed from top to bottom through a sequential process – capturing the need, designing the system, designing the components, integration, testing, qualification and maintenance. In such an approach, key technical knowledge is the purview of only a limited number of people, with modest modeling and cross-functional collaboration.

Unfortunately, such an approach doesn’t work with highly complex projects; making sense of all of the complexity becomes impossible. Seamless collaboration across the engineering team becomes key and modeling individual systems becomes mandatory – at which point you’ve entered into the world of model-based systems engineering (MBSE).

MBSE proposes a shared-systems model on which people representing multiple disciplines can collaborate and determine where these different disciplines – mechanical, electrical, electronics, software – intersect. Without this capability, you will have mismatches and gaps that remain undiscovered until a project reaches the physical prototype stage.

5G standards are still evolving, so the equipment that companies design today may need to evolve. How could MBSE help in this process?

DK: There are two ways in which MBSE can help. The first is its ability to efficiently connect the business needs to the technical solution and maintain a digital traceability between the two. This allows engineers to easily correlate evolutionary functional and technical requirements with the business implications, saving time and money. The second way MBSE can help is by supporting trade-off decisions based on evaluating the optimum solution.

To what extent does MBSE‘s ability to illuminate the intersections between different engineering disciplines influence innovation at the systems level?

DK: MBSE allows you to model and validate not just system-level innovation, whether it’s providing a new level of services or improved functionality, but also the business perspective behind the technology – in this case, 5G.

What advantages are early movers who are exploiting MBSE likely to gain in the marketplace?

DK: MBSE itself is a technology that requires mastering a new engineering methodology, as well as new problem-solving tools, and integrating these tools with diverse development processes in order to simplify the totality. This can be a long journey. The quicker one starts, the quicker one derives the benefits of the digital transformation enabled by MBSE.

“MBSE allows you to model and validate not just system-level innovation, whether it’s providing a new level of services or improved functionality, but also the business perspective behind the technology – in this case, 5G.”

Daniel Krob
President, CESAMES

Given the power of MBSE, why isn’t it used more extensively? What are the challenges to its wider adoption?

DK: It’s cultural. MBSE is one of the most advanced engineering languages in use [but] the number of people who have rich experience with MBSE is limited, and we all have a tendency to feel more comfortable with the methods we’ve used for years. The benefits of MBSE are worth making the transition because it avoids design gaps that can go undiscovered with the V-System engineering method until the physical prototype stage.

By avoiding those late-cycle issues, you eliminate endless rounds of physical prototyping, so getting to market on time with MBSE becomes a lot easier. Updating designs as standards evolve also is easier; you just update the model. Both of those factors will be huge advantages for early movers to MBSE.

(Image © Daniel Krob)

PROFILE: Daniel Krob is president of the Center of Excellence in Architecture, Management and Economics of Systems (CESAMES), headquartered in France, and a computer science professor of the Ecole Polytechnique. He is the author or more than 100 scientific publications and four books. His specialty is the field of architecture, modeling and design methods of complex systems, and he is a Fellow of INCOSE, the highest level of recognition by the International Council of Systems Engineering. Krob was chosen to join this small, highly accomplished group based on his contributions to the theory and practice of complex systems engineering on a globally significant level.

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