A growing number of telecom firms are using digital twins as part of their network planning processes. How does this work, and what is the potential of digital twins in the telecom industry?
- We’re seeing growing usage of digital twins in telecom planning
- Using digital twin technology relies on high-quality 3D mapping technology
- Learn about the use cases of digital twin models in the telecom industry
- Find out where to begin when building a digital twin for telecom networks
The telecommunications industry is, arguably, installing more networking equipment today than it ever has before. The advent of 5G and the rise of the Internet of Things means that telcos must now deploy more pieces of equipment in more places to keep up with consumer and business demand.
One recent study of the small cell market estimated that the number of individual devices installed was set to triple between 2020 and 2027. Millions of cell towers and receivers are being deployed or upgraded around the world to adapt to new methods of transmitting signals.
Installing these ever more complex and finely tuned telecom networks will require a vast amount of planning. And this is where digital twins for telecoms can help. By utilising a virtual model of the real-world places where your organisation plans to install network infrastructure, designing and laying out networks should become much more efficient.
So, what exactly are digital twins for telecom planning, and how could they help the industry?
What is a digital twin?
A digital twin can be defined as an exact digital replica of a thing in the real world. Using digital technologies, you can create a virtual model that has the same size, shape, and characteristics as the physical thing. Technology can replicate forces in the natural world (gravity, friction, etc.) as well as human behaviour (traffic flows, footfall, etc.) and the digital twin responds to them.
Some of the earliest uses of digital twins were at NASA, where scientists would create models of spacecraft to conduct simulations and experiment with spaceship designs. As the technology has improved and become cheaper, it has turned a far wider range of physical ‘things’ into digital twins.
In the manufacturing industry, for example, digital twins of production lines have been created to discover efficiency improvements. In construction, BIM technology is used to create digital twins of buildings to support design, build, and management. And certain governments (notably Singapore), have created digital twins of their entire territories.
The great benefit of a digital twin is that it allows the user to test theories within the virtual model and see what happens when they change things – without any consequences or costs in the real world. For example, a city planner could test what would happen to traffic flows if they closed one specific road in the digital twin – without causing any disruption in the real world.
In some of the most advanced digital twins today, sensors in the physical world send information to the digital twin, so it is continually updated with real-time information (e.g., data on temperature, pressure, or even air pollution).
The emergence of the digital twin in telecom settings
Around the world, several major telecom firms have already begun exploring the potential of digital twin technology in the industry. For example, in the UK, Vodafone says it has built a digital twin of the entire country.
Telecom businesses could use a digital twin in multiple ways, including:
- For network planning
Perhaps the most obvious use of a digital twin in telecoms would be for network planning. If engineers had access to a digital model of a town, city, region or entire country, they could experiment with the locations of cell towers and other equipment to create the best possible network plan.
As a simple example, they could use digital twin models of a rural area to compare network coverage if they placed a cell tower in Hill A versus Hill B. This would help them see which hill would deliver the best network access to the highest number of people.
- Signal propagation analysis
Another use for a digital twin in telecom network planning relates to signal propagation analysis. There are many kinds of clutter which prevent the propagation of signals – particularly mmWave 5G signals which are seriously attenuated by common obstacles such as trees.
The company could use a virtual model of a real city to assess the optimal location and angle for installing equipment to ensure it has the widest reach. Digital twin technology could also help identify clutter and obstacles which might not be obvious when looking at a traditional map, so designers could plan around them.
LuxCarta research: Why 5G propagation models must include vegetation
- Predicting demand
If a telecommunications company’s digital twin models were updated in real-time with population information about new housing estates, retail parks, train stations or roads, this could then help with demand planning. The company would be one step ahead of their competition when it came to installing telecom networks, and ensure infrastructure was in the right place, at the right time.
What are the benefits of digital twins in telecoms?
Creating a digital twin for telecom planning delivers a wide variety of benefits to the telecommunications industry. These include:
- Reducing waste and redundancy
Purchasing and installing telecoms equipment is costly and time-consuming. When individuals wrongly place cellular devices, they lead to low demand or poor signal reach. This results in significant time and money wastage. Digital twins can minimize this risk in telecom network planning by preventing poor device location.
- More productive planning
Using digital twins supports the planning of network infrastructure. Engineers can virtually explore how the addition or removal of cell towers and equipment will affect network performance without needing to do physical implementations. Engineers can test hypotheses in the ‘sandbox’ of the digital twin, without this affecting the real world.
- Reducing field visits
With detailed virtual models of their physical environment, engineers can conduct site surveys and analyse network coverage remotely. This minimises the need for field visits, improves operational efficiency, and saves considerable amounts of time and money.
Read more: Why RF planning NEEDS high quality maps
3D mapping technology is vital for digital twins in telecoms
In order to create useful digital twins of the towns, cities and regions that your telecommunications firm operates in, you will need accurate and up-to-date representations of the target area. 3D mapping technology helps here, by generating maps to support digital twins in telecom planning.
LuxCarta has decades of experience creating digital maps for the telecom industry. Our 3D mapping models use the latest satellite imagery to produce detailed, reliable and accurate maps of the real world, as it currently is. The technology uses machine learning to identify building footprints (and their height), vegetation, land use and topography. It then converts all this information into an easy-to-use map of your target environment, creating a digital twin that you can use.