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With 5G poised to ramp up digital transformation worldwide, research communities are joining forces to maximize their collective return on testbed investments.

The new ITU Focus Group on 'Testbeds federations for IMT-2020 and beyond' responds to urgent needs to build a technical and business ecosystem for the sustainable development, evolution, and federation of testbeds – the physical and virtual laboratories and testing spaces for new and emerging technologies.

“The accelerating digital transformation of our economies relies on the combination of increasingly complex technologies in fields from 5G and the Internet of Things to big data, cloud computing and machine learning," said ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao. “This focus group aims to build new partnerships to help test labs making mutually reinforcing contributions to innovation, to everyone's benefit."

Urgent need for broader 5G cooperation

Accelerating industry automation spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the urgency to create the international cooperation framework for 5G testbeds.

Open to all interested parties, the focus group aims to build broader knowledge of the specializations of different testbeds and identify opportunities for mutually beneficial interactions. It will also provide a platform to harmonize specifications for testbed interoperability, fostering and enabling high degrees of quality assurance and security.

“Testing certain technologies and associated use cases requires an extensive set of components and resources that few test labs are able to host in isolation, and this is becoming especially apparent as we enter the 5G era," said focus group chairman Giulio Maggiore, from ITU member Telecom Italia. “Federated testbeds could 'open source' test results to bring greater sustainability to industry and academia's work to decrease time to market for promising innovations."

Growing complexity

Testbeds run by industry and academia play an essential part in bringing game-changing digital technology breakthroughs to market.

But increasingly complex networks call for more sophisticated – and more expensive – testing environments to support the coexistence of a diverse range of information and communication technology (ICT) applications and services.

The focus group will report to ITU's expert group on standardization for protocols and test specifications, ITU-T Study Group 11. Its work is intended to build on the new ITU standard Q.4068 specifying open application programming interfaces for interoperable testbed federations, which defines a generic reference model for such federations and describes the foundational elements of this model.

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