Digital twins are highly realistic digital versions of real-life assets. They allow managers to see the effects of certain decisions or process changes before proceeding with those options in the real world.
Many companies are particularly interested in creating and using digital twins of various networks, and digital twins are in wide use throughout the enterprise. Here are some compelling examples of what’s possible.
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1. Performance Assurance
Many of today’s networks are so foundational to our infrastructure that we only notice them if a disruption or other issue occurs. Take your mobile phone network as an example. You might use it to make and receive calls and browse the internet for months without problems. However, you’ll almost certainly notice a one-hour outage during waking hours. The same is true for electricity, gas and other essential networks.
Fortunately, digital twins can keep those networks running smoothly, giving operators better chances of meeting their performance targets. For example, they make it easier to spot issues that could eventually cause outages. In one case, Denmark’s power network operator partnered with a technology company to have a digital twin created of all its electrical lines.
More specifically, the digital twin will cover a 3,000-kilometer area and highlight areas of excessive vegetation. It will also simulate how power lines sag and swing, allowing network operators to prioritize tree-clearing efforts and other maintenance before outages happen. The digital twin will also enable users to extract millions of records about assets in seconds.
Another case comes from Thames Water, which oversees a vast public network in the United Kingdom. That organization uses a digital twin to prevent up to 1 million liters of water from getting lost due to leaks each day. The technology provides a real-time look at the entire network and its performance. It’s then easier for technicians to spot and solve issues earlier, often before leaks even start.
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Digital twins are also useful in helping businesses create or maintain tighter cybersecurity. Both those efforts are critical, especially considering how attacks are on the rise.
One study showed that weekly cyberattacks per organization hit a record in the fourth quarter of 2021. More specifically, organizations averaged 925 attacks every week in that period. Moreover, attacks on corporate networks increased by 50%.
A California-based company called Forward Networks can help clients make digital twins of their networks as part of an overall cybersecurity strategy. Then, the digital twin could show whether a guest Wi-Fi network could offer an entry point for hackers. It may also highlight misconfigurations that result in vulnerabilities when left unaddressed.
Additionally, the Forward Networks team creates digital twins to help clients see how proposed changes impact network performance and security. As networks become more extensive and have increasing numbers of connected devices, unintended consequences often result.
However, the digital twin can show how a network looks with an open versus closed firewall. Then, IT decision-makers can feel more confident about approving such changes, resting assured that those alterations don’t make things easier for potential attackers. Some experts even say digital twins could serve as cybersecurity decoys, encouraging adversaries to attack simulated networks rather than the real ones.
3. Network Resilience Against Climate Change
Today’s leading scientists assert that people must act now to mitigate climate change’s effects. Many individuals mistakenly believe that the ramifications won’t happen in their lifetimes, so there’s no need for urgency. However, that’s a misguided, short-sighted and inaccurate view.
Many experts agree that the metaverse will disrupt the business world and beyond. Indeed, early adopter McDonald’s had a 2022 partnership that allowed people to go to the metaverse to admire pieces made by an artist for Lunar New Year celebrations.
However, people will also use the metaverse for more urgent needs. Consider the case of Tuvalu, a tiny Pacific nation at risk of submersion due to climate change by the end of the century. Creating a digital twin of Tuvalu in the metaverse could enable leaders to experience how it was before the worst happened.
Something that often gets overlooked during climate change discussions is how the associated effects will be extraordinarily disruptive to society’s networks. However, digital twins could bring much-needed awareness to this issue, aiding preparedness.
The Climate Resilience Demonstrator (CReDo) digital twin is an excellent example. It gathers data from energy, water, and telecommunications networks and promotes information-sharing efforts among various stakeholders and decision-makers.
For example, people can use the digital twin to simulate storms, then examine the effects of moving a primary power substation or making specific changes to boost the water network’s resiliency. The individuals involved with the project also believe the digital twin’s information will help parties from various infrastructure-related networks unite around a common goal.
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4. Network Improvements
Today’s networks go through ongoing upgrades to make them suitable for meeting current and future needs. The 5G network is a good case in point. The COVID-19 pandemic and other obstacles slowed those upgrades, but they’re now back on track.
Many people believe the 5G network will change connectivity for the better, particularly due to its faster speeds and virtually non-existent latency. However, there’s a significant gap between planning and real-world implementation, due in large part to procedures like testing and site surveys.
Digital twins could accelerate the 5G rollout, creating more communication opportunities for everyone within the network coverage area. One proposed solution is to build a digital twin that shows the core network, base stations, and channels. People could then look at those three components separately or simultaneously, depending on their needs.
A company called HEAVY.AI offers a digital twin to telecommunications companies to enhance 5G network-related location planning. More specifically, using a digital twin saves time and money by optimizing the placement of microcells and base stations.
Things like trees and high-rise buildings can interfere with how well the 5G network functions. Fortunately, proper planning mitigates the associated issues. A digital twin for a 5G network reduces trial and error, increasing the likelihood of getting the best initial placement for critical equipment.
5. Quality Control Within a Manufacturing Network
One of the great things about technological advancements is that they collectively drive manufacturing innovation forward. Consider how many factories use smart sensors that gather real-time information about machine processes, operating conditions, and more. Decision-makers can then act quickly to rectify problems or pursue continuous improvements.
Many manufacturing brands don’t operate in single locations. Instead, they create gigantic networks of factories that often span multiple continents. Such growth is often essential for a company’s profitability and competitiveness. However, as a company’s presence expands, it’s more challenging to ensure all factories’ products meet quality standards. A digital twin can reduce or eliminate such uncertainties.
Anheuser-Busch (AB) InBev has in excess of 200 breweries and 150,000 employees worldwide. Those numbers illustrate why it’s so necessary to have stringent quality control processes and standards. The brand’s leaders worked with Microsoft Azure to build digital twins of brewing, factory, and supply chain conditions.
Then, brewmasters can monitor real-time statistics and make adjustments as necessary. The digital twins also work with mixed-reality solutions, promoting knowledge-sharing across locations, even if the people involved are in various countries.
Moreover, the digital twin uses reinforcement learning to identify production bottlenecks. Besides assisting users in finding those backup points, the technology can automatically resolve them, saving factory leaders time.
Could a Network Digital Twin Help Your Company?
These are only some of the many ways to enhance network operations with a digital twin. Hopefully, they’ll give you the inspiration needed to improve how your network functions and prevent outages or other mishaps.
Having a clear idea of how and why to use a digital twin is an excellent way to improve the chances of getting the intended results. Making those early decisions will also help you minimize costs and connect the digital twin’s usage to your organization’s goals.