5G networks need to be interoperable, DOD and DHS officials say

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As military and civilian agencies eye the use of fifth generation wireless tech, officials representing both agree that a key to success is ensuring interoperability between networks and devices through open standards.

So far, the Department of Defense has led the government’s effort to trial 5G by offering its bases to telecommunications companies as testing grounds for the tech. Those tests could yield new capabilities for both military operations and civilian uses, hence the need officials see to ensure the tech remains open and interoperable for agencies beyond DOD, officials said Tuesday at FedScoop’s FedTalks conference.

“Cross-communications and interoperability absolutely will be critical for all our operators,” Kathryn Coulter Mitchell, acting undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, said of 5G technology.

Early versions of telecommunications networks lacked the ability for devices to be used across different companies’ networks. That’s a scenario officials want to avoid and urged both government officials and private sector companies to work together to ensure open standards.

“Today you don’t need to think, ‘am I with an AT&T phone in a Verizon network or a T Mobile phone in an AT&T network,'” said Eric Burger, a research professor and technical program director at the Next G Alliance. “It all just works.”

The DOD’s tests of 5G have focused largely on logistical operations, such as using augmented reality in warehouses or providing better wireless connectivity on bases. While the DOD hopes to eventually integrate 5G into battlefield operations, many of its current uses could be used by others.

“As we roll out 5G we will find more and more uses,” Kelly Fletcher, principal director to the deputy CIO for resources and analysis and DOD, said.

Both Mitchell and Fletcher agreed the government needs to play a role in setting open standards to ensure those uses can be shared. DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate “has always been a huge proponent of open standards,” Mitchell said.

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5G, 5G network, Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Network Modernization 2021
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