Air Force taps AT&T 5G to boost network services at 3 bases

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Wilkie, 269th Combat Communications Squadron infrastructure cyber transport technician, verifies connections on network equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Luke Milano)

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The Air Force inked a deal with AT&T to bring 5G wireless technology to three new bases in support of the service’s enterprise IT-as-a-service and network-as-a-service models, the company announced Wednesday.

Under the partnership, AT&T will set up its low-latency networks at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; and Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska to improve the connectivity of bases and support operations.

The Air Force has made industry-partnered 5G “testbeds” at several other bases, but this appears to be the first case where the next-generation networking technology is being used to improve its push for industry-supported enterprise IT and network services. The other 5G pilots have focused on challenges like energy management and improving base security.

“We think it is vital to test commercially provided services like 5G and software-based network-as-a-service capabilities as we explore ways to help us innovate and improve our global air, space and cyber readiness,” said Col. Justin Collins, deputy for the Air Force’s Enterprise IT and Cyber Infrastructure Division. “We expect 5G service will help us improve the user experience and support a broad array of use cases that can enhance mission effectiveness.”

Beyond just 5G networks, which have the ability to rapidly transmit vast amounts of data, AT&T is working with the Air Force to bring greater internet and network coverage to the bases. The networks will have “highly secure interoperability with legacy systems” at the bases.

As the U.S. is locked in a race to try and outpace China’s development of 5G, the Department of Defense has made it a central part of its 5G strategy to work with private industry to provide testing opportunities to develop the technology. Military bases provide companies small, controllable testbeds to fine-tune the technology, while military bases could benefit from greater connectivity for its IT. The DOD has also agreed to share its spectrum to support the development of commercial 5G technologies.

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5G, Air Force, AT&T, Department of Defense (DOD), enterprise IT as a service (EITaaS), network
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