DOD teases plans for 5G testbeds on military bases

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The Department of Defense will issue a draft contract solicitation next month to set up experimental test sites at military bases to prototype 5G wireless technologies.

The draft request for proposals will detail four bases where initial experimentation will occur, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Lisa Porter announced during remarks at Mobile World Congress in Los Angeles. She was joined on stage by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and Diane Rinaldo, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Those initial pilots will focus on three use cases around 5G technology: creating a “dynamic spectrum sharing testbed to demonstrate the capability to use 5G in congested environments with high-power, mid-band radars;” integrating augmented reality and virtual reality for mission planning and training; and developing smart warehouses to “leverage 5G’s ability to enhance logistics operations and maximize throughput.”

The bases will provide “streamlined access to site spectrum bands, mature fiber and wireless infrastructure, access to key facilities, support for new or improved infrastructure requirements, and the ability to conduct controlled experimentation with dynamic spectrum sharing,” according to a DOD release.

The base testbeds are meant to be as much about development for the military as they are for the commercial sector. Porter told reporters after her remarks that “the uses cases we’re looking at have obvious military and commercial relevance.” Air Force officials say they have enabled 5G capabilities at several bases already to expand their ability to gather data from military aircraft.

‘Not just cellphones and cat videos’

In particular, Porter stressed using the testbeds to “understand the vulnerabilities aspect of 5G.”

“5G is really ultimately about ubiquitous connectivity,” she said. “It’s not just cellphones and cat videos. It’s really everything getting connected to everything else… there’s a lot we don’t know as things are going to emerge. But one thing we can confidently say is there’s going to be a lot of complexity. And with complexity comes much greater attack surfaces, much more vulnerability — we have to understand those, and as we work through use cases that are relevant to us and relevant to the commercial sector, what we hope we can do together is understand how we mitigate those vulnerabilities and get out ahead of that.”

DOD will work with “all parts of the spectrum” for the 5G use cases, to include high-, mid- and low-band frequencies. “DOD obviously operates in all of these environments,” Joe Evans, technical director for 5G in Porter’s office, told reporters.

The challenge, however, is the lack of available spectrum for 5G networks. So DOD will work with the FCC, NTIA and other partners to figure out how best to share what’s available, Porter said. “How do we figure out the realities of when someone’s not using it, it’s a wasted resource, so we really want to be able to leverage it. But we can’t, obviously, have a situation where when the DOD really needs it to protect the homeland and we don’t have access. That’s not a good thing. That’s the challenge we need to figure out.”

The draft RFP will give industry a chance to weigh in before DOD gets to the final stage of bringing in partners, of which Porter said there would be multiple. But already, she said, DOD has done plenty of “homework” in talking to industry. ”

“I thought it was very important for us to actually listen to industry because quite frankly they are the leaders in this domain technologically and we wanted to make sure that we understood what the challenges are and how we could collaborate,” Porter said.

The final RFP is tentatively planned for December, but that will depend on the passage of the 2020 defense appropriations. “It’s impossible to get ahead of an appropriations bill that hasn’t been passed,” she said. DOD will also host an industry day prior to the final RFP.

The department wants to open new opportunities for testing “roughly every quarter,” depending on funding.

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5G, Department of Defense (DOD), FCC, Lisa Porter, mobile, mobile and wireless
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