U.S. Military partners with wireless industry for 5G test bed

The Department of Defense is leading a $600 million effort to architect and deploy the largest 5G wireless initiative to test how the military can use 5G technology for its own purposes as well as a broader effort to lead the world in 5G.

At a Connect (X) 2021 general session, attendees heard from two of the commercial companies that are part of the initiative to use commercial-grade equipment to experiment with DoD. Kurt Jacobs, Director, Markets and Solutions at JMA Wireless, and Sal D’Itri, VP and GM at Federated Wireless, talked about how their companies are part of the DoD test bed, what has been accomplished to date and the vision going forward.

DoD, through its research and development arms, is investing in companies in the technology and telecom sectors to learn how technologies, processes and the like can be used in the military and commercial marketplaces in the future, Jacobs noted. “They want to get away from the $600 hammer.” The department wants to be able to use existing equipment but “be able to do things faster, quicker and bring that commercial technology in house.”

The DoD is the largest enterprise customer in the world, Federated’s D’Itri said. “This is a transformational effort.” D’Itri, who served as chairman of the National Spectrum Consortium, relayed his previous experience as those two entities worked together. NSC is a collaborative research and development organization whose members incubate new technologies to revolutionize the way in which spectrum is assessed, shared and utilized. Through collaboration among industry, academia and government agencies, NSC supports the implementation of 5G, 5G-based technologies, and spectrum awareness, sharing and use. The Wireless Infrastructure Association is a member of the NSC.

DoD realizes it cannot just rely on its traditional defense contractors. It is engaging logistics companies, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) companies, automation experts and more. “When we talk about 5G, the application is going to drive the network, which in my humble opinion is a huge step from where we were with 4G,” D’Itri said.

Specifically, Jacobs and D’Itri talked about their work with the Marine Corps for a smart warehouse in Albany, Ga. The 200,000-plus square foot facility houses everything from tanks to bullets to beans. It is the home for Marine logistics, globally. “Today they’re moving from a system where they’re evolving to things like intelligent shelving and robotics and things of that nature but there’s a lot of manual work that goes on in this process,” D’Itri said. The Marine motto of “tonight we fight,” speaks to how implementing a 5G network can transform their readiness.

Companies taking part in the initiative used low-, mid- and high-band spectrum, as well as shared, commercial and federal spectrum to build the network for 5G infrastructure to test which technologies are best suited for the effort. The goal is not only to deliver a better way to track assets but to marry that up with inventory systems around the world and to do it efficiently. The Marines’ stated goal is to improve efficiency by 40 percent.

JMA provided the virtual RAN and Federated provided the Spectrum Access System. All the hardware was commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment, Jacobs said. “What we built was what I call the U.S. 5G string of pearls – everything from the user devices, spectrum, RAN, core, transport and security.” The build showed how 5G could support IoT and mission-critical applications.