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DOD unwraps 7 more 5G testing sites

The Defense Department has named seven new 5G test sites that will explore augmented reality, wireless connectivity and spectrum sharing, officials announced June 3.

This second tranche of test sites includes Naval Station Norfolk, Va., focusing on shipwide and pier-side connectivity; Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, testing aircraft mission readiness; and Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, probing augmented reality and training. The National Training Center at Fort Irwin and Camp Pendleton in California and Fort Hood in Texas, will test wireless connectivity, while Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma will focus on bi-directional spectrum sharing between DOD communications systems and commercial 5G systems.

“The bases were selected for their ability to serve as at-scale, as large-scale test facilities to enable rapid experimentation as well as dual-use application prototyping,” Joseph Evans, DOD's technical director for 5G, said in the announcement’s briefing.  “Selection criteria included factors such as mature fiber and wireless infrastructure, streamlined access to spectrum bands and prototyping, test area and training range access.”

Requests for proposals are expected this summer with plans to stand up the new test sites this fall, Evans said.

The first five testbeds are experimenting with smart warehouse and asset management in support of logistics, dynamic spectrum sharing and the use of use virtual and augmented reality technologies for fieldable, combat-like training in 5G-enhanced locations.

The experiments, now spanning 12 sites, are on a three- to four-year timeline, but capabilities that could theoretically be handed off could emerge around the two-year mark, Evans said during an AFCEA DC event on 5G earlier on June 3.

The Pentagon began driving toward 5G connectivity last year when it opened a dedicated shop to handle strategy in August 2019, then later releasing its first set of test sites and a request for more prototypes later that year. DOD finalized its 5G strategy in May.

Speaking at an AFCEA DC virtual event June 3, Evans said focusing on communication between 5G and DOD systems was a key priority that could feed into the department's Joint All Domain Command and control plans to interconnect communications between DOD systems across the military services.

"5G will be one of those things that we consume, as part of the department, that will be a part of our comms structure and one of our comms capabilities," Frederick Moorefield, Jr., DOD's deputy CIO for command, control, and communications, said during the AFCEA event.

5G is a move towards "ubiquitous connectivity," Moorefield said, especially as DOD's need for wireless access increases. But it's reliant on spectrum and begs one major question: "how do we share the airwaves with 5G and 6G and 7G and what's coming?"

Moorefield said DOD wants to collect data on specific systems and cyber vulnerabilities to help determine whether a technology like 5G is deployable. That data will then be used to create 5G standards, he said.

"Those same capabilities that we used to protect ourselves from are getting integrated onto the base. So now we have to figure out from a technology perspective how do we enable that spectrum sharing in real time," he said.

But there have been national security and operational concerns around 5G and spectrum use, particularly how commercial use of adjacent frequencies could interfere with DOD GPS systems. While DOD is looking to drive development and adoption of 5G for military purposes, it has fiercely defended its own spectrum holdings from what it sees as encroachment from commercial providers.

In May, top defense officials along with Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, National Telecommunications Information Administration, and the Commerce Department, condemned and called for the Federal Communications Commission to reverse its decision to let wireless provider, Ligado Networks, use a low-power terrestrial nationwide 5G network in the L-Band -- which is adjacent to bands used by the Global Positioning System.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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