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DIU tests portable private 5G network for responders

To improve communications for public safety, the Defense Innovation Unit announced a year-long test of a private, portable, wireless 5G network for first responders in California, including the California National Guard.

With DIU’s solution, the responders arriving first at a remote incident can launch a private cellular network using a vehicle-mounted, backpack, hand-carried or wearable node, said Jeff Kleck, director of the Cyber and Telecommunications Portfolio at DIU. It will free them from reliance on legacy radios or expensive satellite phones and give them access to networked applications such as push-to-talk voice, geolocation and live maps of their surroundings.

The service will provide reliable, ad hoc data and voice services to emergency responders who are outside the range of existing cellular networks. The 5G solutions also allows DIU to experiment with the capability as spectrum policy debates continue.

DIU is working with the California Military Department to procure commercially available, citizen broadband radio service-based private-5G equipment for mobile deployments. Nokia and Fenix Group will provide portable cellular radios, device provisioning, edge computing and dynamic frequency allocation solutions, Kleck said. Somewear Labs is providing wearable devices that extend a mobile cellular network. 

The network will be accessible to responders’ own smartphones. "DIU facilitated teaming arrangements among multiple companies to provide transparent roam-in to private 5G service that does not require replacing the commercial SIM card on bring-your-own-devices,” said Army Maj. Gen. Jay M. Coggan, commander, California State Guard. “This is critical since most apps used for communication identify the user by their phone number, and if that number changes the user loses their identity."

At the conclusion of a successful prototype, the solution could be scaled to other DOD organizations through other transaction agreements, Kleck said.

"Fielding a hybrid 4G/5G solution to support thousands of users, that can also be easily upgraded to full 5G speeds within the next few years, is critical to our mission as protectors of our residents rather than waiting for programs of record to become available," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Steven J. Butow, commander, California Air National Guard. "We should be leveraging the same agile, iterative approaches that companies use to deal with natural disasters."

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