At the Mobile World Congress in Los Angeles in October, the Department of Defense unveiled plans for several 5G testbeds that have the potential to revolutionize how the government shares radio spectrum, trains service members and moves materiel around the nation and the world.

These highly anticipated plans envision three distinct use cases: dynamic spectrum sharing to use 5G in congested areas of sub 6 GHz radio spectrum; 5G for virtual and augmented reality related to mission planning and training; and “smart warehouses” to explore how 5G can simplify logistics associated with the modern military. These testbeds will be located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, Hill Air Force Base, in Utah, the Navy’s base in San Diego and the Marine Corps logistics base in Albany, Georgia.

Achieving these objectives won’t happen overnight, and they won’t happen with the snap of the fingers. There are serious conceptual and technical challenges that come with each of these use cases that must be addressed before they can be put in the field. It’s imperative that we get them right the first time – it’s a matter of U.S. leadership here at home and abroad. Opportunities abound for dual use commercial and military innovation.

The good news: there is an established avenue for forging a collaboration with innovators, academia and government to tackle the toughest mobility challenges faced by our government – and that’s through the National Spectrum Consortium (NSC). This the place where hard problems facing the nation on 5G, 5G-based technologies, and spectrum utilization are addressed and solved.

Through rapid research and development and prototyping (under a contracting vehicle known as an Other Transaction Agreement or OTA), member companies incubate new technologies that can be brought to the field quickly and efficiently. This creates early looks that enable win-win solutions and help revolutionize the way in which spectrum is utilized, with implications for the government and the private sector. As we like to say, good prototypes make good policy.

The government and the private sector understand 5G doesn’t just mean faster broadband. This new technology opens the door to new capabilities scarcely imagined just a few years ago. This includes virtual reality, new applications for internet of things devices, smart cities and logistics, connected mobility, machine-to-machine connections, telemedicine, distance learning and so much more.

Recognizing that many of these are capabilities will require innovative collaboration, the consortium has been working hard to bring all corners of industry, academia, and government together to collaborate.

Cooperation so far has been extensive and will grow significantly in the coming months. In April, the NSC hosted a 5G collaboration event, and in June our members submitted over 250 technical concepts detailing novel applications of 5G. In July, consortium members and government personnel sat down side-by-side to evaluate those technical concepts , and later this year we expect these efforts to culminate in the first release of a request for prototype proposals (RPP), to which NSC members will respond with their best ideas.

This is not the first such collaboration. For the past four years, we have worked on developing the enabling technologies necessary to broaden military and commercial access to and use of the electromagnetic spectrum at reduced cost, particularly related to spectrum sharing, security, and advanced technologies. As our membership of leading technology companies and academic institutions continues to grow, other government agencies and commercial sectors can benefit from this extensive experience.

As 5G develops, the opportunities are more significant and the stakes higher.

5G presents new horizons for not only the commercial sector, but for DoD as well. The technologies offer new capabilities to our warfighters, but they also present unknown threats. More data, more speed, reduced latency, and the ability to “operate through” untrusted networks will likely be the next discriminator on the battlefield, and our warfighters demand and deserve this capability. With new capability comes new vulnerabilities, and the NSC is the meeting place where these new capabilities can be realized, and unique threats are identified and mitigated.

The consortium stands ready to work with the U.S. government and private sector to turn the promise of 5G into a reality.

Howard “HoJo” Watson is Vice-Chair of the National Spectrum Consortium.

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