The Pentagon announced the four bases in late October where it plans to roll out initial testing around 5G high-speed, high-bandwidth networking protocols. Now, military leaders have begun to describe in greater detail the types of experimentation they have in mind, and what they hope to achieve.

“5G offers high speeds, quicker response times and it can handle many more wireless devices than 4G technology. Ultimately, 5G will provide ubiquitous connectivity for people and devices,” said Joseph Evans, technical director for 5G in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.

Evans described the specific plans for testing 5G capabilities at the four initial installations. At Joint Base Lewis-McChord, planners will be look at ways in which 5G can support augmented reality and virtual reality. At Hill Air Force Base, they’ll be looking at the ability to support dynamic spectrum sharing, a tool for switching between 5G and existing 4G assets.

At Naval Base San Diego and at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, they’ll be looking at 5G’s speed and bandwidth as a means to support “smart warehouse” functionality.

Telecom experts said it makes sense for DoD to play a leading role in exploring the possibilities surrounding the emerging network protocol.

“Hosting development and testing on government sites solves a couple of problems,” said Patrick Filkins, senior research analyst with IDC's network infrastructure group. With front-line experimentation, “the U.S. government remains in the loop to any new innovations. The government also can retain some control over what innovations are kept in-house, or allowed to creep into the broader defense market.”

Defense officials said these initial tests will help to position the military to adopt 5G as these networks become more readily available. “DoD needs experience in 5G if we are going to take advantage of 5G's ubiquitous connectivity,” Evans said.

At the same time, early experimentation by defense experts could help industry to accelerate deployment of 5G. “DOD controls electromagnetic spectrum and real estate on military installations, which will allow industry to roll out technologies quickly and conduct robust experimentation,” Evans said. “This gives industry the opportunity to mature technology in a low-risk environment and accelerate deployment of commercial capabilities.”

It will take a few months to ramp up the testbeds. “Right now, we're doing site surveys and assembling project management teams. Installation of equipment needed to conduct testing and experimentation won't take place until the spring of 2020,” Evans said. “The type of equipment will depend on the type of experiment on the base.”

Evans said he expects the lessons from this initial round of testing to provide critical information to defense and industry on how to build the 5G ecosystem. “We will learn what works and what doesn't, and that will inform how to do the things we want to do better going forward,” he said.

In the long run, the outcomes of these tests could drive enhanced connectivity and superior performance across a range of defense functions.

“Ultimately, 5G will provide ubiquitous connectivity for people and devices. We believe that the military that masters ubiquitous connectivity will maintain overmatch,” Evans said. “That mastery will require the ability to fully leverage 5G's power for our mission, while ensuring that we are able to spoil any attempts by our adversaries to use it against us.”

Getting there will require a team effort. The Pentagon plans to collaborate with the Federal Communications Commission, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and other government agencies. The long-term plan is “to collaboratively produce a 5G architecture with commercial industry that will ultimately connect everyone and everything,” Evans said.

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