The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded $600 million in contracts for five 5G testbeds, with AT&T, Ericsson and Nokia among more than a dozen vendors.
This is the first group selected for several RPP (Request for Prototyping Proposal) the DoD had issued. A second group of 5G military testbeds at seven more sites were announced in June but haven’t been decided yet.
Federated Wireless and Samsung are also in the mix of industry partners that won contracts, the latter through GBL System Corp. The DoD said GBL’s Samsung-based testbed is going to use mid-band spectrum for coverage at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, as well as the Yakima Training center.
The testbeds are located on a handful of military bases each with a different focus of interest for 5G.
Those include AR/VR training for mission planning and operations; 5G-enabled smart warehouse looking to increase efficiency and strength of transshipment; smart warehousing; distributed command and control using 5G to assist in air, space, and cyberspace lethality; and a project in Utah to enable Air Force radar systems to dynamically share spectrum with commercial 5G users.
“The Department of Defense is at the forefront of cutting edge 5G testing and experimentation, which will strengthen our Nation’s warfighting capabilities as well as U.S. economic competitiveness in this critical field,” said Michael Kratsios, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, in a statement. “Importantly, today’s announcement demonstrates the Department’s commitment to exploring the vast potential applications and dual-use opportunities that can be built upon next-generation networks.”
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AT&T is providing connectivity at three facilities, including JBLM.
A project at Naval Base San Diego focuses on logistical operations calls for AT&T to stand up a 4G and 5G network within 9 months. The DoD says it’s based on commercially available equipment and will use both sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave spectrum.
At Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, AT&T will first set up fixed 5G services, eventually moving to mobile. At that site the DoD wants high capacity and low-latency since the network is being tested to support command and control, and implemented “to disaggregate and mobilize the existing C2 [command and control] architecture in an agile combat employment scenario.”
The military also appears to be interested in testing out open architectures, a trend that has been gaining more attention in the wireless industry.
Federated Wireless is going to use open standards and equipment for a testbed with indoor and outdoor coverage at a base in Georgia. The Nokia testbed at Hill Air Force Base will use both traditional and open standards architecture, including high power massive multi-antenna systems, according to the DoD.
Ericsson is participating at the same military testbed as Nokia in Utah. The Swedish telecom equipment vendor was selected with what the DoD called a novel approach using 5G infrastructure for necessary sensing capabilities together with machine learning and 5G spectrum aggregation.
The testbed that Ericsson and Nokia are involved in is focused on sharing spectrum between airborne military radar systems and commercial 5G cellular users in the 3.1-3.45 GHz band.
The 3.1-3.55 GHz band is of particular interest to the wireless industry, and has been targeted to find ways to share or coexist with federal users. Mid-band frequencies are seen as key for 5G, providing coverage and capacity, and also align with bands that other nations have allocated for 5G globally.
Later this month the FCC will vote on a framework for opening up access to 100-megahertz at 3.45-3.55 GHz, which the White House and DoD agreed can be used by the industry for 5G services at the desired power levels.
Still, there seems to be some friction among federal agencies when it comes to spectrum policy, with some FCC commissioners recently voicing concerns over a lack of coordination. There’s also the matter of a nationalized 5G network, an idea that has recently resurfaced once more and been met with criticism from lawmakers.
In terms of the DoD 5G testbeds, the National Spectrum Consortium said the majority of the contract selections were made under its Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) with the DoD. The OTA is a way to bring non-traditional defense contractors into the mix alongside more traditional vendors for rapid prototyping and development.
AT&T, Ericsson and Nokia also are all among NSC’s more than 300 members.