Verizon delivers 5G to Air Force base in Florida, Marine base in California

Lt. Col. Brandon Newell (pictured) is working with Verizon and Qualcomm on 5G at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station at Miramar in San Diego. (screenshot of Verizon event)

Verizon recently announced the latest three cities with access to its 5G Ultra Wideband millimeter wave (mmWave) network: Sacramento; Seattle; and Pensacola, Florida. 

Pensacola is notable because it will enable a 5G network that Verizon has started deploying at Tyndall Air Force Base. The 5G network at Tyndall is part of a broader 2019 contract Verizon has with the Air Force covering 10 bases throughout the Southeast.

According to Andres Irlando, SVP and president for Verizon Public Sector, Verizon is already offering 5G at seven of those 10 bases.

And Verizon works with other military branches as well. Last week, the carrier hosted a virtual event where it talked about its work with the U.S. Marine Corps at the Air Station at Miramar in San Diego.

Verizon worked with the Marines and Qualcomm to create a 5G Living Lab at Miramar. It serves as an R&D center to explore new technologies such as driverless cars and drones. But Verizon also provides mobile coverage for the service men and women on the base.

RELATED: DoD doubles down on 5G testbeds

The Miramar design includes 5G Ultra Wideband as well as 4G LTE. Verizon installed the first 5G mmWave node at Miramar in July 2020.

Steve Lamb, director of network engineering for the Verizon 5G Living Lab at Miramar, said, “The primary focus was getting Ultra Wideband onto Miramar. But we also needed 4G on Miramar to satisfy our existing customers there.”

Lamb said there were some challenges in terms of getting the necessary permissions to install the mmWave small cells. “The type of our solutions Verizon and the other carriers have traditionally deployed on military bases are very large towers: 100 feet up, 8-foot antennas, very big generators. But with 5G Ultra Wideband, we need to deploy small cells. So instead of doing one or two big macro traditional cell towers, it could be 20 to 30 small cells depending on the geography.”

Apparently, the powers-that-be on military bases are just as concerned as the population in general about dotting their environments with small cells.

“There has to be an acceptance of that small cell,” said Lamb. “So the process to get our solutions on military bases is very cumbersome, very bureaucratic. It took a lot of partnership and a lot of time between Verizon and the military base at Miramar to get these designs in and through the process.”

Lt. Col. Brandon Newell, director of the Southern California Tech Bridge for the Marines, said the DOD missed the 4G revolution, and it’s determined not to miss the 5G revolution and all the technical possibilities that may come from it.

“So to keep our competitive edge, we really have to change how we engage with industry and understand the nascent stages of emerging technology and how we’re going to position ourselves to understand what it’s going to do across the entire defense sector,” said Newell.

He said the relationship with Verizon and Qualcomm has been great because the partners were “not sitting on opposite ends of a contract but sitting at the same table as co-designers.”

Paul Guckian, vice president of engineering at Qualcomm, said Miramar has played an important role in the technology development and tests for 5G. 

“Miramar was very interested in drones, in particular,” said Guckian. “That’s where we first started our collaboration. We worked with Miramar. We worked with the FAA. And we had a whole low-altitude drone program. We were using the air space over the base. That’s a very critical air space. It’s actually the most stringent air space in the country.”

He said the partners studied how cellular technology serves a population of drones in the air as well as a population of devices on the ground. The group has also collaborated on 5G applications for autonomous vehicles and energy systems on the base.

Guckian said having the 5G Living Lab at Miramar has been great for Qualcomm, whose headquarters is located in San Diego. “Having all our R&D resources a few miles away, we can do things fast. We can go to Miramar, test, go back, look at the data and iterate on the solution.”