Private 5G: Connecting the Warfighter On-Premise and in the Field

As agencies, including the Department of Defense (DoD) modernize, with the latest applications and devices, the requirement for speed, reliable throughput, and security of data transfer begs for new solutions like private 5G wireless networks to maximize these investments. With private 5G networks, government agencies can rely on these networks to communicate and exchange information securely, whether they are on base or in the field. Federated Wireless’s Iyad Tarazi, Chief Executive Officer, and Chris Swan, Chief Commercial Officer, met with Government Technology Insider to discuss the topic of private 5G wireless networks and their benefits for federal agencies further.

Government Technology Insider (GTI): Wireless technology is nothing new to the government and DoD. What is private wireless, how is it different and how does it impact today’s military and government operations?

Iyad Tarazi (IT): For the DoD, specifically, it has become mission critical. In the same way that GPS technology was mission critical to target missiles ten years ago, connectivity has now become mission critical. This is because both the logistics and the work environment are mechanized, autonomous, and need significant wireless communication to perform.

The DoD has invested significant time, energy, and understanding into spectrum and connectivity policies. 5G has been identified as a mission-critical activity. It needs to allow for mission readiness and efficiency of our armed forces. Previously, we were concerned about how our smartphones connect to the Internet. Now, we’re looking at automation for applications, such as automating logistics at a warehouse, enhancing security with high-speed cameras, tracking inventory in order to move it across locations, working on remote health and remote operations, and working on remote training activities with augmented reality and virtual reality for the armed forces. We’re in a place where it’s about machines, automation, and mission readiness. 5G and private wireless allow us to do this securely and predictably.

Chris Swan (CS): In addition to everything Iyad described the focus on wireless and 5G technology is vastly different from the private wireless aspect. Previously, it wasn’t as readily available as it is now. In the DoD, the government is providing broadband radio spectrum to citizens as a free innovation spectrum so that people can instantiate private wireless networks.

This matters because this network has been deployed inside government communications, policy, security, and more to serve the mission. To Iyad’s point, the mission can take many forms. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned about the need for automation. The military needs to be ready; it cannot stop supplying the front lines. Because of this, autonomous vehicles and robots need to be ready and have wireless connectivity supporting their movements. Private networks provide protection and security over these devices that public networks cannot support due to intermingled traffic. Private networks are applied around the mission to meet mission goals. Autonomous vehicles can run leaner and faster with lower latency on private networks. Private networks have more security because external sources cannot see their IP addresses. Private 5G wireless networks are becoming incredibly important to the government.

GTI: Reliable networks are essential for government agencies, especially when it comes to managing logistics, IoT, and automation applications. What are some challenges in providing high-speed and reliable wireless connections in geographically remote locations?

IT: The challenge today with not using a private wireless network is that agencies must use either public networks, which are very hard to secure and expensive to extend inside a warehouse or that you have to use Wi-Fi, which also has security and predictability issues. Most in-building systems run on Wi-Fi today. To solve the problem of not having enough security and predictability, agencies need to build a private network for the application inside the warehouse. This will be dedicated, secure, and closed. It will additionally have its own spectrum, network, and equipment. This way, it is much easier to secure and make it predictable for that specific application.

CS: If you think about specific examples, the bases for government operations or institutions are deployed in different areas. They all need reliable communications, no matter what the mission is. The individuality required for each site allows us to stand up these networks and dedicate them to a particular area, operation, or mission to provide security and privacy around the instantiations. These are networks that run in those environments for those teams, in contrast to public networks.

We provide private networks to solve the issue of remote locations where public networks do not have good wireless coverage. Private wireless networks have their own radios, antennas, and core networks that are dedicated to a particular location and operate within the confines of the environment so that the mission data never leaves the site unless the agencies want to connect to a cloud application or another location.

GTI: Why has it taken a little longer for private wireless to come to market, and what benefits does it bring?

IT: There are two reasons why we can do private wireless now. One is that we’ve been able to get the equipment, pricing, and the pricing of the services to scale. You can now deploy a 5G network for the same cost as a high-end enterprise Wi-Fi network. This is due to research and development and driven by equipment makers, cloud companies, and new entrants in the field that are trying hard to drive the cost of equipment and services down to make it viable for an enterprise or government agency to own its own network.

The second reason this is happening, in the U.S. specifically, is that there are new and innovative spectrum policies. They set the airwaves these networks run on that allows for situational and pinpoint private ownership and private access to spectrum and airwaves for these private networks. In the U.S., the private and innovative allocation is called Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). The U.S. is a leader in creating spectrum policies and strategies that are tailored to private ownership.

So, the first reason is that equipment pricing is scaling and getting simpler. The second is the spectrum policies that allow for private ownership. We have previously built LTE and 4G networks so that cellular devices work. Now, we are building private 5G networks so that IoT, automation, and robotics work.

CS: It’s amazing what has happened with digital transformation and IoT over the last five to ten years. Previously, many technologies were unable to connect. Now with CBRS, 5G, and even 4G, organizations can solve these connectivity problems. With reliable connectivity, agencies can connect their devices quickly while remaining safe, secure, and have low latency to meet the mission. Finally, reliable communications technology can go into a warehouse and effectively operate the devices when Wi-Fi was unable to do so in the past. It is a game changer and has only become available in recent years.

GTI: Can you share any use cases with us?

IT: The most important thing for the armed forces is mission readiness. Mission readiness is all about logistics, which involves warehousing and processing materials. The primary use case is automating logistics, warehouse management, and inventory for the armed forces to continue to have a high mission readiness.

Another use case is to support remote operations since armed forces are typically on the move. This could be a remote hospital, a remote training facility, or a remote logistics center. For these, we have used a combination of private 5G and satellite technology to create a network on the fly to support armed forces on the move.

CS: One specific use care we’re working on is at Albany, Georgia, with the Marine Corps. We’re going into this next-generation warehouse and logistics operation and proving it with private 5G wireless networks. There is a lot of inventory that moves indoors and outdoors, such as tanks. The operation extends over thousands of acres at this Marine Corps Logistics Base.

We are standing up a 5G network application that starts with the core of the network and moves out to deployed radios in indoor and outdoor locations. CBRS and millimeter wave spectrum technologies connect devices such as conveyor belts, forklifts, and cameras for security and digital process flows. The real benefits are inventory and asset management. Workers can track where specific items are within the inventory, which can be incredibly important for front-line operations at bases in other parts of the world.

Additionally, these networks are improving upon real-time robotics. In the past, applications such as autonomous vehicles would run on Wi-Fi but could hit dead spots where they would break down and block traffic in the area. With private 5G wireless technology, there is a stronger connection with higher speeds that work in a reliable environment.

GTI: Do you have any final thoughts to share with our audience on private 5G networks?

IT: Private wireless is powering the 5G deployment machine. It is the primary use case for why decision makers of agencies and enterprises are deploying 5G. It is driving a different way of doing business for most enterprises by using IoT more significantly, meeting security demands, and working with different suppliers and partners. Private 5G networks are driving a new model for what people expect from connectivity at the enterprise. New spectrum and network strategies aim toward operating in the new world of private networks to solve day-to-day business problems while remaining cost-effective and secure.

To learn more about private 5G wireless networks, click here.

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