The US appears to be getting ‘defensive’ in response to claims that China has seized the mantle of 5G leadership. While China has clearly taken a lead in 5G subscriber figures, a slew of 5G initiatives funded by the US Department of Defense (DoD) are designed to enhance the US’s war-fighting capabilities while simultaneously providing a boost for 5G in other markets.

After publishing its “5G Strategy Implementation Plan” in May 2020, the DoD took its first affirmative steps in October, awarding $600 million to 15 contractors to evaluate and test 5G capabilities at four military installations. The DoD believes this initial effort represented the largest full-scale test of 5G applications that promise to be applicable in other vertical markets, with over 100 companies participating.

DoD is rolling out 5G

Early applications focus on ‘smart manufacturing.’  At a marine logistics base in Georgia, the 5G deployment will focus on finding efficiency improvements within warehouse operations, including receipt, storage, inventory control and tracking, issuance, and delivery. That deployment is spearheaded by private networking specialist Federated Wireless, with a host of additional technology and research partners including GE Research, KPMG, Scientific Research Corporation, Alion Science, and Virginia Tech Applied Research.

The DoD also has a similar engagement at a naval base in San Diego. The AT&T-led project uses millimeter wave spectrum that is considered crucial in many 5G use cases. The San Diego project will include real-time asset tracking, predictive analytics, environmental sensing, robotics, and augmented reality and will also require a host of partners including GE Research, Deloitte Consulting, and Parallel Wireless, among many others.

Proving grounds and prototypes

The DoD announced in January that it expects to issue requests for proposals (RFPs) related to three additional 5G testbeds in Q1 2020, slated to be developed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (Hawaii), Camp Pendleton (Georgia), and Naval Station Norfolk (Virginia). Several other bases have been targeted for the next phase of 5G proving grounds, with additional RFPs slated to be issued later in the year. In total, the DoD has identified a slew of 5G prototypes addressing both military and non-military applications, including:

  • Using augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) to enhance readiness and tactical training;
  • Enhancing ship-wide and pier-side connectivity for naval vessels and facilities;
  • Accessing aircraft maintenance data on the flight line;
  • Enabling combat forces to speed up and better coordinate deployments on the ground; and
  • Using telemedicine applications to improve care and training.

The DoD investment is no doubt welcome to the vendors and operators involved in these 5G test cases. That’s because, for all the hype, 5G has thus far failed to achieve its full potential, particularly in the enterprise. The deep pockets of the DoD should help provide a badly needed boost to 5G in 2021 and beyond.