Pentagon, Industry Partnerships Vital to Leverage 5G, FutureG Tech
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The possibility of a military conflict in the Indo-Pacific has exposed weaknesses in the Defense Department’s 5G network, spurring research and development to push beyond into 6G, officials said.
Although 5G has enhanced the U.S. military’s capabilities, significant weaknesses remain, such as network security risks, cyberthreats, data overloads and increased traffic leading to limited visibility, Juan Ramirez, deputy director of the 5G and FutureG cross-functional team, said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Emerging Technologies for Defense Conference and Exhibition.
In March 2022, the Defense Department announced the establishment of a 5G and FutureG cross-functional team tasked with accelerating the adoption of transformative 5G and future generation wireless networking technologies to ensure [U.S.] forces can operate effectively anywhere, including in contested networks.
Ramirez said 5G is a far more “disruptive” technology than it used to be, meaning the department must work with the commercial sector to further research and to develop its strategy roadmaps to connect them to overall department goals.
“How can we improve our warfighters’ mission and be able to share that information with each other so we can better bridge that gap between the industry and the department, and further develop those relationships?” Ramirez said.
Tom Rondeau, principal director for the 5G and FutureG cross-functional team, said the commercial industry has strengths that the department does not, making the partnership between the two all the more vital.
“What’s exciting about the technology we’re talking about here is its ability to scale. [Large companies] are producing technologies that service billions of people a day. The amount of traffic that goes through these networks is unbelievable compared to what we would do as the DoD,” he said. “We don’t compare to the scale of the commercial cellular infrastructure. It’s impressive.”
The partnership and investment in 5G and FutureG research and development is vital to deter a potential Indo-Pacific conflict, according to Army Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of U.S. Southern Command.
China is currently outcompeting the United States in the wireless network market, specifically with 5G technology, Richardson said at a panel hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Five countries have the PRC backbone for 5G,” Richardson said. “Twenty-four countries have the PRC 3G or 4G backbone,” and what usually happens is that countries with older technology are offered almost a zero-cost upgrade to the 5G, she added.
The United States needs a wireless network “that is not a PRC network that we know has backdoors into being able to get information that we don’t want the Chinese to have,” Richardson said. “We need to have alternatives to the PRC, and if we’re not there competing, then [other countries] are going to choose that.”
While the department is working to maximize 5G capabilities, it is also looking toward 6G.
In August 2022, the department announced the launch of three new projects for its Innovate Beyond 5G Program intended to “continue to advance DoD collaborative partnerships with industry and academia for 5G-to-NextG wireless technologies,” according to a press release.
Open6G aims to kick off 6G systems research on open radio access networks. The Spectrum Exchange Security and Scalability project aims to further develop spectrum-sharing technologies via wireless networks. The Massive Multi-Input/Multi-Output from MHz to GHz project is designed to explore key technology components that enable scaling multi-input/multi-output technology across different bands and bandwidths.
These three department projects aim to bring together the government and commercial sectors to continue to prepare for 6G capabilities “to realize high performance, secure and resilient network operations for the future warfighter,” the press release stated.
Currently, both the government and industry are attempting to prepare for the fall of 5G and the rise of 6G.
“Everybody’s been looking for the killer [application] for 5G,” Rondeau said.
Everybody is trying to chase the killer app for 5G, but people almost always misidentify the killer app in defining moments, as technological development and its impact on current capabilities can be difficult to predict.
“I would actually argue that the killer app of 2G was SMS texting. That completely changed, but nobody saw that coming at the time,” he said. ND