The Department of Defense is aimed at creating the smart base of the future. Bases are essentially miniature cities, with all the same infrastructure needs like transportation, on-base personnel services and energy management, coupled with specific military needs. The idea is to use a 5G infrastructure to connect all of these elements, as well as cybersecurity and physical security, to become fully integrated and agile.
4G LTE networks will still provide the backbone for digital communications and connectivity on these bases; it’s 5G that will help provide the high-speed, low-latency connectivity required for emerging use cases and technologies on the intelligent edge. For example, at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California, DoD has teamed up with Verizon to introduce the first 5G Ultra Wideband instances deployed on a military installation. With 5G Ultra Wideband, the teams are enabling various use cases like energy management, drone management and autonomous vehicles.
“With our 5G Nationwide, and our 5G Ultra Wideband, we’re now operating on low and high band spectrum for 5G. It gives the ability for a military installation and military personnel to use various networks, depending on the use case,” said Bryan Schromsky, managing partner for 5G public sector at Verizon. “We’re seeing new DoD use cases around smart energy and base perimeter security that will use 4G or 5G. And with 5G Ultra Wideband using millimeter wave, the DoD is beginning to test new innovative technologies like AR/ VR, machine learning, unmanned aerial vehicles and high-speed video. That’s where you’ll see 5G Ultra Wideband really taking hold.”
It’s those sensor technologies that DoD is specifically leveraging to form the foundation for its smart bases.
“Devices are continuing to become smarter, which means that they’re going to generate larger amounts of data, they’re going to be capable of delivering more services. When you pair that with multi-access edge computing, now you have the ability to process information closer to the end user, or the application via the cloud. And this really removes a lot of historical latency that prevented applications from being able to make near real time decisions,” said Cornelius Brown, director for DoD at Verizon. “Paired with 5G, artificial intelligence and machine learning will eventually help users process terabytes of information, make data driven decisions, while providing actionable insights that they can take action on like predictive maintenance, enhanced safety and even threat detection.”
But turning a standard military base into a smart base is not without its challenges. The first is security, which has to be factored into the architecture and design. It can’t be an afterthought for the military. The second is budget, because this level of technology and infrastructure requires a large initial investment. The third is deployment and implementation, which has to be carefully planned, including ensuring operators can continue to scale into a phased approach.
But 5G can add capabilities to deal with these challenges as well. While it may increase the threat surface of a network by extending the perimeter and adding countless new endpoints like IoT sensors, it also can provide faster response times and better network visibility to respond to threats.
“There’s more encryption in 5G with mutual authentication and there’s some new things coming out in terms of 5G in relation to the standalone core that opens up the potential for network slicing, which we’re very excited for,” Schromsky said. “But you can take it one step further when it comes to security by incorporating a zero-trust architecture and a software defined perimeter where you have security platforms that overlay that radio access network (RAN) security; you have a more comprehensive model that it’s very exciting for DoD.”
But the benefits of 5G on military bases aren’t limited strictly to the personnel. It’s easy to forget that families also live and work on these bases, and they’ll benefit as well. For example, 5G could help enable better distance learning, which can help provide stability and opportunity for families and personnel that aren’t always able to maintain a more traditional in-person educational regimen. They’ll also have the potential for better video capabilities and connectivity, which will allow them to be more connected if they’re separated from family members on deployment.
That connectivity should also enable things like augmented and virtual reality for training and remote applications. That has multiple benefits, like better preparing warfighters for combat situations through more immersive training, or helping maintenance personnel to work on equipment with near real time assistance or from a distance, sometimes using unique parts 3D printed onsite. 5G could provide new medical platform infrastructures enabling next generation telehealth applications and medical procedures.
“When we rolled out 4G LTE, Uber and Lyft or Airbnb weren’t thought of. And all of that experience now is done through a mobile device,” said Brown. “So now that we have that 5G technology, this is a 10-year project. We’ve got a lot of runway.”