This is the fifth article in our series, The Power of Technology.
Most people think of the potential of 5G from the perspective of the end user: the promise of instant access to a service or information, no matter the device (though, often a smartphone) or someone’s location.
Yet for the federal government, the lens flips and the perspective instead becomes that of the provider of the service and information — both to the public and to agencies’ own employees.
“From a simplistic view, 5G is essentially an enabler of that experience. Even as technology has evolved, we have been bandwidth-limited,” said Tony Celeste, executive director and general manager for Ingram Micro Public Sector. “Organizations couldn’t take advantage of what processing or storage could really do — the power of compute — because we didn’t have the bandwidth infrastructure to do it. 5G is an enabler in the sense that it can provide sufficient and ample bandwidth and provide far greater connectivity, which will let agencies improve the experience citizens and users have with federal services.”
For Federal News Network’s The Power of Technology series, we talked with Celeste and with T-Mobile’s David Bezzant, vice president for public sector, and the company’s Paul Spencer, director of channel partner sales, about how agencies can take advantage of 5G.
Here are the three questions they suggested agencies will want to consider as they continue their move away from traditional legacy broadband and Wi-Fi in favor of 5G.
“What is network anymore, right?” Bezzant asked rhetorically. The reality is that there are numerous components that make up any federal organization’s network, from non-5G legacy infrastructure, meaning Wi-Fi and broadband, to all the related components that have definite lifecycles of anywhere from five to as many as 15 years, he said.
“What we are seeing is that people are starting to re-evaluate and ask themselves, ‘Do I move from running and operating my own local networks — all those components — to a managed 5G advanced network service or even a private 5G network?’ ” Bezzant said.
Consuming 5G network as a service provides the ability to remove infrastructure costs, Spencer said. Agencies can scale up when there is peak demand, for instance at IRS during tax filing season, and down when there is not.
Even with a private 5G network, there are potential savings from reducing other costs, often expenses related to manual efforts that may no longer be necessary. Spencer pointed to a city public works agency example.
“Their whole job was literally running around the city every day checking each of their meters for water and sewage flows,” he said. “As they converted to Internet of Things meters, it has become a digital transformation for that city. The efficiencies and the dollar savings from not having to manually check those meters? Well, they’re substantial.”
As in that public utility example, the goal should be transformation not just modernization, Celeste said. To use 5G to do that, he recommended that agencies develop an understanding of what its adoption can mean for both existing applications and existing infrastructure.
“How do we transform to these newer technologies while still having to leverage and interface with the other technologies we’ve already employed, which include Wi-Fi, broadband, cabling infrastructure, satellite communications, radio communications? And how do all these things come together?” he said.
The question really becomes: “What is the technology stack that they need to have against that?” Spencer said. “And the cool thing about that is that the backbone of this digital transformation can be T-Mobile’s 5G network.” In the most recent 2023 Ookla Speedtest research, T-Mobile surpassed other carries in nationwide coverage and led in nearly all Speedtest categories, Bezzant added.
Agencies will need to continue to maintain some of their current network infrastructure indefinitely, but 5G can let them weave those technologies together and improve services too, delivering more capabilities digitally, Celeste said. As an example, Celeste talked about military and first responder units being able to reach back to compute because of the speed and low latency of 5G.
“Edge devices are incredibly powerful, and they have a lot of capability. But if you’re not connected, you’re isolated to the data and the information that edge device has available to it,” he said. “What 5G has done is that it’s able to move more information more rapidly, in essentially real time, to and from devices. Plus, the cost is far more manageable.”
In a military or disaster management scenario, a forward unit can stand up a private 5G network quickly in a location where previously it would have needed satellite repeaters and radio antennas to address terrain issues, Celeste said.
But the same thinking can apply to interactions with IRS or a department of motor vehicles where the public wants to interact digitally with the government organization, Bezzant added. With the ability to provide information and answers in real time to people on their personal devices, less interactions need to take place in person.
Those transactions demand authentication, Bezzant pointed out. “Is the person that you’re serving who they say they are? Are they secure? Is the device that they are using secure?” he said.
Therefore, a critical need is dual-factor authentication, which can mitigate the risks for both the individual private citizen and for the government, Bezzant said. However, this does raise the issue of ensuring there is no digital divide, because someone can’t make use of two-factor authentication or even frankly digital government services without a device, he noted. “We can’t leave anybody behind.”
Second, there’s a need for sound security policies to support federal users who are interacting with government services too, Bezzant said. For example, can someone download anything on a government computer or other device when working remotely?
One way that agencies are now contemplating remote work security is through the use of 5G fixed wireless access, which is distinct from the Wi-Fi used for people’s nonwork needs, he said. It can reduce some of the burden of managing security policies and privileges.
5G opens the door for both modern digital transactions and secure user authentication and interactions, Celeste said. It provides ample bandwidth to be able to look at things like the telemetry of somebody’s location, the type of data elements being accessed, any privileges the user has — “and do all of those things without burdening the IT or the user experience,” he said.
To read more articles in The Power of Technology series, click here.
Note on 5G: Capable device required; coverage not available in some areas. Some uses may require certain plan or feature; see T-Mobile.com.
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