GSA looks to usher in 5G era amid projected surge in agencies’ mobile data

GSA officials say 5G will help bring the Internet of Things to every level of government, but that increase in smart sensors also means a greater surface area f...

The evolution from 3G to 4G mobile connectivity laid the foundation for more ubiquitous streaming, but the emergence of 5G might give agencies the power to get the most out of the Internet of Things.

Bill Zielinski, the assistant commissioner of the Office of Information Technology Category at the General Services Administration, said the move to 5G is urgent, considering that the volume of government mobile data will increase fivefold by the end of 2024.

“We know that agencies have business need to start testing how this next-generation wireless technology will help them meet their mission,” Zielinski said Thursday at a 5G symposium led by GSA and the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center (ATARC).

Air Force Chief Technology Officer Frank Konieczny said the service has a long-term vision of providing 5G connectivity to all its bases and installations. But so far, the Air Force has LTE connectivity at 10 of its bases and expects to roll it out to another 16 or 17 bases next fiscal year.

The rise of 5G technology, Konieczny said, should give the Air Force more of the bandwidth it needs to power real-time data analysis.

“Our planes are becoming more intelligent. The problem with more intelligence is that they’re generating more data for every possible feature of that plane. And the problem with that is I have a lot of data, but I have no way of extracting the data off the plane fast enough to do anything with it,” Konieczny said. “We need 5G capabilities to quickly extract the data off it and put it someplace.”

Zielinski said 5G will help bring the Internet of Things to “every level of government,” but that increase in smart sensors also means a greater surface area for cyber intrusions.

“As we roll out this revolutionary technology, we need to consider and understand the risks that we haven’t before … We have some opportunities here to think very differently about how we put in place our network infrastructure and telecommunications in the future, but we have to have that lens of security to go along with it,” he said.

Allen Hill, the director of GSA’s Office of Telecommunications, agreed that 5G will become an enabler of innovation, but will also raise new cybersecurity concerns. Thursday’s symposium, he said, aimed to give the private sector a better sense of the government’s security requirements for 5G.

“We want agencies to come back and say, ‘These are my concerns, these are my thoughts, these are my needs. This is where we need to go with 5G as an agency.’ We at GSA are going to take that information, pull it all together and provide it back to industry and say, ‘Help us solve our federal government needs,’” Hill said.

Those security conversations have also taken place inside of government. Hill said GSA has worked “hand in hand” on 5G security standards with the Department of Homeland Security and its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, as well as the Nation Institute of Standards and Technology and the Defense Department.

“5G is an opportunity for us to collectively pull all our needs together, provide it to industry in one fashion … and make sure that as technology is being brought on board, that it’s secure, that it’s providing the types of service that our warfighters can actually execute their mission and defend our nation, and our public servants can sit there and provide services to the American people,” Hill said.

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