• 5G wireless technology has the potential to provide the U.S. military with virtual and augmented reality tools for a variety of tasks such as maintenance, inventory tracking and remote medical care. Credit: Shutterstock
     5G wireless technology has the potential to provide the U.S. military with virtual and augmented reality tools for a variety of tasks such as maintenance, inventory tracking and remote medical care. Credit: Shutterstock

5G Wireless Is Coming but Challenges Remain

November 2, 2021


Despite progress, technical hurdles need to be worked out.


The U.S. government and commercial sector is moving to deploy Fifth Generation, or 5G, wireless technology that will greatly increase connectivity and speed for a variety of mobile and remote users.

But while 5G is on the horizon, there are still technical challenges to address before it becomes ubiquitous, Stephen Douglas, senior director of market strategy for Spirent Communications, told Robert K. Ackerman, SIGNAL Magazine’s editor in chief during a SIGNAL Executive Video Series discussion.

Douglas said there are four notable U.S. government defense agency projects to test and adopting 5G. Of these early adopters, three projects overlap with commercial sector trends and focus on smart warehousing, logistics and the use of augmented/virtual reality.

Two of these projects are more defense focused and cover areas such as enhanced connectivity for command and control, and the use of unmanned vehicles in the land, sea and air, he said.

“We’re starting to see 5G being used for real-time asset tracking in these complex environments where there are lots of goods moving,” Douglas said.

He added that military is examining the use of autonomously guided vehicles for warehouse operations and the use of 5G enabled augmented and virtual reality for inventory tracking, training and for medical care such as having surgeons conduct remote medical procedures.

Douglas noted that 5G’s potentially massive throughput will give tactical operations centers and forward operating bases “unique real-time visibility” into their battlefield environments and greater survivability if they are attacked.

But there are still some challenges to overcome before 5G fully comes into its own.

One issue is the radio frequencies used by 5G, which operate in the millimeter wavelengths at the higher end of the spectrum. While they provide the high throughput 5G requires, these waveforms don’t penetrate buildings or materials very well.

“Their propagation characteristics means they can be influenced by atmosphere, trees, things that get in their way,” Douglas said, adding that this also means they are constrained to short distances and line of sight.

Security is another concern. There is an opportunity to make 5G more secure than any prior wireless technology, Douglas said. But the challenge is understanding what the vulnerabilities are and what mitigation techniques need to be put in place, he said.

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