5G Wireless Opens New Possibilities for Government: Sponsored Content

January 1, 2020
By Henry S. Kenyon

New tech offers fast, ubiquitous mobile networking capabilities.

5G wireless technology is poised to take the world by storm, offering fast and effective network connectivity at data throughput speeds once reserved for dedicated fiberoptic landlines. This increased speed will also fuel new developments in wireless applications and connected devices to vastly increase the size, depth and interconnectivity of networks of all kinds.

The federal government isn’t going to miss out on this wave of changes. In fact, public sector and especially the Department of Defense (DOD) offer a variety of potentially exciting use cases, from defense operations using networks of sensors and smart devices—as part of smart bases for enhanced security, efficiency, improved situational awareness and civilian services—to 5G-connected warehouse robots shifting crates tagged with logistics tracking devices.

To explore the topic of 5G further, we interviewed experts from Nokia and Nokia Bell Labs.  You may know Nokia as a mobile phone company, but today their business is made up a combination of innovations and expertise from Lucent Technologies, Motorola mobile infrastructure, Siemens Communications and Alcatel-Lucent. The company already has more than 50 commercial 5G network contracts globally and provides 1000+ mission-critical high-performance networks and 120+ industrial-grade private wireless networks for the world’s Industry 4.0 leaders. The Nokia research and development arm, Nokia Bell Labs, with over a century of ground-breaking innovations and nine Nobel Prizes, is driving 5G research and standards today as part of the company’s Future X Vision initiatives.

What is 5G?

5G is a development of previous types of wireless communications such as 4G, 3G and 2G. But 5G is more than a linear progression in that instead of an incremental improvement, it represents a tenfold increase in capability over 4G, says Michael Murphy, Nokia Corporation’s chief technology officer for the Americas.

This translates into the convenience and speed of wireline internet connectivity but with all the flexibility and mobility of wireless. “When you think of fixed line, you think of very high speeds, very low latency, very high reliability. Those are all characteristics of 5G, and by having those characteristics you can use it in different use cases that weren’t possible before in wireless,” Murphy explains.

Low latency and wireline speeds means that 5G can be used for critical operations that were previously reserved for dedicated wireline applications. In a government and defense setting, 5G also offers reliability and security for wireless communications and the systems supported by them. This opens the potential of replacing wired connections with wireless ones.

These capabilities mean that 5G will be a key enabling technology across a range of applications, from automation in manufacturing plants, to remote controlled vehicles and robots, to sensors, says Kenneth Budka, a senior partner at Bell Labs Consulting. This creates many uses stemming from one common technology, which will help create a larger ecosystem of connected devices and applications at economies of scale in excess of anything that has preceded it in the wireless world, he says.

Helping defense operations

From a military perspective, 5G’s high throughput, low latency and high reliability present many mission-capable applications, says Randy Coltrin, Nokia’s vice president of federal sales. He cites the example of air bases, which use many different data and radio networks managing and controlling many different functions such as flight line communications and security system monitoring. Using a capability called network slicing (see below), 5G technology allows users, such as the Air Force, to provide very high, mission-critical communications to an airbase flight line within and as part of a single larger network, he says.

As military bases acquire more sensors, additional operational needs, such as cybersecurity, might arise. Having a single network capable of managing these various functions gives operators flexibility and control, Coltrin says. This permits administrators to manage high throughput functions and low latency applications on a single network.

This flexibility fits into a military concept called Smart Base, which calls for the use of ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT) connected sensors and devices moving data across an installation. Such a goal can’t be achieved with a flip of a switch, as legacy equipment will have to be factored in. “This is going to be an evolution of the technology, and I think that 5G infrastructure is really what’s going to allow that,” Coltrin says.

As future defense, tactical and fixed-network systems connect to more sensors and data networks, there is a growing need in the DOD to manage massive data flows. Coupled with emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, 5G’s potential becomes truly impressive, Coltrin maintains. It can be used to provide soldiers with improved situational awareness and allows entire units and platforms faster and more accurate responses to threats in a dynamic environment.

In the past, the DOD mainly looked at proprietary communications systems because 4G couldn’t meet some of its requirements, notes Murphy. But 5G’s below-millisecond latency and reliability means that it can fit into a variety of military and federal government use cases, he adds. Earlier this year Nokia successfully completed a proof of concept with the Air Force demonstrating high altitude, high speed telemetry data using cellular technology.  The next phase of the project likely kicks off in 2020 and will leverage spectrally efficient COTS 5G technology to increase the data throughput per test article and increase test range capacity over low to high altitudes.

These varied roles include logistics management and support systems, augmented reality/virtual reality for training and other applications, and high-resolution video for improved situational awareness. 5G’s high bandwidth and low latency means that military operations can potentially pilot remotely operated vehicles or aircraft and have complete virtual awareness of their surroundings. This will also open many uses in the federal defense and civilian world, as well as in multiple non-defense federal government areas, Budka says.

Besides high throughput, low latency uses, 5G also supports low-cost sensors. “These are the types of sensors you can sprinkle anywhere. For material tracking, you’re going to know where things are. You’ll be able to take the physical world and sense it and transmit that over a network back to the digital world so that you can use that information to optimize operations and make things run more efficiently,” Budka explains.

Built in Security, End-to-End

Security is another important component of 5G. From both a standards and design perspective, it closes many of the security loopholes present in 4G, Murphy says. There is also an awareness by suppliers like Nokia to go beyond what is in a government specification to introduce their own security mechanisms. More security is also necessary outside of consumer verticals when operating in high-reliability enterprise domains where there is the possibility of state-sponsored or individual hackers causing catastrophic damage, he adds.

An important thing to remember is that 5G is “much, much more than radio,” Budka says. 5G services are managed end-to-end over network slices.  Making this work requires careful integration and testing of radio components as well as wireline infrastructure, cloud infrastructure, cloud orchestration systems, software and more.  Securing a 5G network requires an end-to-end approach.

The 5G standard is also flexible enough that different 5G operators, including enterprises, governments and other organizations choosing their own private 5G solutions, will be able to design their networks and apply the standard’s security measures in ways that best suit their needs. This is the “secret sauce” in 5G’s security capabilities, Coltrin says.

5G can interoperate seamlessly with previous generations of wireless technology and with other legacy equipment. He adds that this is important because most customers won’t be able to completely replace their older legacy systems and equipment with 5G-capable ones.

Another one of 5G’s advantages is that
it’s built from the ground-up to be scalable, supporting different levels of spectrum in different bands. Because 5G uses common, open standard technology, it can support a variety of communications options, such as millimeter wave spectrum, cellular bands and mid-range bands with a single, common technology, Budka says.

The state of 5G

Earlier in 2019, all the major U.S. wireless carriers—T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon and AT&T— launched their commercial 5G networks with Nokia. These new networks are growing and will be for years.

There are some 5G smartphones and devices already on the market, but Murphy predicts that 2020 will be a big year for both consumer and enterprise products and Nokia will be very involved here.

Currently 5G is available for commercial video-on-demand services, but the shape of the federal market will be determined when the civilian government and DOD begin rolling use cases for the technology, Coltrin says. Within the next few years, he anticipates almost every part of the public sector to embrace 5G, especially as the number of sensors and IoT devices continues to grow.

“5G is going to become that access technology because it serves the broadband needs of people and machines so well. Also, its low latency and high reliability are ideal for automation and control systems,” Budka says.

Enterprises and mission-critical operators around the world are already investing in industrial-grade private wireless technologies to get a head start on 5G and to help them maintain their lead with innovation, increased security, improved efficiency, agility and response times.


Network Slicing

What allows high-speed wireless data applications to run on 5G is a process called network slicing. This also makes 5G more than just radio, says Kenneth Budka of Nokia Bell Labs. While 4G wireless was largely about radio, to make the end-to-end networking slices in 5G work, everything—radio, the cloud, the transport infrastructure, applications, security and policy management—must be coordinated, he explains.

If wireless communications can be envisioned as a highway between two cities, on 4G, all the traffic moves at the same speed, says Michael Murphy, chief technology officer for Nokia Americas. However, 5G has multiple lanes going at different speeds: express lanes and slower side lanes for higher latency traffic. This capability is built into 5G, he adds. Network slicing will allow home, commercial and government users to manage multiple Internet of Things (IoT) devices across a network. Some of these devices, like surveillance cameras, may be high bandwidth, while others like smoke detectors and water leak sensors may have low latency, but the system will allow users to manage them economically, Murphy says.

Existing DoD spectrum assets are ample and well suited to 5G. In addition, with slicing, use of commercial network spectrum for some use cases becomes possible.


For more information on Nokia solutions, contact a Nokia AFCEA member, visit Nokia at AFCEA West 2020 or link to: Nokia.ly/FederalDefense.

For more information on Nokia Bell Labs and the Future X vision visit: www.bell-labs.com.

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Very informative article. I especially enjoyed the 5G update and comments from my son, Randy Coltrin...!

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