Oct 08 2020

DOD Lays Out Possibility of Constructing Its Own 5G Network

The Pentagon is looking into technology that enables the sharing of the wireless spectrum.

The Defense Department has been partnering with the private sector to test 5G wireless network technology, but has recently indicated it may be interested in another route: owning and operating its own 5G network.

Last month, the Pentagon issued a request for information on 5G and a technology known as Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), which can dynamically allocate portions of the same wireless spectrum band for 4G LTE or 5G service, depending on user demand.

The release of the RFI comes after the DOD in June expanded the number of bases to 12 that it would use to conduct 5G testing. Those bases include Fort Hood and Joint Base San Antonio in Texas, Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, the National Training Center at Fort Irwin and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California, and Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

The RFI lays out two key questions: “How could DoD own and operate 5G networks for its domestic operations? What are the potential issues with DoD owning and operating independent networks for its 5G operations?”

According to the RFI, the scope of the inquiry covers the broad range of spectrum DOD currently uses “in order to understand both the art of the possible, as well as current industry trends in spectrum utilization,” including “all approaches to spectrum management, including the best methods for sharing spectrum with both military and civilian users.”

What Is the Future of 5G Spectrum Sharing?

Generally speaking, lower spectrum bands provide more coverage but support lower bandwidths. Higher spectrum bands can provide exceptionally fast downlink speeds but do not penetrate buildings or travel as far as lower spectrum bands. DSS technology is designed to alleviate those differences by allowing concurrent uses of 4G and 5G service on the same spectrum band.

In August, the DOD and White House announced that in December 2021, the White House will work with the Federal Communications Commission to auction off shared spectrum in the range of 3450-3550 megahertz.

The Pentagon currently uses about 100MHz of spectrum for defense radar systems for air defense, missile and gunfire control, counter-mortar activities, bomb scoring, battlefield weapon location, air traffic control and range safety. The Pentagon thinks it can auction off the spectrum and share it with commercial wireless providers without sacrificing those capabilities.

The DOD notes this agreement in the RFI, but also asks whether there are new technologies or innovative methods for how “additional mid-band spectrum currently allocated to DoD can be made available for 5G faster.”

The RFI asks, “What are other innovative ideas as to how 5G can share spectrum with high-powered airborne, ground-based and ship-based radar operations in the 3100-3550MHz spectrum band?”

The DOD also wants to know whether there are there other spectrum bands that can be made available to share quickly in the low- and high-band spectrum ranges. The department asks about what types of technologies exist or are anticipated that will allow civilian users to share spectrum faster.

EXPLORE: What can agencies do to get ready for 5G?

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