Feb 02 2021

The Key Wireless Initiatives For Agencies In 2021

Leading-edge mobile technologies such as 5G, Wi-Fi 6 and Open RAN will enable government agencies to enhance mission effectiveness.

Mobility is everywhere, driving federal agencies to make upgrades to their Wi-Fi infrastructure as a central part of their digital transformation initiatives.

The coronavirus pandemic has emphasized the importance of modernization, prompting many agencies to accelerate initiatives to upgrade outdated networks and cabling infrastructure. In 2021, federal agencies will continue these modernization projects to address the network and collaboration requirements of a mobile workforce, whether they are in the physical office, at home, in branch offices or on the go.

Civilian and defense agencies need to transfer massive amounts of data with low latency to support mission-critical needs. They want to use more high-definition video and virtual and augmented reality for training, as well as Internet of Things sensors and devices for greater insights and situational awareness.

To ensure seamless connectivity across their sprawling operations, agencies will continue laying the groundwork for 5G cellular networks and Wi-Fi 6, and explore technologies and services such as Open Radio Access Networks and Wi-Fi as a Service.

Agencies Can Harness the Power of 5G Networks

Defense and civilian agencies need to protect and serve citizens in a hyperconnected world. To that end, agencies view the 5G cellular network as an integral component for powering next-generation capabilities such as artificial intelligence and machine learning applications, IoT devices, 4K video streaming, and AR and VR. Moving beyond 4G, 5G will transmit data at high rates, enabling faster and more reliable decision-making.

A recent Market Connections survey of federal agencies’ 5G plans revealed that nearly three-quarters are evaluating hardware, software or endpoint upgrades to support a 5G initiative. More than two-thirds will use it for data analytics, and over half will use it for IoT and AI.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department wants to use the power of 5G for low latency, higher speeds and ubiquitous connectivity for people and systems across the defense enterprise. The military has offered its bases as testing grounds for U.S companies. In 2021, the DOD will be exploring 5G use cases across 12 test bed sites, ranging from 5G-enabled smart warehouses, AR/VR training and testing of dynamic spectrum access.

5G is expected to make its true rollout later as radio spectrum and 5G-enabled devices become more available. Now is the time for federal agencies to prepare their infrastructure for 5G.

LEARN: How are the Marines working with Verizon on 5G experimentation?

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G Can Coexist in Government

While there has been a lot of coverage of 5G, there has also been considerable conversation around another emerging wireless technology, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax). Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are built on similar foundations and will coexist in federal networks.

Agencies will explore interoperability and security capabilities to ensure the technologies work together to optimally support secure federal networks. According to many network experts, the two are indeed complementary, with Wi-Fi 6 more suited for indoor environments, such as large meeting rooms or temporary locations that need high bandwidth.

Supporting higher speeds and density, Wi-Fi 6 extends the usefulness of Wi-Fi as a faster and cheaper alternative to cellular data. Solutions built around the new Wi-Fi 6 standard will deliver the fastest wireless performance and connect more devices simultaneously, giving agencies increased bandwidth and faster internet speeds to handle the massive amount of data they store and maintain.

MORE FROM FEDTECH: How will 5G transform federal agencies’ work?

Open RAN Will Be a Driver of Innovation

Another emerging cellular technology to watch in 2021 is Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN). Open RAN is a new paradigm where cellular radio networks comprise hardware and software components from multiple vendors operating over network interfaces that are truly open and interoperable.

Traditionally, RAN equipment has only been procured from a single vendor. This became a limitation with 4G when radio systems transitioned into two separate hardware subsystems, digital and radiofrequency, each with its own proprietary interface. Wireless carriers did not have the option of mixing RAN equipment between vendors.

Open RAN will drive innovation by encouraging the growth of an expanded supply ecosystem. It will also reduce capital costs and single vendor lock-in through open interfaces and commodity hardware platforms. The technology will continue to play a significant role in accelerating the rollout of 5G infrastructure by enabling equipment interoperability.

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

The Value of Wi-Fi as a Service

Agencies will continue to turn toward a Wi-Fi as a Service approach in 2021, taking the burden of network management and maintenance off the agency, allowing their managed service provider to handle these issues.

Government agencies already are reaping the benefits of “as a service” delivery models across the technology landscape. Adopting this model for networking and Wi-Fi ensures that network components remain up to date and eliminates reliance on legacy hardware. Agencies can redirect their focus from purchasing, owning and managing equipment to concentrating on mission delivery.

2021 will be the year of wireless modernization and expansion. Network connectivity is a necessary requirement to make that happen.

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