Aug 09 2022

Civilian Federal Agencies Look to Leverage 5G

Expanded network capabilities offer the possibility of increased innovation.

While the Defense Department has moved faster than civilian agencies in adopting 5G, leaders across federal government are taking an interest in the emerging network infrastructure, with good reason.

“5G is more than cellular telephony,” according to a report from the CSIS Working Group on Trust and Security in 5G Networks. “5G meets the growing demand to create and move data and new knowledge faster and more efficiently.”

Across civilian agencies, interest in 5G is growing. 5G offers faster speeds, more bandwidth and the ability to customize network operations in support of specific mission needs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, for instance, wants to use 5G in support of precision agriculture, and the Department of Energy is looking at how drones might expand the reach of a 5G network.

The Department of Transportation is leveraging 5G in support of automated driving systems, intelligent transportation systems and cellular vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication.

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‘Transformative’ Technology Could Let Agencies Tailor the Network

At DOE, Robinson Pino sees big opportunities. “It could open very new opportunities for remote sensing, for example, by lowering the cost of the infrastructure, the cost of the sensors and how we deploy them,” says Pino, a computer scientist and program manager for the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program office in the agency’s Office of Science.

“A particle accelerator is normally located in our national laboratories, and if you visit one, you'll see cables everywhere in the lab,” he says. “If we had the opportunity to use wireless technology to move the data, that could reduce the amount of cabling, it could change how we would design the experiments. It could be quite transformative.”

READ MORE: See how the Defense Department is utilizing 5G.

While speed and capacity are important, “the real key is the ability to tailor the properties of the network for specific uses. 5G brings a feature called network slicing, where you could have the same network and slice it for the requirements of each workflow,” he says.

DOE manages the Energy Sciences Network, a global network with speeds of over 400 gigabytes per second that connects its 17 national laboratories with universities and other research institutions. These can be massive data sets, and more granular control makes it possible to move those more effectively, Pino says.

Right now, the biggest hurdle to 5G adoption in DOE has to do with culture change. People have been doing science for decades without wireless networking, Pino says. To drive adoption, his team is looking to offer tangible examples of the benefits of 5G.

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What Technology Can Support 5G?

At Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, for example, drones are being used to expand the 5G footprint. “They're looking to enable communication between drones and a base station to study forest fires and use AI to predict when a forest fire may take place,” Pino says.

“We need to demonstrate the capabilities, demonstrate that results can be achieved,” he says. “That will be the first steps in adopting the technology.”

As DOE crosses that threshold, it will also be looking to make technology upgrades.

REVIEW: How 5G wan provides flexibility and reliability.

“You need software for this, wireless networking software and network management software. And we will need new transmitters and receivers,” he says. “Also, in 5G the signal cannot travel as far. The higher the frequencies that you use, the more it reduces the effective distance. So, we will likely need more antennas or more repeaters.”

The General Services Administration schedule for wireless solutions refers to a number of other technologies that will support 5G. These include mobile threat protection and mobile app vetting services; mobile administration and management solutions; and mobility-related Internet of Things infrastructure elements.

New Procurement Models Will Enable Faster 5G Acquisition

At GSA, Christian Williams is helping to chart a path toward 5G, both as a supervisory information technology specialist for GSA and as a co-chair of the Federal Mobility Group, an interagency body working to identify common wireless challenges, develop solutions and share best practices.

He too sees big promise in 5G for civilian agencies. “Federal organizations envision the use of 5G features and capabilities to improve the mission delivery and business operations, as well as to deliver new applications and services that are not achievable with older technologies,” he says.

DIVE DEEPER: Discover more ways that agencies can benefit from 5G.

To get hold of the needed technologies, agencies will need a reliable purchasing model. To that end, GSA is developing an acquisition guide to help agencies secure 5G technology and “help them acquire the needed technologies in support of 5G,” Williams says. “That will hopefully be coming out in the next fiscal year.”

He also encouraged agencies to work in close cooperation with the vendor community as they embark on 5G initiatives.

“This will not be possible without assistance from our industry partners. Fostering partnerships with leading mobile-industry vendors is the key to advancing 5G and emerging-technology adoption in the federal government,” he says.

“We should be in constant communication so that we are all working together on enhancing the mission of the federal government through 5G. We need to be at the table together working on this,” he says.

10 Gigabits Per Second

The average download speed expected on commercial 5G networks as the technology matures

Source: “The Wheel Is Turning,” Great Government Through Technology blog, General Services Administration, June 16, 2020

Security Issues May Increase with Additional 5G Use

Officials at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency point to several emerging technology needs that will accompany the rise of 5G, especially in the realm of cybersecurity.

“Possibly the biggest challenge is 5G security,” says DeLana Hill, cybersecurity service product operations lead at CISA.

In the initial rollouts, which will be dependent on existing 4G technology, “interconnection with legacy components brings added risks to both 4G and 5G networks,” Hill says.

EXPLORE: How agencies are upgrading their 5G architecture.

In addition, each element of 5G systems — the radio access network (RAN), core, hardware, software, spectrum use, user equipment and applications — “represents unique security challenges that each agency must address,” she adds.

Evolving recommendations include “the introduction of a Security Edge Protection Proxy as a security gateway between interconnecting mobile networks; the use of transport layer security to mutually authenticate and encrypt communications between network functions; and unique subscriber identifier protection that prevents identifiers from being captured by international mobile subscriber identity-catchers,” Hill says.

Maksym Belchenko/Getty Images

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