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Four Areas 5G and Edge Computing Can Accelerate Mission Outcomes for the DoD

5G can help the Department of Defense accelerate mission outcomes while ensuring systems — as well as those of its allies and partners — are robust, protected, resilient and reliable.

October 8, 2020 8 minute read

The ultra-high speeds and massive bandwidth capacity of 5G has long been touted as a driver of future commercial innovation. Often overlooked is the impact 5G will have in accelerating mission outcomes in the public sector.

The pervasive connectivity of 5G will enable the Department of Defense (DoD) to leverage new-age technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing and Internet of Things, among others so the military can operate from anywhere at any time in a seamless fashion.

Doing so will help the DoD to execute on key outcomes

  • 5G-enhanced DoD mission capabilities.
  • Protected and resilient DoD capabilities that leverage ubiquitous connectivity.
  • Assured global spectrum access even within congested and contested environments.
  • Robust, resilient microelectronic components and supply chains.
  • Closer collaboration with international partners on 5G development and protection.

Primer: What is 5G and Edge Computing?

what is 5g?
Read more: What is 5G? How is it Different From 4G? 

5G is the fifth generation of mobile communications, evolving from 4G-LTE. 5G will enable new solutions that have a significant impact on nearly every aspect of government operations — not just the DoD, but every agency from Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs to the Department of Agriculture and NASA.

Early deployments for 5G are focused on enhancing mobile broadband, while future 5G networks will support mission-critical services and massive IoT. 

5G is not a single technology, but a set of technologies — each with their own subsets of technologies — that all must work together to accelerate outcomes for the DoD. Because of this, integration and partnerships will be critical for successful adoption. Key technologies areas include: 

  • Connected devices.
  • Radio network.
  • Transport network.
  • Edge computing and edge data center.
  • Automation and orchestration.

Central to the 5G equation is edge computing, which places compute as close to the end user or device as possible in order to deliver cloud-like services anywhere. Edge computing will drive a new wave of applications and services that take advantage of the low latency and high bandwidth promised by 5G.

How Will 5G Enable the DoD?

The DoD is looking to accelerate 5G adoption by working with innovators in industry and academia on technologies and use cases that would benefit both federal and commercial interests.

Initial use cases for 5G include virtual reality for training and simulation, "smart" bases, supply chain management and depot automation. Further, the DoD seeks to implement spectrum sharing that would help deploy these use cases for both military and commercial end users

Each of these examples can enhance DoD operations and drive new levels of combat readiness by utilizing improved supply chain visibility, asset management and mobile analytics.

Augmented and Virtual Reality

Key Edge Use Cases

Training and upskilling will remain integral to mission success for all DoD agencies, especially as technology continues to evolve and play a more crucial role in mission logistics.

Training via augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) exist today. But each demand a lot from the network, which in a 4G setting limits the application. 

Utilizing a 5G network and edge computing, AR and VR can deliver a more realistic and immersive experience, which will help the DoD: 

  • Reduce risk related to training in a real-world environment.
  • Reduce costs by limiting travel or other infrastructure needs.
  • Create a more consistent training experience across geographies or dispersed groups.
  • Better prepare for missions by utilizing real-world environments in a virtual or augmented setting prior to the deployment.

Each of the above lead to a more efficient mission planning and execution in the field, and increase the likelihood of success.

Smart Bases

Military bases operate similar to that of a small city

Smart cities leverage data intelligence to make informed decisions and develop programs designed to improve the city’s infrastructure and, ultimately, the quality of life for its citizens. Smart bases do the same, but to improve a base’s infrastructure and accelerate mission outcomes. 

A smart city or smart base is a broad concept. Similar to 5G, it’s not a single thing, but an ecosystem of things that encompasses many dimensions to deliver services, such as:

  • Utility infrastructure, such as smart lighting or connected meters.
  • Transportation, such as connected cars, fleet management, license plate reading applications and real-time parking availability.
  • Manufacturing and facility management, such as deep sensor integration, preventative maintenance or virtual inspections.
  • Security, such as smart security cameras and next-gen cybersecurity.
  • Safety, such as real-time hospital capacity tracking, emergency response systems and communications.

Supply Chain Management and Depot Automation

The DoD oversees an incredibly complex supply chain serving a diverse set of facilities and depots. Such complexity will grow exponentially as 5G ushers in a wave of new IoT devices that will produce massive amounts of new data

But rich data sets are effectively useless if they aren’t seamlessly incorporated into the DoD’s analytical platform to streamline processes and optimize efficiency. 

"Now is the time for supply chain operations to develop a base competency about 5G...There are several areas where it will offer some significant benefits and be a big enhancement to existing functionality," Andrew Stevens, Research Director of Supply Chain Technology at Gartner, told Supply Chain Dive recently.

The article goes on to say most warehouses piloting automation, robotics and IoT devices rely on wired systems and various types of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections that aren’t very well-coordinated with interference, overlap and insufficient security.

5G and edge computing will help in this regard, allowing the DoD to quickly collect and analyze disparate data sources to gain full visibility into its asset portfolio and lifecycle across units or bases. Doing so enhances efficiency and avoids critical downtime or failures that can handicap missions before they even begin.

  • Increased productivity and efficiency.
  • Preventative or predictive maintenance.
  • Pro-actively manage their pipelines, to address defects and prevent failures.
  • Real-time reporting.
The government is already sharing spectrum with commercial interests via CBRS.  

Spectrum Sharing

Unprecedented demand on mobile networks brought about by the Internet of Things and 5G is forcing enterprises, service providers and government agencies to rethink the way they deploy network services and utilities. 

Dynamic spectrum sharing — a key short-term enabler to scaling out 5G networks quickly — can help here as it provides the greatest effective and efficient use of the Department of Defense’s spectrum for training, readiness and lethality while enabling commercial use, too.

Sharing can also help in lowering costs of maintaining and operating the network while forging a path toward 5G sustainability and innovation.

What else can 5G do? 

By no means is this list of use cases definitive, and WWT continues to leverage its deep relationships with a broad range of commercial and public sector organizations to provide a first-hand view of emerging use cases and how best to exploit them.

For instance: 

  • Healthcare agencies today are placing greater emphasis on patient experience — new and improved services as well as patient outcomes. Healthcare execs are looking at edge computing to transform the patient experience through more personalization, improving data security and reducing wait times. The DoD could take cue from the healthcare industry with the following use cases:
    • Personalized apps.
    • Patient-owned healthcare records.
    • AI-driven diagnosis.
  • Manufacturing plants and utility companies that process massive amounts of data across their IT and operational systems are looking at edge computing to help collect, process and make sense of data to improve preventive maintenance, improve performance and drive new applications for efficiency. The DoD could take cue from the healthcare industry with the following use cases:
    • Cobotics.
    • Autonomous on-site vehicles.
    • Deep sensor networks for predictive maintenance, asset performance management and quality control.

What about security?

The broad scope and reach of 5G, while exciting, comes with increased exposure to a wider spectrum of security threats. As government agencies rely on a more disaggregated and virtualized network architecture to enable speed, the number of access points susceptible to attack will grow exponentially.

For more on security and 5G, WWT Solutions Architect Abdel Filali El Garch provides an in depth explanation.

Conclusion

The central challenge for the DoD is to accelerate the development and deployment of 5G-enabled capabilities, while ensuring those systems — as well as those of its allies and partners — are robust, protected, resilient, and reliable.

But speed is of the essence as other world powers and their respective economies are racing toward the same end goal. 

The DoD must continuously invest in 5G in order to realize the applications and outcomes detailed above. 

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