The Battle for DoD 5G Flares Up — What’s Ahead


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In this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast, I’m joined by my colleagues here at Futurum Research, Olivier Blanchard and Ron Westfall for a conversation around the battle for DoD 5G and how, and why, that’s flaring up, and a look at what’s ahead.

DoD Use Cases for 5G are Broad

We discussed the fact that DoD use cases for 5G are broad, and it’s not just about secure cellphone communications. These use cases include things like:

  • AR/VR training for mission planning and operations
  • Increasing efficiencies and strength of transshipments
  • Smart warehousing
  • Distributed command and control using 5G to assist in air, space, and cyberspace lethality
  • The ability to allow Air Force radar systems to dynamically share spectrum with commercial 5G users

DoD Contract Awards are Vast – and Growing

Olivier noted that the DoD has already awarded some $600 million in contracts to a dozen companies, including AT&T, Nokia, and Ericsson, to develop a half a dozen 5G testbeds across the United States. AT&T is providing connectivity at three facilities and we discussed some additional projects currently underway, including one at Naval Base San Diego and one at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

Our conversation included the fight for 5G midband real estate, which falls under the category of “unlicensed spectrum,” and all that’s involved there.

We discussed the Beat China for 5G Act, which would require the FCC to auction the band by December 2021, around which there are competing amps. One is the “business as usual” camp, which supports having the FCC auction off the band per the Beat China for 5G Act and the other supports having the DoD retain control of the band but lease it to commercial operators in the “wholesale” model.

Our discussion turned to the Request for Information on Defense Spectrum Sharing issued by the DoD on September 18th 2020 and the issues of spectrum sharing at play here.

We also discussed Rivada, one of the companies proposing the leasing of the DoD tech infrastructure to a private corporation and a free market approach to next gen 5G networks. Rivada is a US-based communications tech business financially backed by Peter Thiel, Karl Rove, and other prominent Republicans, which is partly why the discussion around this topic is particularly relevant as one administration eventually transitions to another. It’s important to note here, and our discussion revolved around this, that this exploration on the part of the DoD is about 5G Dynamic Spectrum Sharing capabilities, not a nationwide 5G network.

Ron walked us through Open RAN technology, which introduces new U.S.-based competitors like Mavenir, Altiostar, and Parallel Wireless into the 5G competitive and ecosystem mix, and which are an alternative to Huawei, ZTE, Ericsson, and Nokia, all of whom have traditional RAN models.

It was one of many discussions our team here at Futurum Research will have about 5G and what’s ahead. We know that geopolitical concerns related to national security can (and will) quickly shift as 5G technology rapidly evolves — and we’ll be there leading the discussion.

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