New 5G challenge to encourage open architecture solutions

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Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the original notice of investigation was published in January 2021.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is launching a new 5G Open Stack Challenge next month to challenge industry to develop open architecture technologies that could be incorporated into future testbeds.

The U.S. Department of Defense is partnering with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on this initiative, which builds on a Notice of Inquiry issued last January requesting concepts to accelerate the development of an “ecosystem of 5G stack open”.

DoD Acting Principal Director for 5G Amanda Toman said at a Potomac Officers Club event last week that the challenge is an effort to get a better sense of open interfaces and network capabilities than the industry is growing.

“Hopefully we identify some unique capabilities and then we can work with those vendors in the future potentially awarding contracts to them and then integrating them into the testbeds or into some of the experimentation efforts as we go along. that we are making progress,” Toman said.

The challenge is one of many “special projects” Toman’s office is pursuing to advance 5G technology. His team is also working closely with the US military on a program to transition 5G applications for tactical use on the battlefield and has another effort with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency focused on identifying open prototypes that could fit into other DoD testbeds.

The department has made 5G a key modernization priority, requesting $1.5 billion for 5G and microelectronics projects in its fiscal year 2021 budget request. In 2020, the DoD announced it would invest $600 million in 5G testbeds at five military installations across the United States:

  • Naval Air Force Base Coronado, California
  • Hill Air Force Base, Utah
  • Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada
  • Fort Hood, TX
  • Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia.

Testing efforts focus on how the military can take advantage of different applications or concepts, including dynamic spectrum utilization, 5G-enabled command and control, smart warehouses and logistics, and augmented and virtual reality. .

The first five sites constitute “Tranche 1” of the department’s 5G initiative. In 2021, the DoD awarded contracts at seven Tranche 2 sites:

  • National Training Center and Camp Pendleton in California
  • Fort Hood, Texas, Marine Corps Base Hawaii
  • Wheeler Military Airfield, Hawaii
  • Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington
  • Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma
  • Joint Base San Antonio, Texas
  • Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia.

Toman noted that while Tranche 1 sites are “up and running” with stand-alone testbeds and networks, Tranche 2 projects aren’t as mature. Initiatives at these bases include wireless connectivity, the use of 5G to improve aircraft mission readiness, and immersive 5G-enabled training.

“I think over the next 12 months we will have a lot more data from slice 1,” Toman said. “And with Tranche 2, we’ll get to a point where we’ll have testbeds standing and [are] start working on the development of these applications.

In both tranches, each project includes a test bed, applications being demonstrated and network enhancements or tools that could be used to optimize the 5G network, Toman said.

As the department works to better understand how 5G can improve operations, Toman said one of its top priorities over the next few years will be spectrum sharing or “understanding how things can coexist in this environment. limited spectrum”.

This issue is a priority for commercial airlines and the telecommunications industry, as concerns grow over whether new 5G networks could cause interference with aircraft radar altimeters. The Pentagon created a FiveG joint interagency Altimeter Radar Interference Task Force to assess potential security issues.

Another department priority is Open Radio Access Networks (ORAN), which define interface standards and encourage system modularity.

“We have really made a serious effort to reward vendors who provide ORAN solutions for Tranche 2,” Toman said.

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s Space and Emerging Technologies Journalist. She previously covered the US Air Force and US Space Force for Inside Defense.

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