SIGNAL: 5G Is Making Wishes Come True

Apr 15, 2022

By Robert K. Ackerman

The technology’s potential is just beginning to be understood.

One of the biggest challenges facing 5G is for providers and users to actually grasp what it can accomplish, some experts say. A host of new capabilities are foreseen, but they ultimately may fall far short of what innovative applications are eventually realized. As more uses are discovered, its potential may expand into areas far beyond experts envisioned.

A panel discussing the future of 5G weighed the technology’s future on the third and final day of TechNet Indo-Pacific, held in Honolulu April 11-13. The panel, comprising government and industry officials, closed out the conference with a look at the near and distant future.

William Fong, an engineer with the Advanced Development and Experimentation Branch, ISR Division, NIWC Pacific, described how his branch is looking at 5G for the warfighter. “We’re pursuing hybrid systems where commercial networks can help us carry out our mission,” he said in explaining 5G’s role for the Navy. “You’re able to scale network functions up and down at the speed of software.”

Robert Perkins, senior 5G technology advisor, Vectrus, gave an example of how 5G can change logistics management. In terms of mobilization, 5G enables smart warehouses that allow quick replenishment of people out in the field. Where existing warehouses rely on people with pencils and clipboards, 5G in a warehouse will go far beyond locating materials. It will prioritize supplies and effectively allow greater situational awareness of all characteristics of supplies.

Sensors are another area that will benefit from 5G. Perkins noted that different types of sensors can be deployed to monitor water quality in a number of different settings.

Michael Bilyeu, associate director, NineTwelve, expanded on the sensor aspect. He noted that the soldier-as-a-sensor concept is really coming to life now, as individuals will have the bandwidth to exchange all sorts of data.

The experts warned that 5G does offer some drawbacks. 5G networks, and the spectrum that is part of 5G, has to be deployed delicately, Perkins cautioned, noting examples of interference that already have arisen. Bilyeu noted that equipping warfighters with 5G devices could be a security risk. “If you’re not careful with it, it can become a liability,” he warned. With its precise data tracking, planners should start with a zero-trust architecture. “The last thing you want to do is light up a map with all your locations on it,” he pointed out.

But, above all, the panelists were bullish on 5G.

“5G is an inflection point for us to look at our aging infrastructure and see where we can improve so we can become proper citizens of the information age,” Fong said. “It’s a great platform to provide services to people who really need them.”

Perkins pointed out that, as the military provides 5G assets on site, coalition partners will be key.

Bilyeu offered that users could have data insights that they never had before. “There’s data all around us; 5G will show us how do we get it, compress it and use it in a secure way,” he stated. “Just tell us what you need, and we’ll use 5G to solve it.”