This month, mobile carrier AT&T announced that it would deploy 5G wireless broadband along with an array of Networking-as-a-Service (NaaS) capabilities to support the work of more than 24,000 military personnel at three U.S. Air Force Bases (AFB), including Buckley AFB, Colorado; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; and Offutt AFB, Nebraska. The carrier has completed 5G system design across the three installations and expects to complete delivery of the services to the bases by the end of next year.
“We’re proud and honored to bring AT&T 5G and other highly innovative commercial networking-as-a-service capabilities to the Air Force,” said Anne Chow, chief executive officer, AT&T Business via a statement. “We are helping the Air Force optimize the value of our 5G and other networking capabilities at these 3 bases and stand ready to work with them to extend these services across the entirety of the Air Force if they so choose.”
Benefits and Concerns of 5G for the Air Force
The nation’s mobile carriers, including AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, have touted the impending arrival of the fifth generation wireless technology for digital cellular networks and what it means for consumers for the past several years. While it has the potential to be up to 20 times faster than current 4G networks, it is capable of more than just faster streaming of videos on mobile phones.
5G could be used to provide support for the Air Force’s “Internet of Things” (IoT) including new applications such as unmanned vehicle platforms utilized by the military including aerial drones, but also in robotics and virtual and augmented reality platforms, smart connected solutions, network storage and notably increased cybersecurity.
Security has been seen as both a benefit and a concern – but the latter is really a matter of the technology according to industry analysts who have noted that basic 5G is at least as secure as 4G. The issue is of what hardware vendors can deploy into equipment.
That is among the reasons why in April, Futurewei Technologies, Inc. – which has ties to Chinese-based Huawei, a company that has been considered a proxy for Beijing – was suspended from federal contracts involving the U.S. Air Force.
Networking-as-a-Service for the Air Force
According to AT&T, the Air Force is now testing its commercial NaaS capabilities at the three bases as part of a strategy to transform and modernize the networking infrastructure to support air, land, and cyber operations. AT&T’s solutions and services will be deployed at those three bases under Other Transaction Authority (OTA) Agreements issued by the Air Force to fund its Enterprise IT-as-a-Service (EITaaS) program.
The goal of the program is to utilize commercial networking services to deliver enhanced speed, security, and capabilities to provide an efficient and improved user experience. This includes near-ubiquitous wireless connectivity across the three bases.
“We think it is vital to test commercially provided services like 5G and software-based networking-as-a-service capabilities as we explore ways to help us innovate and improve our global air, space and cyber readiness,” said Col. Justin K. Collins, deputy, Enterprise IT & Cyber Infrastructure Division, U.S. Air Force. “We expect 5G service will help us improve the user experience and support a broad array of use cases that can enhance mission effectiveness.”
Additional 5G Services
AT&T will also provide Base Area Network, Wide Area Network, telephony, internet access, and highly secure interoperability with legacy systems at the three bases. The telecom giant noted that the Air Force would benefit from its investments in its networks and technologies. Over the past five years, AT&T said it has invested more than $135 billion wireless and wireline networks including in capital investments as well as the acquisition of wireless spectrum and operations.
In addition to the deployment at the three newly announced bases, the U.S. military has moved forward with a 5G rollout at other bases. Earlier this year, AT&T deployed a 5G network to Tyndall AFB, Florida while industry rival Verizon has installed 5G at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California, where it will be used as part of a lab to determine how the high-speed wireless technology can be used across communications, drones, base security, connected vehicles, and energy management.
In March, the Department of Defense (DoD) issued a call for prototypes to test 5G use at a handful of military bases.