It’s Important, But It’s Not All About 5G

Ed Wyatt June 16, 2021

To meet the connectivity demands of a mobile, and in many cases, remote workforce, it is easy to understand why federal agencies are looking to upgrade their network infrastructures to prepare for fifth generation (5G) wireless technology.

5G promises low latency, higher speeds and ubiquitous connectivity of people and systems across federal agencies, as well as the defense and military enterprise. The rise of 5G capabilities will enable faster data speeds than current 4G networks and build a foundation to connect millions of Internets of Things (IoT) enabled devices. Agency managers are seeing mission-critical needs for transferring massive amounts of data with low latency to support a range of applications from high-definition video to virtual and augmented reality to the situational awareness that IoT brings.

For example, the Air Force is working on a 5G network to test the possibilities of distributed agile command and control at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada that involves “audio, gestures, augmented reality, as well as everything else, network slicing, to connect with everybody, and to do things that we’ve seen in the movies,” but haven’t seen in real-life mobile environments, according to Frank Konieczny, who recently retired as Air Force chief technology officer.

At Hickam Air Force Base, according to Konieczny, maintenance crews want to take advantage of IoT and 5G’s gigabit transfer rates to get flight and maintenance data off planes as quickly as possible, and artificial intelligence to analyze this data and diagnose potential problems.

The low latency and high bandwidth capabilities delivered by 5G are no doubt promising for agencies dealing with the most demanding applications. However, 5G is just one connectivity option. Not all applications require 5G connectivity. Therefore, federal agencies should be looking at a combination of 5G, Long-Term Evolution (LTE), Wi-Fi 6, and Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) solutions to meet mission requirements.

The latest generation of smartphones and tablets can connect via private LTE networks, Wi-Fi and public cellular networks. The emergence of 5G gives agencies the opportunity to create the applications that can take advantage of diverse connectivity options.

Wi-Fi 6

Wi-Fi 6 will provide agencies with increased bandwidth and faster internet speeds, enabling them to take advantage of the abundance of data they store and maintain. Built on a similar wireless foundation, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and 5G will co-exist. Agencies will explore interoperability and security capabilities to ensure the two technologies work together to optimally support secure federal networks. Demand for Wi-Fi 6 is driven primarily by bring-your-own-device and IoT capabilities. Suited for indoor environments, such as large meeting rooms or temporary locations that need high bandwidth, Wi-Fi 6 is a faster and cheaper alternative to cellular data.

CBRS

CBRS is an approved public-private spectrum-sharing agreement that improves wireless coverage and capacity, making it ideal for in-building, public space and industrial IoT wireless requirements. CBRS supports both 4G and 5G cellular and allows for private LTE networks. Agencies have complete network control, stronger security and better interoperability. In addition, CBRS will support a wide-range of new, mission-critical and low-latency IoT applications.

Upgrading networks to support these new mobile technologies can be done with the right cabling, fiber infrastructure and Ethernet switching architectures. Upgrades are needed, though, to support higher bandwidth to mobile devices and next-generation sensors.

Bottom Line

There are definite advantages to having multiple wireless technologies on a campus or base, primarily, operational continuity and mission success, if network service is disrupted by disasters or attacks.  

CommScope is enabling secure, smart connectivity in facilities across the United States, using the transformational capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 spectrum and other wireless technology. Connectivity is the foundation, strengthened by a robust platform deploying high bandwidth fiber, switches, and copper cable to power devices at the edge to the cloud. Although 5G is important – and will serve as the future connectivity standard – there are other options that agencies can consider for enhanced network performance.

Visit CommScope’s Wireless Resource Center to learn how the company can support connectivity requirements.

About the Author

Ed Wyatt

Ed Wyatt, Jr. is a Systems Engineering Manager for the CommScope Federal team.