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Experts Illuminate Current & Future DOD Use Cases for 5G & Spectrum

Panelists at the Potomac Officers Club's 2024 5G Forum
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The electromagnetic spectrum is the basis for much of our modern communications, both for civilians and the federal government. In terms of the mid-band spectrum — which comprises the range between 1 GHz and 6 GHz and is the ideal spot for 5G communications — about 8 percent has been designated for commercial users and 58 percent is carved out for the government, with the remaining over 30 percent unlicensed, according to Mark Cress, 5G business development manager for Verizon Public Sector.

When leading a panel discussion on the Department of Defense’s spectrum needs at last week’s 2024 5G Forum from Potomac Officers Club, Cress reminded the audience that there is no 5G without spectrum and that spectrum is the “increasingly congested…highway on which 5G travels.” Cress said that the extensive available spectrum needs to be harnessed both by the private sector and the military in order to succeed in the great power competition.

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While Cress characterized spectrum as a “scarce resource,” panelist Umair Javed, who is senior vice president of spectrum at CTIA, suggested that spectrum be addressed “not as a scarcity problem, but as an optimization problem,” which he said reveals how it “leaves certain use cases hanging.”

Spectrum DOD use cases

Experts Illuminate Current & Future DOD Use Cases for 5G & Spectrum - top government contractors - best government contracting event
Booz Allen’s Mike Jacobs

There are certainly no shortage of use cases for spectrum in the DOD, which has “a huge stake in data-driven decision-making,” according to Mike Jacobs, chief engineer of RF systems and computational electromagnetics at Booz Allen Hamilton. Beyond the various “important but non-mission critical use cases,” like MWR communications on military bases or test ranges and training, unmanned systems and autonomous technologies represent the central drivers of spectrum needs in the DOD.

“We need spectrum in order to communicate with those platforms, either to control them or to get the information back that they’re achieving. We also need spectrum in order to sense and defend from them,” Jacobs explained.

He went on to say that the new low Earth orbit satellite communications constellations, like Starlink or Starshield, have specific and new spectrum demands. Additionally, Joint All-Domain Command and Control, the DOD’s ambitious vision for a unified communication mesh across territories and planes, will certainly be tapping into spectrum.

“The DOD is not going to need less spectrum next year than they’re using this year,” Jacobs promised.

What’s next for the DOD’s spectrum communications?

Going forward, Javed stated that there needs to be “a lot more research into RF emissions and interference” and “a much better understanding of interference in this country.”

“This is a problem we see not just in [the Citizens Broadband Radio Service], but in other spectrum proceedings as well, where you’ll have different stakeholders, or even sometimes the same stakeholder, assign different interference protection criteria to identical systems. And that doesn’t seem right, right?” Javed posited. “So it looks like there’s more research that can be done here in order to come up with a common understanding of what’s needed in terms of protection criteria.”

Dr. Tugba Erpek, research associate professor Virginia Tech, said that the National Security Institute is developing algorithms to make 5G communications more applicable for tactical scenarios, including “development of network slicing algorithms, some beamforming algorithms and also power allocation to decrease the footprint of the 5G signal in a given spectrum.”

Jacobs reasoned that “5G today is a spectrum-sharing system. It is a very efficient spectrum-sharing system. And so we need to, first of all, be utilizing 5G technology to its maximum potential.”

Javed acknowledged his point, but encouraged the U.S. government to strengthen its spectrum-sharing capabilities while affirming the role of “exclusive-use spectrum.”

“There’s going to continue to be use cases in this country that require exclusive-use spectrum. And I don’t mean that just for the commercial sector. I mean that for the Department of Defense and for the military as well.”

Dr. DJ Shyy, communications engineer and principal at MITRE, also participated in the panel discussion.

Experts Illuminate Current & Future DOD Use Cases for 5G & Spectrum - top government contractors - best government contracting event
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