5G emerges with some asterisks

5G (BeeBright/

Security, spectrum and network deployment are the big issues federal and commercial users are wrestling with as 5G services emerge, according to experts at a kick-off meeting of one of the industry/government partnerships formed to help federal agencies plan for the new wireless technology.

Even though 5G has transformative potential for society, the current 4G LTE networks will be around for a while, Milo Medin, Google's vice president of access services, said in a presentation at ATARC's Mobile Working Group's 5G Project Team meeting in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 3. Medin was among almost a dozen 5G experts and agency officials speaking at the kick-off 'meeting at the General Services Administration's headquarters.

5G technology presents a unique issue for GSA, because the agency wants federal agencies to use its contracting vehicles for 5G services, according GSA's Office of Telecommunications Director Allen Hill.

Currently, the agency is working through its contracts to ensure they comply with Section 889 of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which prohibits federal agencies from using Chinese-made telecommunications gear, Hill said. Chinese telecom giant Huawei is a leading worldwide supplier of 5G equipment.

"It's not easy" to comb through contracts to ensure compliance, he said. "If you're an agency that doesn't use our vehicles, I'd bet your head is spinning" over requirements.

Major telecommunications companies, such as Verizon, are deploying 5G wideband networks mostly in metropolitan areas in the U.S., said Andrew Ayers with Verizon's client partner connected solutions. The company has deployed 5G in 23 cities and plans another seven by the end of the year.

While those deployments are mounting, carriers use different methods, from blanketing areas with coverage to "popcorn" hot spots around cities, said Bhupinder Mann, senior vice president of engineering at TeleWorld Solutions consultancy.

"LTE is efficient," said Medin. Unless 5G is hosted on wider spectrum bands such as the 3 GHz or 4 GHz bands, it offers incremental, but not revolutionary, capabilities over 4G LTE, he said. In the U.S. that spectrum is used for military applications, so 5G would be implemented on millimeter wavelength spectrum, which can bring power and base station issues for carriers, said Medin.

In the U.S. means carriers will have to invest billions to install enough base stations to support 5G networks, according to Medin. Signals from handsets are easily blocked. Transmissions may also be an issue indoors, which could press building owners to install their own internal wireless transmission networks.

Shared spectrum capabilities are emerging. One, Citizens Broadband Radio Service, operates on the 150 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5-3.7 MHz range, sharing frequency allocations with incumbent Defense Department users' shipborne radar applications and commercial service providers. Networks based on CBRS, he said, could be a boon in the emerging 5G arena for building owners, such as the GSA, as a relatively high-bandwidth alternative indoors.

Editor's note: This article was changed Sept. 4 to correct the spelling of Milo Medin's name in some references.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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