DOD floats plan to build its own 5G network

5G network (m_kow/ 

The Defense Department wants to explore different ways to share spectrum frequencies reserved for military and civilian use with commercial entities, including owning and operating a 5G network.

According to a Sept. 18 request for information, DOD is looking to industry for ideas on how it can implement dynamic spectrum sharing that would support 5G development and deployment for military and commercial users within the same frequency bands.

"DOD's partnership with industry is imperative in this extremely technical and competitive field," Dana Deasy, DOD's CIO, said in a statement announcing the RFI. "What we learn in this effort has potential to benefit the entire nation and keep the U.S. as the global leader of 5G technology for many years to come."

The RFI comes as the Defense Department expands 5G testing and follows a recent spectrum sharing deal to fuel higher capacity 5G networks that affect shipboard and ground based radar, some weapons guidance, and safety systems.

DOD currently controls a significant portion of the mid-band spectrum used for high-power radar operations ideal for 5G. Additionally, the need for spectrum sharing is expected to increase to keep up with military and commercial needs, especially as the Defense Department moves to implement all domain operations. But the practice has raised some tensions regarding the commercial use of frequencies close to the ones DOD uses for navigation.

The request considers whether DOD should own and operate its own 5G networks domestically, whether it should open up additional frequency bands for sharing, and if they should utilize multiple spectrum sharing solutions, including leasing arrangements.

DOD is also seeking comment on any potential legal or regulatory conflicts that could arise with different spectrum sharing models and management. The RFI also inquires about using automation and data standards that could speed up spectrum sharing and repurposing decisions, respectively.

Two senior Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee warned that the effort could be in conflict with work already underway at telecom regulators and might serve to create a boondoggle for industry.

"The Department of Defense’s RFI on the creation of a government-owned and operated 5G network will do nothing but slow the deployment of this critical technology," Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said in a statement. "The plan appears specifically crafted to enrich President Trump’s cronies and undermines the careful and complicated work done by the FCC and the NTIA to allocate this spectrum for commercial use." The pair added that, "The confusion [Trump] and his Administration are creating will surely set us back in the race to 5G."

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the ranking member for the House Armed Services Committee, called the RFI "encouraging" but that solutions are coming along too slowly to accelerate 5G deployment.

"I am pleased to see that the Department is willing to explore ways to share the valuable mid-band spectrum that is so critical for our economy, our security, and our nation's future," Thornberry said in a Sept. 20 statement. "I am concerned, however, that DOD is still not moving at the appropriate speed given the on-going efforts by China and others. We must move out faster."

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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