Military, civilian collaboration vital to establishing 5G at JBSA

  • Published
  • By Lori A. Bultman
  • 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

An announcement was made by the Department of Defense June 3 that will bring enormous advantages, as well as responsibilities, to San Antonio and the region. Joint Base San Antonio is one of 12 select installations where the department will experiment and test fifth-generation, or 5G, communications technology.

The development of 5G capabilities is critical for the country, and the DOD is fully engaged, in partnership with industry, to quickly develop 5G technology.

Dr. Brian Kelley, assistant associate dean’s fellow director for the Wireless Information Next Generation Systems Lab at The University of Texas at San Antonio, and member of the San Antonio-Electromagnetic Defense collaborative, said 5G will be transformational for JBSA and San Antonio.

“5G digital services represent the essential evolution of the modern internet-driven economy,” he said. "In the simplest terms, 5G high-speed causeways enable ubiquitous access and connectivity to internet-connected services, sensors, drones, robots, and data, as we move."

What this means is, internet-driven devices will work much faster, regardless of their physical movement within 5G coverage areas.

“The ‘5G-mobile-internet' allows the computing devices we carry around to analyze vast quantities of information for real-time services in highly mobile scenarios,” Kelley said. “The capabilities of 5G will allow autonomous vehicles to chauffeur us to destinations; it will allow untethered virtual reality instructional training, on-demand remote surgical robotics by doctor's miles away from patients, and 5G-foreign-language-conversion applications to enable seamless collaboration around the globe.

“This technology is capable of transforming our society and represents the culmination of technological innovations at the intersection of high-performance computing, high-speed networking, and high-bandwidth wireless communications,” he said.

It is agreed that the capabilities of 5G will have a profound effect on military functions, but it will also contribute greatly to business, industry and American citizens.  

“Business staff members and consumers alike will be able to browse the web, download files, process data, and stream video at incredible speeds on a 5G network, attributes that could give any country with this capability a significant economic advantage,” said Adam L. Hamilton, Southwest Research Institute president and chief executive officer, who is also the chair of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce board. He pointed out though, the development of 5G will not happen in a vacuum.

“The DOD will collaborate with industry, the Federal Communications Commission, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and other government agencies in the development of 5G technologies,” he said.

This collaboration will also include industry, agencies, and academic institutions in Texas.

"San Antonio and Joint Base San Antonio have a rich history of collaboration,” said Col. Michael “Apollo” Lovell, executive director, JBSA-Electromagnetic Defense Initiative. “As JBSA’s 5G experimentation site builds out, we anticipate large-scale experimentation and prototyping that will provide industry a means to accelerate the technology in a low-risk environment while also advancing warfighter capabilities.”

A local group eager to gain hands-on experience with 5G security and applications are the students and researchers at UTSA.

“There is no better way to prepare tomorrow’s workforce for challenging roles with our many government agencies and defense contracting partners in the San Antonio-Austin tech area than working with the DOD in developing 5G in San Antonio,” said Guy Walsh, executive director for the National Security Collaboration Center at The University of Texas at San Antonio. "The NSCC is excited to help accelerate DOD’s move to high-tech 5G, combat-ready systems, in months instead of years.”

It is clear the advantages of DOD’s experimentation and testing of 5G in San Antonio will be many, and it will have a profound effect on military operations and training at JBSA and around the globe.

“Adversarial conflict increasingly occurs between warfighters outfitted with advanced, information-infused systems,” Kelley said. “Intelligent logistics, supply management, tracking, personal sensing for monitoring soldiers, smart bases, smart warehouses, and virtual-reality training all depend on ubiquitous connectivity. Secure, mobile 5G-radio sessions will enable information-dominance, which can lead to overwhelming advantages.”

Military advantages are not the only ambition of the program though. The DOD’s efforts are intended to focus on large-scale experimentation and prototyping of dual-use, military and civilian, 5G technology.

“As a non-profit, applied research and development organization with a number of engineers and scientists working and collaborating on 5G adoption initiatives, Southwest Research Institute has a major stake in ensuring 5G technologies are secure and trusted by the DOD as well as transitioning these technologies to civil and commercial applications,” Hamilton said, adding there is little doubt 5G will rapidly proliferate all commercial business sectors in the local area.

“The implementation of 5G here will take advantage of the city’s extensive investment in cyber defense over the past decade and will leverage the world-class community of cyber knowledge and expertise in this region which resulted from that investment,” Hamilton said, on behalf of the SA Chamber. “It is the right decision, at the right place, at the right time.”

Having long-standing connections and collaboration between military and civilian organizations in San Antonio, like those built through the SA-EMD and the JBSA-Electromagnetic Defense Initiative, will be vital to the success of the DOD’s implementation of 5G at JBSA.

“Joint Base San Antonio is surrounded by world-class academic and research institutions and enjoys tremendous support from San Antonio’s expanding technology ecosystem, which is stretching up to Austin,” Walsh said. “The DOD’s selection of JBSA and the surrounding community for the 5G pilot program comes as no surprise to the San Antonio’s civilian, military and critical infrastructure owners and operators.

“Few major cities experience the support our military community enjoys from partners including CPS Energy, San Antonio Water System, and other industry leaders who understand and appreciate the interdependence between military installations defending the nation and critical infrastructure owners providing reliable power, water, and telecommunications that enable and sustain America’s military readiness.”