The Department of Defense is investing billions in 5G testing and application prototyping, and the telecom industry and its watchers are keeping a close eye on the opportunity for federal funding. What many aren't yet aware of, however, are the breakthrough wireless technologies the DoD investments have already produced. Some of these innovations represent early-stage technical advances, such as the machine learning systems developed as part of DARPA's Spectrum Collaboration Challenge, but others are further along the path to commercial development.
For a peek at what's to come in 5G, take the recent challenge competition launched at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar in late 2020.
Funded by the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), in partnership with NavalX SoCal Tech Bridge, the competition solicited proposals for dual-use 5G-enabled technologies to be demonstrated on Miramar's new Verizon 5G network. The competition asked participants to consider applications including security systems, drones and energy communications, and finalists were given the chance to showcase their solutions as part of Miramar's 5G Living Lab.
The 5G challenge was supposed to culminate in an in-person event this spring, but as the pandemic would have it, the in-person option was necessarily ruled out. Instead, the final 5G Demo Day took place online, complete with videos of the winning applications, now available for anyone to view.
Here is what the finalists delivered:
Finalist Technology #1: GenXComm TrueRelay 5G Mesh Node Relay Solution
GenXComm is a startup company focused on combining photonics and dynamic filtering for RF systems. For the Miramar competition, the GenXComm team prototyped a new 5G Mesh Node Relay Solution using interference cancelation technology to enable full duplex communications. While full duplex signaling – the ability to send and receive on the same frequency – is not new, the GenXComm team is implementing it in a private and portable mesh network environment with the reported ability to scale across 100 miles with no previously established cellular infrastructure. To prove out the performance of their solution, the team demonstrated a virtual reality medical training application running successfully on the TrueRelay mesh technology.
Finalist Technology #2: vRotors Mixed Reality Platform for Drone Operations
vRotors is repurposing technology born out of the video gaming industry. For the 5G challenge competition, the vRotors team showed off a telemetry-driven mixed reality platform for drone operations, highlighting the need for both high throughput and low latency network connectivity. The solution combines remote robotic control with an interface that allows users in multiple locations to share visual perspectives. Users can also collaborate by marking up their shared virtual environment with detailed information such as positioning data.
Finalist Technology #3: COMSovereign Portable Network and Tethered Drone
COMSovereign has developed a network-in-a-box solution and mounted it on a tethered drone to create localized telecom infrastructure. For the challenge event, the COMSovereign team showed how its technology deploys autonomously in minutes without the need for existing backhaul connectivity. Part of the innovation comes from the compact nature of the equipment, which makes the solution highly portable. The system also connects with other network nodes and includes an app to let users communicate on the network with their own mobile devices, including phones, tablets and laptops.
Finalist Technology #4: Omnispace Non-Terrestrial Network Solution
Omnispace is developing a solution that pairs mobile and satellite connectivity to enable dual-use narrowband connectivity. The company is in the process of both building hardware and putting up its own satellite constellation operating in the 2GHz S-band. The hybrid terrestrial-and-satellite infrastructure is being designed to connect with traditional wireless carrier networks, combining a 5G core with ubiquitous roaming capabilities globally. Critical to this effort is the company's work to leverage standardized 5G protocols so that its technology is interoperable with commercial 5G chipsets and other 5G hardware. For the challenge competition, the Omnispace team demonstrated its non-terrestrial network (NTN) capabilities and put out a call for partners interested in helping to define requirements for government use of its worldwide network system.
Miramar is not the only DoD testbed focused on 5G, and even on the San Diego base, the challenge competition is just one of several activities that nonprofit organization US Ignite is leading as part of a5G technology pilot program. Other efforts combine 5G networking with base operations centered on communications, transportation, energy and more.
The pilot program at Miramar is a research investment, so not every new application and prototype will succeed commercially. However, any successes that do come won't only benefit military personnel; they'll be a stimulus for the broader telecom industry. This is an advantage of the fact that telecom continues to extend beyond the realm of traditional wireless carriers. Innovation can and is emerging everywhere.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Director of Partnerships and Outreach, US Ignite
About the Author: Mari Silbey is Senior Director of Partnerships and Outreach for US Ignite, and Program Director for the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research program.
US Ignite is a high-tech nonprofit focused on accelerating smart communities and enabling new opportunities for wireless and IoT research designed to help narrow the gap between cutting-edge experimentation and scalable, real-world technology deployments.