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Albany Marine base to sport 'made in the USA' 5G network

The US Department of Defense (DoD) is building a 5G test network at its Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia, that is using technology from all US-based companies, including Federated Wireless, Cisco, JMA Wireless, Vectrus Systems, Perspecta Labs, GE Research, KPMG and Scientific Research Corp.

The network is part of a $600 million endeavor that the DoD announced in October to equip five military bases with 5G test networks from a variety of vendors. The goal of the project is to bring together experts from the military, the wireless industry and academia to advance the US' 5G competitiveness and strengthen its warfighting capabilities.

Despite its goal of advancing the US in 5G, the Albany, Georgia test network is the only military base of the five selected by the DoD that will be using 5G gear solely from US-based companies. The other military bases will have equipment from the likes of Finland's Nokia, Sweden's Ericsson and South Korea's Samsung.

One source close to the DoD project who wished to remain anonymous said that bidding for the DoD 5G network projects was very competitive and that hundreds of vendors submitted applications to be part of the initiative.

According to the DoD, the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany will be home to a 5G-enabled smart warehouse that will use logistics to increase the efficiency of vehicular storage and maintenance. Specifically, the logistics system will identify, record, organize, store and retrieve inventory. It will also be a place where other 5G-enabled technologies are tested and validated.

Sal D'Itri, general manager of professional services at Federated Wireless, which was selected to be the primary vendor for the Marine Corps Logistics project, told Light Reading that the goal of the effort is to build an end-to-end 5G platform and testbed using all US-based manufacturers of equipment and solutions.

"We wanted to show that the US could lead the way in providing secure, state-of-the-art 5G technology to the DoD 5G initiative," D'Itri said.

He added that Federated Wireless will build a private 5G network using open industry standards and architectures including open RAN, Open Network Automation, virtualized RAN and a virtualized 5G packet core. The network will use 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum as well as spectrum in the millimeter wave (mmWave) bands.

Cisco is providing the 5G core, while JMA Wireless will support the vRAN in both CBRS and mmWave spectrum. Vectrus Systems will provide the logistics systems.

In addition, GE Research will provide real-time asset tracking, facility modeling and predictive analytics, while KPMG will create applications that will allow for the equipment to be automatically moved throughout the warehouse. Scientific Research Corp. will handle the automated warehouse logistics system for inventory tracking and environmental management.

Shared spectrum is on the agenda

The DoD is one of the largest owners of spectrum, so it's not surprising that the agency is using the CBRS band for the project. Indeed, the CBRS band was recently freed for commercial use after a sharing technology was developed to ensure US Navy operations in the band wouldn't be affected.

Federated Wireless was a key proponent of the shared spectrum framework that has been used for the CBRS band. D'Itri said that this initiative is just the latest example of the projects that Federated is involved in that "applies the power of shared spectrum technology to securely improve communications and operational efficiency for the public sector."

The DoD could also expand the use of shared spectrum. For example, in October it provided details on how the US military might share a range of bands with commercial users.

Beating China

Although the DoD stated that one of its goals in setting up these five 5G test networks is to advance the US' 5G competitiveness, it may be too late to the party. Based upon reports from Chinese operators and regulators, the country is already outpacing the US in the construction of 5G networks and the sales of 5G services to consumers.

For example, at the end of October, China's top mobile network operators reported more than 150 million 5G users. And China's telecom regulator has reported that the country's operators have already built more than 600,000 5G basestations.

US operators so far have not disclosed the number of 5G subscribers on their networks, so comparisons are difficult to make. But most agree the US is far behind those figures.

Sue Marek, special to Light Reading. Follow her @suemarek.

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