Ask a roomful (or is it Zoomfull?) of technology experts where Open RAN (ORAN) exists on the maturity timeline and the responses will run the gamut. One thing is certain: the U.S. government’s objectives in this area are guaranteed to accelerate ORAN and 5G development.
Our 2021 5G report revealed significant growth in government and military engagements around 5G experimentation and Open RAN. Halfway through the year, we’ve seen these efforts intensify. An urgency is on the rise in government efforts to explore the expanding infrastructure ecosystem coalescing around 5G.
At the heart of all this is the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) stated goal to “protect the safety of life and property and promote the national defense through wire and radio communication.” The term “mission critical” gets thrown around a lot in telecom. In the context of the government’s goals, it’s something of an understatement.
Conducting ORAN recon
In particular, ORAN is getting a close look for its potential to usher in more secure networks, greater vendor diversity, more flexible networks, lower costs and new services. That said, a recognition among key government entities observes that ORAN is still in formative stages, with significant work required before its full benefits can be realized.
In the commercial space, the likelihood of Open RAN’s future success is not in question. The issue of adoption timing, however, can be a defining factor in an organization’s long-term success in the marketplace. Comparable disruptive changes (like the VoIP explosion) resulted in a significant reduction in critical mass players. The government, with its mission critical objectives, cannot risk falling behind the wave and recognizes the importance of identifying the best strategies to effectively adopt ORAN.
The government, with its mission critical objectives, cannot risk falling behind the wave and recognizes the importance of identifying the best strategies to effectively adopt ORAN.
On this front, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and its interagency partners are entering a historical engagement with telecom to test and validate 5G and ORAN robustness, security, resilience and reliability. The considerable list of objectives includes using “local and expeditionary 5G networks to move massive amounts of data to connect distant sensors and weapons into a dense, resilient battlefield network.”
No small task, to be sure. Especially when considering the massive complexity all these extra layers of security and robustness create.
Developing testbeds for a multitude of emerging 5G use cases in government
At the most fundamental level, 5G must work as planned. To achieve that, the Department of Defense, Department of Transport and Department of Agriculture are engaging the vendor and contractor community to help develop testbeds that replicate large, complex environments that will ultimately support specialized 5G use cases, including:
Mid-band dynamic spectrum utilization for airborne radar
Smart warehouses for the transshipment of supplies and materials
Private networks utilizing Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) for smart military bases
Augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) training to enhance deployment readiness
Interconnected networks for resilient command and control (C2) and shipwide and pierside connectivity
Capabilities enabling forward operating command posts (CPs) to become more agile, dispersed, and difficult to detect for survivability on the modern battlefield
Telemedicine applications to offer remote medical assistance at forward operating positions and in battlefield environments
Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) for secure connectivity and full situational awareness using sensors and HD cameras
Tactical edge communication systems (mounted or dismounted) that can function in an operationally congested battlespace
Automated driving systems, intelligent transportation systems and cellular vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication
Drones for next-generation geographic information systems to assist with precision agriculture and support battlefield requirements
And while the U.S. is taking the lead on 5G adoption, global government entities are watching closely, ready to follow suit.
Safely accelerating ORAN adoption
In recent posts, we’ve revealed the expansive effort required to properly test ORAN and virtualized infrastructures. These new capabilities and strategies are getting a close look from the government and its partners. In doing so, they strive to accelerate development and deployment of 5G capabilities, promote awareness of risks to national security, spur innovation, and develop approaches to protect 5G infrastructure and technologies. To achieve this, their testing strategies must evolve with approaches that should include:
The 5G Network Digital Twin enhances testbeds with hyper-realistic emulation of real-world 5G networks, complete with connectivity complexities and the dynamic mix of traffic expected to traverse it.
Multi-vendor continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) fast-tracks continuous testing (CT) and validation via an automated approach with a feedback loop that continuously enhances robustness and resiliency. (This approach also drives down costs, a critical enabling factor in government deployments.)
On-Demand Lab as a Service (LaaS) solutions deliver what previously required millions in investments, physical testbeds and months or years of planning. A constantly growing library of test cases, test experts and equipment can be leveraged via cloud-based engagements.
Whereas past mobile network generations saw government and military buyers capitalize on already-developed network tech, the 5G development lifecycle is poised to benefit from the converging needs of the public and private sectors. Success will be symbiotic for all stakeholders as next-generation testing and assurance clear roadblocks more quickly than previously possible.
With more than 1,000 5G engagements, Spirent stands ready to assist global government efforts in 5G use case exploration and infrastructure testing. Learn more about Spirent's testing solutions for government.