5G wireless telecommunications have been rolled out in cities across the United States this year, but while the technology is proving transformative for citizens, its greatest impact will perhaps be seen in the changes it brings for federal government agencies – both civilian and defense. Verizon’s federal team offered a demonstration of its capabilities at its recent 5G Lab Federal Day Demo Tour.
“Network engineers lead our department, not marketing,” said Mike Maiorana, Senior Vice President of Verizon Public Sector, in his opening remarks. That means the company puts its emphasis on the technologies that are critical for a 5G future, Maiorana explained, such as continued deployment of deep and high bandwidth fiber to connect 5G nodes and building out significant fiber in major cities to facilitate densification of those nodes.
Another priority is continuing the widespread deployment of software-defined networks (SDNs), which is needed for rapid service innovation and delivery, and to establish a common infrastructure that serves all networks and enterprise users. Fortunately, “SDNs are becoming commonplace in the enterprise,” he noted.
Toby Redshaw, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Innovation and 5G Solutions, said the reason 5G is fundamental for the next industrial revolution is because it facilitates the “real-time enterprise,” when machines do both mental and physical work with greater autonomy, unleashing potentially immense gains in productivity.
“There will be pockets that don’t keep up [with this revolution] and clusters where things will leap forward,” Redshaw said. “In many industries you’ll see companies [that don’t keep up] just disappear.”
And the speed of the change is almost unimaginable.
“Look at 10 years back,” Redshaw said. Cloud was just getting started. Containerization began less than five years ago. Only 10% of enterprise data for the government is in the cloud, he said. “The next five years is going to leave that in” a cloud of dust.
Consider the success of Pokemon Go, Redshaw said – it’s augmented reality (AR), “not even a difficult technology.” When it was introduced, Pokemon Go garnered 50 million users in 19 days.
“For something that’s useful, what’s the curve on that?” he suggested.
This doesn’t mean the imminent end of 4G LTE; deployment of 4G will continue at least another 20 years, he estimated, as the buildout of fiber networks continue across the country.
The benefits of 5G are manifold, Redshaw said – a thousand times better on handling data flows from the Internet of Things (IoT), 10 times better on battery life, greater reliability and throughput, leading to revolutionary innovations in cloud, Big Data, analytics, AI and machine learning. “Marry all these characteristics with the compute platform in my pocket, my cellphone, and we get new solutions … it leads to hockey stick growth.”
For the Department of Defense, it means “smart base” solutions in the near future. These bases will require a thousand antennas – but each one is no bigger than a radio, Redshaw said. “It is a more difficult engineering problem,” to ensure that 5G works inside buildings. “By the end of the year we will have a prototype for inside installation.”
The impact on training and simulation has long been anticipated, with 5G laying the groundwork for AR-supported training and immersive virtual reality (VR) engagement scenarios that provide invaluable skills development before getting into combat.
But 5G can remake logistics, everything from real-time inventory management to autonomous vehicles delivering components and supplies. It will transform military healthcare, through telesurgery and telemedicine available anywhere, including the battlefield.
It can provide troops and commanders “on the edge” with the most sought-after goal – real-time situational awareness, fed by autonomous UAV monitoring and high-definition, AI-enhanced video surveillance. And 5G will create next-generation command centers, providing mobile interactive interfaces virtually to rapidly expand an operations center beyond its brick-and-mortar limitations.
Many of these same capabilities translate well to domestic first-responder needs, as well. Verizon has established five 5G labs around the country, each focusing on a different aspect of 5G exploitation. The 5G DC Lab is an innovation incubator for developing solutions for public safety.
“5G is a marathon that started four years ago,” Redshaw concluded. “Massive, tech-centric creative destruction and opportunity start now.”