The rapid advancement of 5G technology is bringing transformative opportunities to various government agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD). A recent Federal Executive Forum featuring experts from these agencies, as well as Verizon, highlighted the transformative power of 5G. The development of augmented reality teaching, surgical guidance, and remote consultations in healthcare is changing the way agencies operate. Additionally, substantial investments in 5G infrastructure and the growth of 5G applications, ranging from industrial IoT to bridging broadband gaps in underserved areas, are also contributing to this transformative shift. From healthcare to national security and telecommunications, keep reading to see insights from federal leaders on how the adoption and utilization of 5G in government will help continue to shape innovation and efficiency in the federal government.
Rob Beutel, Deputy Chief Technology Officer, U.S. Air Force
It should come as no surprise that the U.S. Air Force is focusing its efforts on 5G. Rob Beutel noted that work is currently being done to bring 5G capabilities to every Air Force installation, with a special emphasis on those in the continental United States. The potential use cases for 5G in the Air Force are numerous, including leveraging it in Zero Trust architecture. Beutel explained that 5G will enable the Air Force to “fully take advantage of commercial 5G capabilities so that we are not reliant on private 5G networks, which create additional stove pipes and additional expenses.” As they have been laying the foundation for 5G implementation, Beutel expects to see significant progress over the next few years. One example discussed was the application of 5G on flightlines, where maintenance data can be accessed in near real-time as aircraft land, allowing for proactive identification of potential issues and enhancing flight safety. This capability is currently being tested on the island of Oahu. Additionally, the deployment of sensors to detect foreign object debris (FOD) on aircraft is being explored. Bird strikes, for example, can cause substantial FOD damage, and current manual checks are not sufficient.
Addressing coverage challenges at bases is another important aspect of 5G deployment. The Air Force is collaborating with commercial providers to ensure reliable connectivity across large bases. However, Beutel noted that it is essential to not only provide the capability but also educate end users about potential 5G applications, as they may not realize their requirements until they experience the benefits of 5G firsthand. Ultimately, Beutel said the aim is to make 5G so seamless and effective that users are unaware they are using it, enabling them to perform tasks efficiently regardless of their location.
Kevin Gallo, Director, Technical Account Management Information Technology Category, General Service Administration
At the General Service Administration (GSA), Kevin Gallo and his team provide an IT and telecommunications marketplace for government agencies. With contracts covering a wide range of services, GSA aims to keep pace with technological advancements and use cases to help agencies procure the services they need. Recently, they have revamped their mobility solutions, defined new subcategories, and updated services related to 5G under the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract. While there has been some progress, Gallo pointed out how many agencies are still at the start of embracing 5G capabilities: “5G adoption is really still in its infancy at most enterprises…and the availability and coverage are still growing.”
One of the most significant contributions from the GSA, done in collaboration with federal agencies and industry, was the publication of acquisition guidance for procuring 5G technology earlier this year, emphasizing security and supply chain management. The GSA prioritizes working with federal agencies to address their wireless and networking needs, particularly as agencies transition to the EIS contract and implement software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), which facilitates wireless and 5G adoption. SD-WAN’s ability to manage multiple network connections can enhance link diversity and support 5G fixed wireless access and backhaul. Gallo emphasizes security and Zero Trust with 5G, and he anticipates an increased adoption of 5G and SD-WAN in the coming years. He also highlighted the potential of network slicing, managed security offerings, and extending services to offices, mobile users, and IoT devices, paving the way for various 5G use cases.
Bryan Schromsky, Managing Partner, 5G Public Sector, Verizon
Verizon has seen 5G come a long way since it first launched it on high-band four years ago in April 2019. Schromsky highlighted the ongoing efforts in rolling out mid-band and C-band spectrum, backed by a $60 billion investment. The deployment of contract vehicles by GSA, as well as identified use cases, has led to increased demand for 5G services. The tech ecosystem is catching up, with end-user devices expanding beyond smartphones to include industrial IoT technologies that enable augmented reality, virtual reality, and connected flightlines like the ones discussed by Rob Beutel.
Supply chain security and physical layer scrutiny have gained significant attention, and collaborative efforts with the DoD and GSA are essential, according to Schromsky. Speed and adoption are key priorities, along with building a network to meet increasing demand. Network slicing is also gaining traction on the commercial front, potentially enabling advanced security measures and future readiness. Broadband access, particularly fixed wireless access, is a crucial focus currently, serving both DoD and civilian agencies for base modernization and business transformation. The expansion of broadband connectivity plays a vital role in monitoring water, seismic activity, radioactive material, and snow caps for various uses, including fire season preparation. In the end, Schromsky emphasized that, “connectivity is still king, and broadband is sorely needed in a lot of areas, and 5G is going to bridge the gap.” While the pandemic and a recent semiconductor shortage caused some delays, there is a strong commitment to 5G and beyond. As Schromsky shared, “we’re all in with 5G four years in, but we’re exporting a 6G plan, and we’ll plant the seed.”
Dr. Thomas Osborne, Executive Director, VA Convergence Center, Department of Veterans Affairs
At the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 5G is an integral part of the mission in delivering the best healthcare to veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs in Palo Alto, California became the first 5G-enabled hospital with VA three years ago, and since then, the VA outposts across the country have implemented full spectrum capabilities and are exploring multiple uses for the technology. These include using advanced augmented reality for holographic teaching and training, as well as pre-surgical planning and working towards being able to use this for 3D x-ray vision to guide surgeries. They have also developed an advanced drone program and are exploring holographic teleportation to virtually connect isolated patients with loved ones.
The goal is to use these technologies in a translational manner, as Dr. Osborne described, bringing them from the lab to the bedside. Dr. Osborne said, “with clinical decision support, one of the big challenges in healthcare is there’s a tremendous amount of data—more data than we can really process in a typical person’s day—but if we can harness that resource, we can bring it together, we can process, and we can bring that back to the point of care in a way that’s useful and timely. Then we can really transform healthcare in tremendous ways.”
To learn more about 5G in government, watch the full Federal Executive Forum here.