A lot is up in the air right now with the heated U.S. presidential race screaming toward the finish line. Something under consideration now that may continue to be pursued whichever way the election goes is the possibility that the U.S. Department of Defense could own and operate 5G wireless communications networks for its domestic operations. In other words, the U.S. government would issue a contract for building separate 5G wireless networks, in addition to those owned and operated by commercial carriers.
The Defense Department is gathering information from possible contractors at the time of this writing, with responses due on October 19. Some of the questions the Defense Department is asking are:
How could the Defense Department own and operate 5G networks for its domestic operations? What are the potential issues with the Defense Department owning and operating independent networks for its 5G operations? Do you foresee any national security concerns or issues with the Defense Department sharing with commercial 5G?
More than two years ago, the Trump administration raised the idea of the government constructing a 5G wireless network to help the United States compete with China and protect against Chinese cyberattacks. Since then, the administration has taken a number of initiatives and set a number of policies intended to forestall perceived malign activities undertaken by the Chinese Communist Party in connection with 5G wireless communications networks. AGL Magazine covered those steps in its September and October issues and has another article about it by Undersecretary of State Keith Krach elsewhere in this issue.
With the pending reallocation of radio-frequency spectrum from military assignment to commercial use, the Defense Department has raised the subject of government owned and operated 5G wireless communications networks once again, possibly involving dynamic spectrum sharing. With dynamic spectrum sharing, a spectrum assignment retained by the government could be shared by commercial users. It seems to be sort of a partial or on-demand reallocation, instead of a wholesale reallocation.
Here’s what Eric Schmidt, the former CEO and chairman of Google and cofounder of Schmidt Futures, has to say about a Defense Department 5G wireless system. He spoke by video on September 17 at the 2020 Incompas Show.
“Where it becomes really important is in the area of autonomy,” Schmidt said. “5G allows for a synchronous and very tightly coupled communication using some new technologies. And the important point here is that you really can’t build the kind of anticipated defense systems that allow for autonomy plus essentially peer-level communications and control without advances in 5G. At the moment, all of those advances are occurring primarily in China. Not good.”
Schmidt said he served a four-year term, that ended in September, as chairman of the Defense Innovation Board. A previous secretary of defense, Ash Carter, set up the board, which Schmidt said three subsequent secretaries of defense supported. He said the board was set up to figure out how to apply Silicon Valley innovation to the Defense Department.
Schmidt dismissed using the Chinese 5G equipment made by Huawei: “Huawei you don’t want to use because — you just don’t want to use it — trust me,” he said. “At least, not at the infrastructure level. It’s important for national security that that part of our chain be under U.S. control, U.S. laws, U.S. security — that sort of thing.”
The review of technology started during the Obama administration. The Trump administration raised the notion of Defense Department 5G wireless networks to a higher level. It seems probable that the U.S. government will continue to pursue having its own 5G wireless networks for national security purposes regardless of the election outcome. What follows seems most likely to be an effort to reestablish U.S. manufacturing of critical 5G wireless communications network components at the infrastructure level, including semiconductor equipment.