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AT&T Partners With U.S. Military on 5G Focused R&D Experiments
by Shelly Kramer and Ron Westfall | September 22, 2021

The News: AT&T and the U.S. Military have partnered on a three-year R&D agreement focused on 5G experiments with the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), the Department of the Navy’s applied research university. Read the full press release from AT&T here.

AT&T Partners With U.S. Military on 5G Focused R&D Experiments

Analyst Take: It seems as though I’ve been covering AT&T a lot lately, and that’s largely because all the major carriers, AT&T included, are really stepping up as it relates to research, innovation, and strategic partnerships the world over. This partnership between AT&T and the U.S. Military, for 5G related research with the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), caught my eye this week because not only will the U.S. Navy, Homeland Security, and national defense benefit from this R&D partnership, there will no doubt be commercial applications for maritime industries that come out of this as well. Industries like shipping, oil and gas, and even recreational boating are sure to benefit from the many experiments that will be conducted over the course of this three year R&D agreement.

These research trials will focus on identifying advanced tech solutions. Things like research on autonomous vehicles and establishing a facility for command and aquatics operations that can explore unmanned aerial, surface and underwater vehicle applications and how they can enhance national defense. This research will also explore and include predictive maintenance and data analytics, situation awareness, command and control, along with AI, robotics, IoT, machine learning, smart base solutions, and more.

AT&T has indicated that these experiments will use mmWave spectrum in the 39 GHz band and mid-band LTE. 5G and edge are increasingly important to all entities today. Mike Galbraith, the chief digital and innovation officer of the Department of the Navy said that the focus of this research is to help the Navy “explore faster ways of collecting, disseminating and analyzing data at the tactical edge, which is vital to maintaining and exploiting battlespace awareness.”

So when’s it all going to happen? There’s good news on that front, AT&T has indicated that the first 5G and MEC nodes are expected to be installed and in use during the first quarter of 2022.

A MEC, or a multi-access edge computing/mobile edge computing platform, provides an effective way of supporting a new generation of 5G services. It combines NFV and cloud virtualization tech to minimize mobile backhaul bandwidth requirements and provide ultra-low latency capabilities.

The MEC servers will be located in an NPS datacenter and NPS will be able to determine who or what devices can use the servers and features. This is not private 5G network, which we’ve talked a lot about here, but it does help the Navy with intelligence, reliability, insights into traffic, and control that allows the limiting of use, security, and speed into the network.

As I read the news releases about this partnership, I was struck by comments from Retired Vice Admiral Ann E. Rondeau, President, Naval Postgraduate School who said, “Innovation occurs at the seams and intersection of practice and expertise and NPS provides an innovation hub where this applied 5G research can occur.” She’s right — and this will be interesting to watch.

Watch a deeper discussion of this partnership on our webcast as part The 5G Factor series of the Futurum Tech Webcast.

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Transcript:

Shelly Kramer: And speaking of big developments, we’re going to talk about a new partnership between AT&T and the US military on 5G-focused research and development experiments. And I saw this today and I thought it was really interesting. So AT&T and the US military have partnered; this is a three-year R&D agreement. It’s focused on 5G experiments with the Naval Postgraduate School, which is the department of the Navy’s Applied Research University. And the goal here is, I mean, let’s take a big leap here, AT&T and the Navy, it’s all about exploring maritime technology solutions for both Homeland Security and National Defense. And then the additional benefits of this 5G-focused research is that it will also inevitably provide information that’ll help benefit other maritime industries like shipping, oil, and gas, even, recreational boating.

So I thought it was a really interesting, I thought it was an interesting partnership. We’re seeing many of these kinds of partnerships. I think I reported on something else that AT&T is doing with universities and things like that. AT&T certainly is not the only carrier to be doing this kind of thing. It just happens to have popped up in my newsfeed and I thought it was of interest, but AT&T has indicated that these experiments will use one of our favorite things Ron, MM wave spectrum. And as we know, 5G and the edge are incredibly important to all entities these days and of course, to the armed services as well. I saw that the chief digital and innovation officer of the department of the Navy was quoted on this research partnership and really, they’re all about exploring faster ways of collecting, disseminating, and analyzing data at the edge.

And then this, of course, is vital to the Navy’s ability to maintain and adapt battlespace awareness. And this is true. This is true, whether you’re in the military or whether you’re in business of any kind. I mean, it really is 5G, and the edge are sort of the critical components of business today and where things are happening and where data is collected and analyzed. And I don’t know if you had a chance, Ron, to read about this at all, or you have any thoughts on it?

Ron Westfall: Oh, no, this is a cool announcement. I think it captures the imagination because to your point, it emphasizes, it’s not just about 5G spectrum. For example, millimeter-wave and let’s say the 39 gigahertz range, but also uses mid-band LTE, but they’re also enlisting drones. They’re enlisting unmanned robots.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah.

Ron Westfall: Underwater vehicles that are autonomous to collect this data and information. So this is like, “All right, futuristic.”

Shelly Kramer: Yeah.

Ron Westfall: Yeah, this is a really excellent way to enhance certainly, maritime capability, certainly when it comes to defense and Homeland Security, but it’ll be cool when they start parlaying into civilian applications because as we all know, the internet itself started as a military project that then had tremendous impact on the civilian side. Here we are, for example, and likewise things like microwave ovens and Velcro, and so forth. So this is really cool stuff. And yeah, I was really impressed by the partnership and the implications that it can have in terms of innovating maritime capabilities and making drones work even better-

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely.

Ron Westfall: … for communications, et cetera. So this is, I think, a really good one to pay attention to.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah, I thought so as well. And so the first, from a timeline standpoint, the first 5G and MEK nodes, and MEK is a multi-access edge computing, mobile-edge computing platform. Okay. And those are expected to be installed by AT&T and in use during the first quarter of 2022, which is really soon, right?

Ron Westfall: Yeah, yes.

Shelly Kramer: And this will combine NFV and cloud virtualization technology. It’ll minimize mobile back-haul bandwidth requirements and provide ultra-low latency capabilities, which are super important as it relates to all of this. This is not a private 5G network, which we’ve talked a lot about.

Ron Westfall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Shelly Kramer: These servers will be located in an NPS data center and NPS will be able to determine who or what devices can use the servers and features, which from a security standpoint, I think is incredibly important. And this is designed to help the Navy with intelligence and reliability and insights into traffic and control that allows the limiting of use and again, security and speed into the network.

So these research trials are really all about identifying advanced technology solutions, and I think it’s really exciting. You talked about innovation, you touched on innovation a second ago, and I thought this quote from retired vice Admiral Anne Rondo, who’s the president of the Naval Postgraduate School, said, “Innovation occurs at the seams and intersection of practice and expertise. And NPS provides an innovation hub where this applied 5G research can occur.” We talk about test beds.

Ron Westfall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Shelly Kramer: We talk about all these different kinds of things that Qualcomm and other companies are doing. This is a test bed. I mean, really, it’s a place where innovation and research and experimentation can happen and it’s a really exciting thing.

Ron Westfall: Oh, right on. Yeah. I mean, it’s just fundamental to advancing not just only 5G but anticipating 6G capabilities.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely.

Ron Westfall: And we’ve seen it proven over and over. It’s really an ecosystem dimension here. It’s just not something that can be carried by only a handful of operators and vendors. It really is enlisting universities, governments, non-governmental organizations, et cetera, et cetera. It really is something that is going to make a difference in terms of making 5G more secure, making the mobile ecosystem, just better responses, and also enhancing monetization opportunities, et cetera.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Ron Westfall: So yes.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely.

Ron Westfall: It’s just part of the fabric.

About the Authors

A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, Shelly has worked with some of the world’s largest brands to lead them into the digital space, embrace disruption, understand the reality of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of Digital Transformation. Read Full Bio.

Ron is an experienced research expert and analyst, with over 20 years of experience in the digital and IT transformation markets. He is a recognized authority at tracking the evolution of and identifying the key disruptive trends within the service enablement ecosystem, including software and services, infrastructure, 5G/IoT, AI/analytics, security, cloud computing, revenue management, and regulatory issues. Read Full Bio.