By Lily Snyder
I got up today and texted my husband “good morning” even though it was evening for him in Iraq. I held my phone waiting for the two little check marks to appear on my screen but they never did. He must be offline, I thought to myself. Just as I was about to set my phone down, a message from him came through, “I hope you are having a good morning. I’ll call again in a little while.”
What call? I urgently flipped through our text thread. There was no missed call notification on my phone. Then I saw, his text was from 50 minutes ago. That’s when I realized it is one of those dreaded days when the WIFI’s bad. I sent one more text, but it was a failed attempt. The message sits in my online texting app, waiting to be delivered.
We live in a fantastic time where we can real-time text and video call with apps like WhatsApp and Signal. Our deployed soldiers have access to WIFI. They stream their favorite TV shows like Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, WIFI is many times unstable. Most days when I’m not able to talk to my husband, it’s not because of a blackout or something more nefarious, it’s merely because the WIFI is down.
Deployed soldiers purchase internet through carriers on the camps. Some spots on the camps have free WIFI they can log into, but it’s only in certain areas like the MWR call center. My husband’s and my texts crisscrossing through the nebulous network made me think, is there a better way?
5G is the next generation of mobile internet connectivity. It offers “faster speeds and more reliable connections on smartphones and other devices than ever before” by combining cutting-edge technology and the latest research. 5G devices deliver average download speeds 1GBps compared to the current average download speed of 51.26Mbps for a Samsung Galaxy S10.
Cell phone companies like Verizon and AT&T are already launching 5G networks in the US. With 5G it’s possible to envision smart cities, where traffic lights are, parking space availability, and your phone and anything else internet-enabled is connected and talks together in real-time.
5G can make not only smart cities a reality but military bases and command posts as well. 5G networks have short-range millimeter wave signals that don’t travel far, making it preferred for military defenses because they’re harder to detect by the enemy.
Smart bases also mean cameras and motion sensor-enabled tech can talk to each other around the perimeter of military bases. Command posts, vehicles, and other equipment can talk to each other in real-time. Also, hopefully, it means military families have a much more stable connection to their deployed loved ones.
What Would it Take to Deploy 5G?
At this time, it doesn’t look like 5G networks will be available for military family communication outside the United States, but that doesn’t mean it’s not being investigated. To make 5G networks come alive, military installations will have to upgrade their 4G equipment and build infrastructure that can communicate with the different spectra of millimeter wave ranges. Since the millimeter wave spectrum is more condensed, more small-celled towers will be needed. The benefit is that 5G has a lot more bandwidth. Carriers are already pursuing CONUS military 5G solutions for the smart-base concept. It’s only a matter of time until this technology deploys.
The Dangers of 5G
The key concerns surrounding 5G for the military is security. One of the dangers of 5G is who makes the 5G chips and controls the networks. One maker of 5G enabled cell phones and metrics in Huawei, a Chinese company. Pentagon officials and the current administration fear that Huawei-made network equipment is a national security threat because Huawei is allegedly entangled with the Chinese state. The danger being if the Chinese government has a backdoor into Huawei’s network gear, they could potentially conduct surveillance through the company’s networks. “Worse, some fear that in a conflict or tension, China could cut off communications to certain areas as leverage.”
While specific applications for 5G in the military are still being explored, the House and Senate wrote versions of the policy bill for the fiscal year 2020 that includes development and investment in 5G applications and strategy. The authorization of $175 million to the Pentagon to invest in 5G technologies verifies a shift in the mindset for Joint Forces. They are planning to operate effectively in the 5G spectrum. The Senate version of the bill proposes a 5G test area in Nevada and another location not yet specified.
It will be some time before this exciting, new technology makes it into the hands of consumers and military bases abroad, but when it does, there’s hope for crystal clear video calls between soldiers and their families.
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