5G is providing secure, high-performance solutions, like private 5G networks, that can integrate seamlessly with legacy systems and help enable the Department of Defense (DoD) to transform and support mission readiness and build a more modern and connected base.
Military bases and installations require reliable, secure, and available public infrastructure that can support the connectivity needs of every person on the base—military and civilian. However, many factors make it challenging, if not impossible, for the current, often aging, infrastructure to meet bases' evolving needs. The DoD is increasing focus by leveraging 5G solutions, including private 5G networks, to address these needs.
The challenges of network management on base
The network maturity for military bases is one of extreme contrast, with some bases equipped with the latest hardware and physical infrastructure, while others face outdated technology and facilities. Military installations and bases that use old hardware and aging cable plant operations desperately need upgrading—which can take years and a significant investment. And there are certainly bases with a mix of new and old technologies. Regardless, each base must continue to serve its missions and support its employees and residents, regardless of its current state of infrastructure.
DoD personnel from other bases make frequent visits for meetings and special projects creating even more situations that need access. Even bases with updated infrastructure encounter issues trying to manage security and flexible network access across the entire base ecosystem–outdoors, indoors, and remote.
The shift to remote and hybrid work makes providing a secure and easy-to-use experience even more challenging. Federal workers support hybrid working arrangements, including the flexibility to work in whatever location works best for their tasks and current needs, be it on or off base. In addition to some people working from home, others find that working in another building on the campus or even another agency improves collaboration or productivity—often both. However, bases find it increasingly difficult to provide the seamless experience and reliable connectivity employees need and expect.
Many bases also support civilian services like banks, restaurants, schools, businesses, and other facilities which all require secure network connectivity to support the community. Military families that live on base need connectivity, which can put bandwidth restraints on bases, to conduct their day-to-day lives, including their personal needs, lifestyle and even entertainment. The addition of unmanaged personal and IoT devices can also present security concerns as it creates additional opportunities for bad actors to access the network.
Disparities between bases
Military bases and their communities vary greatly in size, population, and location. For example, there are bases that are less than 30 acres in size yet nestled right in a cityscape, providing its service members and their families an urban setting just off base. There are also expansive bases, which encompasses almost 600,000 acres yet are located in a desert region.
This variety of geographic coverage and locality constrains the available budgets, resources, and supply chains to provide and upgrade network footprints. Expanding this consideration to take account for the global presence of the military and related national security needs, resilient, scalable, and secure networking capabilities become even more critical. Both large and small communities can face unique problems imposed by coalition training and increased foreign national presence on base, in addition to the other challenges outlined. Providing flexible and secure wireless network capabilities to help solve these problems is key for base operational success, and embracing private 5G can help address many of these problems.
Network optimization can help support complex needs
Many times current local area network (LAN) environments simply do not satisfy the complicated needs and challenges of military bases for network optimization on its own.
According to Robert Bowers, Principal Architect for Verizon and a Marine Corps veteran, “The state of base networks across all service branches reflects a complex array of independent approaches and technology sets. Each base has historically been responsible for their own maintenance, often occurring on an irregular basis or only when critically needed. With the recent advancements in network security and wireless technologies, enterprises have become very interested in delivering secure and compliant environments untethered from the office cubicle. Many commands within the DoD hold these same aspirations.”
The evolution of military bases includes more geographic inclusion of remote training areas and flight line operations, which often means unreliable coverage with dead zones and other areas with little-to-poor coverage. Additionally, the costs for wireless coverage for large base facilities with multiple buildings and locations can be significant. While Wi-Fi has traditionally served well for indoor environments, Wi-Fi poses significant limitations for extending network access beyond building walls, restricting base users from complete access.
Managing these situations with traditional wireless and wired networks can be inefficient at times, especially with extending service to larger, outdoor areas. Referencing situations like these, Bowers discussed how innovative 4G LTE and 5G solutions can reliably provide network backhaul or redundant backup capabilities, in addition to supplementing signal shortcomings of Wi-Fi solutions.
Private 5G networks improve security, productivity and connectivity
Private 5G network deployments offer enhanced network management options including all the capabilities and benefits of public 5G service, but with added security of being able to prohibit unintended users/devices from existing on that private network segment. Bases that employ private 5G networks can choose from multiple options to provide the highest level of performance and experience based on the base's configuration and needs. Bases can deploy a private 5G network using many different transition approaches to suit their fiscal or network needs, such as preserving any existing private 4G LTE assets to migrate to a standalone 5G system later, or deploying a non-standalone 4G LTE and 5G solution in tandem.
With a private 5G network access solution, base network administrators can address problems with network congestion that can disrupt productivity and network speeds at bases. Additionally, a private 5G network can help prevent potential eavesdropping or unauthorized network scanning. Bases can also acquire enhanced network reliability and ultra low latency capabilities for endpoints beyond personal use devices–such as security sensor and IoT devices.
For example, a 5G-enabled solution can make it possible to enhance flight line or maintenance operations through network management. Base commands are charged with ensuring both physical security and cybersecurity of the hangars and physical equipment, to include logistics and maintenance assets in addition to aircrafts. Effective flight line operations rely upon ubiquitous connectivity for sensor networks, mobile devices, and computer networks to enhance maintenance and supply activities, and subsequently improve the overall mission readiness of the squadron. With 5G, connectivity can be extended beyond wifi-enabled hangers, while also inheriting other benefits like unified network management where data from the IoT sensors can feed into logistics or flight-kit applications in near real-time.
Bases planning for infrastructure upgrades can use private 5G networks either to supplement their existing LAN or replace it. By combining 4G LTE or 5G capabilities into Base Area Network designs as part of network management, you can connect geographically separate facilities more cost-effectively than lengthy copper/fiber-based LAN extensions with Wi-Fi. With the rapid development of feature enhancements and network improvements, integrated 5G systems can contribute to faster bandwidth speeds and consolidated management of digital ecosystems, which fundamentally helps improve the performance and efficiency of assets and services.
For larger bases that have thousands of users, private 5G networks offer digital environments which support increased endpoint density, offering easier, consolidated means of managing access across the diverse portfolio of end-user devices and IoT sensors of today and the future.
The role of traffic management in 5G network optimization
In addition to ensuring reliable, secure, fast connectivity throughout the base, 5G systems also help address a constant network optimization challenge for base IT leaders—traffic management. While it's important that everyone has access, all connections and data sent over the network are not equal in terms of priority and security. A fast food order, for example, should not be treated the same as a critical conference call.
Expanding upon traffic management, Bowers also discussed network slicing and quality of service (QoS) flows with respect to 5G systems. With a private 5G network, end-to-end network slices can offer traffic segregation and prioritization as part of the traffic management strategy. For example, network slices can be provisioned to segregate traffic flows by device type, where traffic involving latency-sensitive applications can hold a separate network slice from internet traffic from a logistician’s tablet. Priority can also be prescribed (and preserved end-to-end) by application, such as real-time security camera feeds over non-critical conference calls. For 5G deployments that supplement existing IP network environments, network slices and their QoS flows can be mapped to IP-based quality of service (QoS) policies across the BAN, effectively preserving end-to-end traffic management features across multiple domains.