Marines pilot 5G in ‘living lab’ at Miramar

By Stephanie Kanowitz, Jul 31, 2020

As the first military base to deploy Verizon’s 5G ultra wideband, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar will serve as a living lab for the technology, facilitating collaboration between the Defense Department and vendors.

Miramar is starting pilots in four areas: energy communications, connected vehicles, drones and “digital fortress,” which is the base’s vision for the future of protection that replaces a physical fortification, said Lt. Col. Brandon Newell, director of technology and partnerships for the Marine Corps Installation Next program.

“We started a dialogue with Verizon to roll out a 5G living lab on Miramar — to not just have cellular sites, but to really explore these areas of internet-of-things capabilities, 5G-enabled technologies,” he said. Miramar’s experiences with the lab will help the entire Defense Department “better understand the technology, better understand our defense-related applications with that technology and help us on the pathway to requirement development, prototyping and eventually programs,” said Newell, who is also director of the NavalX SoCal Tech Bridge, a research and development arm of the Department of the Navy.

The company is expanding the base’s 4G LTE service through a deployment of 26 4G LTE and 5G small cells.

“One of the big differences between 4G and 5G is your throughput speed,” which can reach nearly 10 gigabits per second, said Randy Eastman, a managing partner for Verizon’s public-sector business. “You also get super-low latency, which is sub-10 milliseconds. They consider real time as anything less than sub-3 milliseconds.”

The first pilot, slated to start in September, will focus on the digital fortress. The base will use its existing service contract for counter-intrusion that includes a sensor suite from Anduril, a startup that builds artificial intelligence technology for the military.

Three towers on Miramar’s perimeter will be enlisted to support edge computing to “minimize the amount of data required to go back between the different towers and to go back to the cloud,” Newell said. “We get to understand how critical computing on the edge is so that you minimize your bandwidth and your data requirements depending on where you are in the world and what type of cellular coverage that you have.”

Additionally, Newell expects to use a virtual-private network through the cellular network for this pilot. Vendor partners will install various cybersecurity solutions, and then investigators at Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific will ensure that they use appropriate measures to secure communications.

In the area of energy communications, MCAS Miramar is connecting its energy and water operations center, which runs a large, basewide microgrid, to its solar fields. Currently, those solar fields “dump energy on the grid, and we have no ability to control that or stop it if we need to,” Newell said.

“Rather than putting in infrastructure and fiber across the base to make that connectivity, we’re looking to ride the cellular network,” he said. “We can establish a point of presence of our controls network at each solar field, so the operator who’s at a central location can reach through that cellular to do what he needs to do.”

Miramar also has an unmanned logistics program, with both air and ground vehicles, and can team drones with autonomous vehicles on logistics missions. As part of the pilot, a closed-loop cellular network will allow those two assets communicate with each other.

To test 5G with connected vehicles, the base will use its two autonomous shuttles. Initially intended to transport Marines to the flight line, during the pandemic they are being used to deliver  parts to minimize contact.

“The autonomous shuttle collects so much data each day, so there’s a need for that data to get back in the cloud for post-processing, but also so that you’re clearing the servers on the vehicles themselves,” Newell said. “The ability to leverage a 5G network to push all those terabytes of data overnight back to the cloud and free that space, it’s a degree of computing on the edge.”

Verizon 5G ultra wideband will drive Verizon 5G Edge, a mobile edge compute platform that combines the company’s 5G network with Amazon Web Services’ cloud services to enable developers to build large-scale, latency-sensitive applications for mobile devices.

“When you start talking about multiaccess edge computing, you’re moving that compute, that brain work that’s being done, out to the edge of the network, which allows you to process the transactions a lot faster because you’re not traversing the whole network,” Eastman said. “It’s all being done right at the edge, which just improves your speed … and gives you that more real-time experience.”

Verizon 5G ultra wideband has been deployed in about 35 cities and is being rolled out on another large government agency campus now, Eastman said, though he declined to say where.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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