U.S. Marine Corps, Verizon Launch ‘Living Lab’ to Test 5G


Officials will explore defense applications of the maturing technology on a military base in California.

A “living lab” for exploring 5G-enabled defense applications and use cases is set in motion at the San Diego military base Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. 

Verizon and the Marine Corps revealed Wednesday they’ve linked up and launched the testbed to strategically investigate fifth generation wireless technologies’ potential to facilitate and secure smart bases of the future, promote autonomous transport for Pentagon purposes—and more. The effort is underpinned by Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband service, marking the first time it’s deployed at a military base. 

“In discussions with the Marine Corps on technology innovations, starting back in 2018, we saw how 5G could support future strategic initiatives,” Verizon’s Director, Mobile Solutions, Federal Sales Cornelius Brown told Nextgov Tuesday. “We then worked with MCAS Miramar to bring this 5G Ultra Wideband to the base.”

The service is already up-and-running on the site, but Brown confirmed the telecommunications company is “working with base personnel to expand coverage.” The technology enabling 5G Ultra Wideband on the base is very similar in physical outward appearance to existing antennas deployed around the U.S. today, Brown noted, but “it uses new components that will allow for future advancements for smart installations,” such as network slicing and multi-access edge computing. 

“What is key is the spectrum that allows for high bandwidth and low latency combined with dark fiber backhaul,” Brown said. “This can enable speeds up more than [1 gigabit per second] now and beyond in the near future.”

Strategically located near the coast of Southern California, MCAS Miramar encompasses the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the fifth-generation F35-C aircraft, and around 15,000 service members. Director of Technology and Partnerships for the Marine Corps Installation Next program Lt. Col. Brandon Newell also told Nextgov Tuesday that the air station “presents unique opportunities for the Marine Corps to partner on emerging technology, because it lies in the center of an incredibly healthy innovation ecosystem.” Newell also steers the NavalX SoCal Tech Bridge, a research and development arm that he said creates “collaborative markets” with the intent to generate opportunities to test and assess emerging technologies “based on the confluence of installations, industry, and research” in the region. 

From a technical perspective, the new 5G-driven initiative with Verizon will improve Defense officials’ grasp of what the next-gen technology is capable of and mature their understanding of how it should be utilized both on bases and for operations abroad.  

“In particular, the [Defense Department] must better understand what capabilities can be supported by 4G LTE and what capabilities actually require the high bandwidth and low latency of 5G,” Newell said. 

The launch of the living lab follows the Pentagon’s recent release of a comprehensive 5G strategy, which included a commitment to create demonstrations “to develop and test military and dual-use 5G technologies, concepts, and applications,” and it could also help accelerate the U.S.’ utilization of the evolving technology for national defense. Offering examples to support the visualization of the testbed’s on-the-ground efforts, Newell noted it’ll extend the reach of the Energy and Water Operations Center on the base—which is intended to help monitor and maintain an energy security microgrid—to solar farms throughout the installation. 

“5G allows us to reach through the cellular network, rather than install fiber, which is costly and time consuming,” Newell said. 

The effort might also enable connectivity that could help convert autonomous vehicles to connected vehicles, “optimizing the potential of unmanned ground systems for the movement of people and goods,” Newell said, and help boost the security and reliability of unmanned aerial system-steered missions including drone deliveries and for counter-intrusion. Another 5G possibility is enhanced connectivity needed for persistent counter-intrusion, Newell noted, “thereby transforming a physical fortress into a digital fortress powered by artificial intelligence.”

“Because the military has very little history in leveraging cellular technology, it’s critical that we quickly mature our understanding for these energy, connected vehicles, drones, and digital fortress 5G-enabled applications,” Newell said. “Then we will have increased our position of knowledge for effective requirements development in all of these areas.”

Over the first half of 2020, Verizon has also provided 5G foundations for experimental efforts at the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state and the Veterans Affairs Department’s health care facility in Palo Alto, California. It’s all part of the company’s broader blueprint to help prove the potential and unleash 5G capabilities.