Defense Awards $2.5B Deal for Next-Gen Communications Prototypes

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5G- and tech-centered initiatives steered by the National Spectrum Consortium are set to kick off.

The Defense Department awarded the National Spectrum Consortium a five-year prototype other transaction agreement—worth up to $2.5 billion—to steer research and development projects deliberately designed to modernize communications infrastructure, improve spectrum utilization, push forward microelectronics, and ultimately help brace the U.S. for the next generations of wireless technology. 

An award notice for the Spectrum Forward Consortium OTA was published by the Pentagon Tuesday afternoon and NSC leadership provided further details on the coming work in a press release Wednesday morning. The original solicitation came from the Army Contracting Command–New Jersey in the Spring, on behalf of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Research, and Engineering.

For NSC, its Chairman Sal D’Itri told Nextgov Wednesday, the best-case outcome of the OTA would be “that all federal agencies are able to recognize the value of engaging U.S. industry and academia in this collaborative and competitive environment ... thus allowing for a more national effort in the continuous advancement of wireless technologies for the U.S.—5G and beyond.”

NSC operates as an emerging technology incubator. 

The R&D-focused organization connects industry, government agencies and academia to drive robust 5G implementations and strengthen spectrum sharing and access. It’s made up of almost 400 spectrum players, including traditional and nontraditional contractors, utility producers, investment firms, and nongovernmental and academic organizations. DOD previously awarded the group a separate OTA to experiment with 5G and refine spectrum access technologies across multiple military bases, which is still unfolding. And the consortium’s earliest roots, according to D’Itri, trace back to the Pentagon’s Spectrum Access Research and Development Program, or SAR&DP, and a related more than billion-dollar OTA that kick-started the organization roughly five years ago.

Through this latest agreement, NSC will serve as the liaison between the government and its own array of member contractors that will go after opportunities to pioneer new prototype projects. While the work is limited solely to those consortium members, “many more companies will also be able to join and collaborate in these efforts,” D’Itri said.

Technology objectives of the forthcoming pursuits include accelerating the maturation, integration, adaptation and deployment of “4th Industrial Revolution” capabilities such as those involving augmented reality, big data analytics, internet of things and cloud computing; advancing the creation and adoption of prototype policy, regulation and standards; enabling improved operations in congested spectrum areas—and more. NSC’s release adds that those involved will produce dual-use technologies to apply across existing tech that relies on the electromagnetic spectrum. Uses will span from autonomous navigation to next-generation radio access networks, and beyond.

Now that the solicitation was awarded, major spectrum- and 5G-centered initiatives for 2021 are set to kick off.

“We are having an industry day in December,” D’Itri noted.

The NSC also anticipates another round of projects to launch via Defense’s SAR&DP soon, as well as a second set of requests for proposals for new 5G-enabled military bases, which could come as soon as January.  

“This is going to happen fast,” D’Itri said.

Editor's note: This article was updated to clarify funding.

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