AT&T Completes First 5G Demonstration for ‘Smart Warehouse’ Effort

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The work continues to unfold, even in the face of supply chain strains.

AT&T recently demonstrated its 5G network testbed capabilities for Naval Base Coronado, officials confirmed Tuesday, marking the completion of an initial, major milestone in its effort to deliver ultramodern smart warehouse applications for the Defense Department.

“The types of applications that can result from these capabilities are limited only by the imagination,” AT&T Public Sector and FirstNet Client Executive Vice President for Defense, Lance Spencer, told Nextgov in an email on Monday.

Beginning in 2019, the Pentagon committed hundreds of millions to pilot, prototype and explore fifth-generation wireless technology at specific military installations across the nation that align with its development. This naval base in San Diego, California, was named among DOD’s first tranche of 5G sites. For projects there, those involved intend to develop a 5G-enabled smart warehouse that can help boost naval logistic operations. 

In this initial demonstration, AT&T’s 5G network allowed for data throughput speeds greater than 4 gigabits per second with less than 10 milliseconds of latency.

Such performance capabilities were demonstrated with commercially-available, commodity mobile devices at a testbed facility in Texas. Now, AT&T is shipping equipment to Naval Base Coronado for this next stage of testing. In the to-follow phase, 5G will be delivered across the base’s 120,000 square foot warehouse. Application infrastructure there is expected to enable connectivity for self-moving robots, systems and sensors for inventory tracking—and more.

“AT&T and our partners are deploying the testbed network with extensive 5G spectrum and integrated cybersecurity, enabling a broad range of secure applications throughout the warehouse to achieve performance above/beyond that available with legacy networks,” Spencer explained. “As hypothetical examples, [augmented and virtual reality] applications could be used for enhanced training while autonomous robots could be programmed to move material in the warehouse. There are also possibilities for advanced inventory management, video, and [internet of things] capabilities.” 

The Navy has the sole responsibility to select and approve impending warehouse applications. 

“Ideally, these prototypes mature and, ultimately, we see the DOD benefit from 5G-powered smart warehousing capabilities across all of its warehouses,” Spencer said.

Much of this work, along with DOD’s broader 5G initiative, has unfolded amid growing strains on global supply chains and technology part shortages that are impacting crucial industries.

“Supply chain concerns are ever-present. We and our partners have been able to mitigate any problems using inventory supplies and backfilling with orders,” Spencer said. “We were also quick to place orders for building and testing in the lab before starting to deploy on-site.”