DoD looks to Federated Wireless and a private 5G CBRS network to build a smart warehouse

As the Department of Defense continues its exploration of how it will leverage 5G networks, Federated Wireless is heading up a 5G Citizens Broadband Radio Service network implementation in Albany, Georgia that will help define how the DoD modernizes its massive logistics operations.

Federated is the primary contractor on the private 5G CBRS network for the Marine Corps Logistics Command warehouse operations, working with partners that include AWS, Cisco, JMA, Vectrus, Perspecta Labs and Capstone Partners.

“This is one of the first of several forward-leaning projects that we and our partners are engaged in with the U.S. government, all designed to accelerate the nation’s 5G trajectory,” said Sal D’Itri, vice president and general manager of the federal business unit for Federated Wireless, in a statement. “The DoD, often referred to as the first Enterprise, is leading the way for 5G innovation to help stimulate market growth, helping to realize the extensive promises of 5G private networks for work, education, recreation and communication.”

D’Itri, who is also chairman of the National Spectrum Consortium, told RCR Wireless News that the network will use Federated’s CBRS Spectrum Access System and augment General Authorized Access CBRS spectrum as well as millimeter-wave spectrum at 37 GHz, in what he called a “true carrier-neutral solution.” Spectrum site survey work was just completed, he added, and Federated is confident that there is “considerable” GAA spectrum available in the Albany area for the network to make use of.

The shared spectrum used to belong to DoD alone, but the commercialization of CBRS has presented new possibilities for DoD to make use of the spectrum in its modernization efforts. The smart warehouse in Albany will be both a demonstration and prototyping effort that will help to shape how DoD implements 5G and smart warehouses in other locations.

“They want to look at this more as an enterprise, use these initial efforts in prototyping to then build reference designs to move forward,” D’Itri said. He noted that Federated is also involved with supporting DoD CBRS networks in other locations, such a Fort Carson network that aims to support on-base autonomous vehicles. “We are seeing opportunities now to bring this technology forward and have DoD reap the benefits of sharing,” he said. “They’re the incumbent, they provided the opportunity for sharing, and now there’s an opportunity for DoD to use this spectrum internally.”

D’Itri said that the private 5G network will begin as a NonStandalone implementation due to end device availability and eventually be transitioned to a Standalone 5G network. The network will rely on using a Cisco 5G core and JMA ss the Radio Access Network partner; the project will also leverage JMA’s work related to Open RAN, D’Itrit added, giving it additional flexibility and the ability for continued flexibility in future network-related procurement.

“Part of the flexibility of O-RAN is being able to use a diverse amount of spectrum,” D’Itri said. “If you’re going to have all this openness, you’re going to want spectrum diversity — you’re also going to want, I think, more shared spectrum to fuel O-RAN. So if we’re just talking about the kind of spectrum the carriers have, then we’re potentially not exploring the full opportunity of the O-RAN as we can build out private enterprise networks and can have more players get into the market through leveraging the shared spectrum. To me, increasing shared spectrum and O-RAN go hand-in-hand because they help each other in the flexibility and the growth of the diversity of the environment.”

The new private enterprise 5G network will support warehouse robotics, barcode scanning and “holographic, augmented and virtual reality applications,” according to Federated. D’Itri said that inventory management, receivables, “industry vision” and tracking massive amounts of materials in real-time as they move through the warehouse will be the primary use cases and that the devices will largely be “traditional IoT-type devices” such as RFID readers and similar devices.

Michael JB Smith, vice president of engineering and digital integration programs for Vectrus, explained that his company brings to the project its expertise in military logistics services, and will also draw on its experience in spectrum management for DoD in helping to figure out how private 5G technology can be used to revamp warehouse operations and provide new levels of security.

Smith said that this is the beginning of DoD moving toward smart warehouse implementations. The department is trying to modernize, but these are really its first steps to do so, which is why the reference design to come out of the Albany project will provide a blueprint for additional locations to follow. “Total asset visibility … is major driver for this, because they are heavily dependent on paper operations and manual movement of assets,” Smith explained. “I think this is going to be a huge step forward for DoD.”

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