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News | March 24, 2021

JBSA continues to develop, test electromagnetic defense, 5G technologies

Joint Base San Antonio-Electromagnetic Defense Initiative

Over the last year, San Antonio has experienced energetic growth in its tech community, bolstered by expanding world-class research and education centers and the addition of new and emerging industries, many relocating to Port San Antonio, and all of which could greatly advance Joint Base San Antonio’s efforts to establish adequate electromagnetic defense of military facilities and missions.  

San Antonio’s strong military ties and rich educational opportunities, such as the University of Texas San Antonio’s National Security Collaboration Center and the new School of Data Science which broke ground recently, will help elevate San Antonio to become one of the fastest growing tech hubs in the country, said Michael Lovell, executive director of the Joint Base San Antonio-Electromagnetic Defense Initiative.  

San Antonio is also home to nationally known research centers, including Southwest Research Institute, the Department of Energy’s Cyber Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CyManII), and UT Health San Antonio, making it one of the nation’s top locations for emerging tech and research, Lovell said.  

Currently, 5G communications are one of the most promising technologies being developed by tech industries, and through military test sites like the one at JBSA.  

“The Department of Defense is at the forefront of cutting edge 5G testing and experimentation, which will strengthen our Nation’s warfighting capabilities as well as U.S. economic competitiveness in this critical field,” said Michael Kratsios, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. “Through these test sites, the Department is leveraging its unique authorities to pursue bold innovation at a scale and scope unmatched anywhere else in the world. Importantly, today’s announcement demonstrates the Department’s commitment to exploring the vast potential applications and dual-use opportunities that can be built upon next-generation networks,”  

In October 2020, DOD awarded $600 million in funding to five military bases enabling them to work with industry and academia to develop 5G testbeds that will be used to design cutting-edge 5G applications. Earlier this year, they added an additional seven military bases, including JBSA, which will receive a second slice, also called tranche 2, funding.  

So, Lovell said, 2021 brings an awesome opportunity for Joint Base San Antonio to lead a national initiative to drive 5G innovation and security for Texas, the military, and the nation. 

Why 5G?  

The addition of 5G technology will enable more than just ultrafast video downloads and video conferences that don’t drop.  

“5G will enable smart cities, factories, and homes that are efficient and safe,” Lovell said. “It will transmit sensor data in real time to provide early warnings of events ranging from natural disasters to heart attacks. It has tremendous potential to change our lives in ways we are now only beginning to imagine.” 

With 5G capabilities, there are three services that make it transformational over its predecessors: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultrareliable low-latency communications (URLLC), and massive machine-type communications (mMTC). 

The eMBB use case is the first phase of the 5G rollout as it utilizes current, “non-stand-alone” 5G technology, meaning that when your mobile device sends a 5G signal to a cell tower, the signal from the cell tower goes to a 4G core, said Dr. Patti Geppert, a member of the JBSA 5G experimentation team.  

“The eMBB technology uses non-stand-alone 5G to produce a significant increase in the amount of data transmitted (bandwidth) and increase in the speed at which data is transmitted, thereby decreasing the signal delay (latency),” she said. “The eMBB use case brings reliable connectivity to moving vehicles and crowded venues to create a seamless mobile user experience. The increased bandwidth and lower latency enable a truly immersive virtual reality (VR) experience, which makes it a more effective platform for education and training." 

Currently, the 5G mMTC use case runs on non-stand-alone 5G.  

“The mMTC use case enables the connection of massive numbers of cellular IoT (Internet of Things) devices,” Geppert said. “Since there are billions of IoT devices being used worldwide, each transmitting small amounts of data, mMTC is important for real-time IoT data collection in locations such as hospitals, factories, and other data-intensive locales to improve efficiency and quality of life. 

“While you will see performance improvement with current, non-stand-alone 5G technologies, you will have to wait for 5G technology to become stand-alone to experience the full benefit of 5G,” she said. “With stand-alone 5G, the 5G tower sends its signal to a 5G core. That is where the true magic happens. Not only does the stand-alone 5G enhance the performance of eMBB and mMTC, it enables ultrareliable low-latency communications. These are used for mission-critical tasks, such as telerobotic surgery, where high volumes of data are transferred over a connection that must be uninterrupted and secure.” 

All these capabilities lead to the importance of Joint Base San Antonio being selected by the DOD to lead 5G experimentation pilot programs, Lovell said.  

“The JBSA 5G NextGen initiative will make San Antonio a center of gravity for 5G technology development, particularly in 5G cybersecurity and 5G telemedicine, driving innovation and economic development in the region,” he said.  

(Editor’s note: The mention of non-federal organizations is simply informational and not intended to imply endorsement by the U.S. Government, the DOD, or the U.S. Air Force.)