Key Takeaways from Federal R&D Workshop Focused on 5G Testing and Use Cases for Drones and Smart Warehouses

On April 27 and 28, 2021, the Networking & Information Technology Research-Development (NITRD), Advanced Wireless Test Platform (AWTP), and Federal Mobility Group (FMG) hosted a Workshop on the FMG’s Framework to Conduct 5G Testing (Framework), published last November. The purpose of the webinar was to “provide an overview of the process and the testing framework elements needed to conduct 5G testing for different use cases.” The workshop focused on two selected federal 5G use cases: unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones) and smart warehouses.

Below, we highlight several key takeaways from the workshop. 

First, the Framework aims to guide federal agencies in establishing 5G testing capabilities suited to their needs through either: (1) building or leasing a testbed from a carrier-grade equipment manufacturer; (2) using existing external labs and testbeds (e.g., a federal lab, university lab, or in coordination with DoD); or (3) through some combination of the two. 

Second, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is focused on how the Government is using both testbeds and data-driven research to support 5G use and innovation. NSF recently issued a Request For Information on dataset needs “to conduct research on computer and network systems,” with comments due by May 21.

Third, the FMG’s Mobile Security Working Group is focused on FISMA mobility metrics to drive key technologies like mobile threat defense, which aims to advance the overall security posture of the federal government on mobile platforms. 

Fourth, within NITRD and the AWTP there is a Wireless Spectrum R&D interagency working group (WSRD) that has been involved in the whole-of-government effort under the National Strategy to Secure 5G Implementation Plan’s Line of Effort 1.1, to assist with “[r]esearch, development, and testing to reach and maintain United States leadership in secure 5G and beyond.” WSRD’s work related to this Line of Effort remains ongoing.

5G Use Case: Drones

The workshop included several UAS use case panels, which discussed the use of cellular frequencies for drone operations and UAS Traffic Management (UTM) issues.

Christopher Nassif, from the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) UAS Integration Office, gave a presentation on cellular use for UAS. Nassif discussed how the use of cellular networks for UAS command and control non-payload communications (CNPC) is expanding across the country, with major mobile network operators involved and many vendors exploring or actively leveraging cellular networks. He stated that the FAA would ultimately like to see a “heat map” of ground-based reception for mobile terrestrial users to better understand capabilities, limitations, and the interference basis to other terrestrial networks. He also posed the question of whether 5G is the only potential solution to urban UAS transit.

When asked whether there would be an opportunity in the future to license frequencies for UAS, Nassif emphasized that the FAA is open to all options and that it intends to be flexible and work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as the two agencies try to determine what limitations and thresholds need to be used in cellular (or other) frequencies. He noted that both agencies are in a prime position to collect data now that will allow for appropriate regulations to be developed in the future. As we have previously explained, a petition by the Aerospace Industries Association asking the FCC to develop licensing and service rules for UAS command and control in an aeronautical portion of the C-band (5030-5091 MHz) has been pending since 2018, and just last year the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Office of Engineering and Technology provided a report to Congress about UAS spectrum issues that urged the Commission to move forward with a C-band rulemaking.

Nassif said that when it comes to data collection, the issue of disparities in the frequencies used by UAS operators is being addressed through a massive collection of data, with the FAA trying to gather as much data as possible. He acknowledged that data collection can be complicated because some of that data is proprietary, but he said that he hopes that element will be less of an issue as UAS operation over cellular becomes more common.

Nassif was followed by a presentation from Amit Ganjoo of ANRA Technologies on the relevance of 5G communications for drone operations and traffic management. Ganjoo outlined the five pillars of UTM and provided examples of how each pillar applies: safety (situational awareness, separation services, and performance standards), security (authorization and remote ID), transparency (airspace access, flight prioritization, and data access privileges), flexibility (platform agnostic, regulatory framework dependence), and scalability (system capacity, cost of operation, and ease of exploitation). He also discussed the various functions that need to be performed for UAS to be integrated into airspace, such as alerting, remote identification, and separation management.

5G Use Case: Smart Warehouses

During the discussion of smart warehouse use cases, Joshua Weaver of the DOD provided an overview of DOD’s testing related to smart warehouses at various locations around the country. He explained that this is part of the 5G testing efforts announced by DOD last October, in collaboration with various industry partners. 

These projects include ongoing work at Naval Base San Diego (NBSD), California – 5G Smart Warehousing (Transshipment) and a Marine Corps Logistics Base (MCLB) Albany, Georgia – 5G Smart Warehousing (Vehicular). The objective of the project at NBSD is to develop a 5G-enabled Smart Warehouse focused on transshipment between shore facilities and naval units, to help increase the efficiency and fidelity of naval logistic operations. The project at MCLB, meanwhile, will develop a 5G-enabled Smart Warehouse focused on vehicular storage and maintenance with the goal of increasing the efficiency and fidelity of MCLB Albany logistic operations.

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Wiley’s Wireless Practice has helped the nation's leading carriers, trade associations, and equipment manufacturers work through myriad regulatory and business obstacles—including with existing and emerging government efforts related to 5G. In addition, Wiley’s UAS Practice has deep expertise in UAS operations, regulation, and compliance.  We closely track both FAA and FCC issues and can help clients navigate these regulatory regimes.  If you have questions, please reach out.

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