Person operating a drone in a wind farm

Opening New Horizons With 5G—Equitably, Safely, and Sustainably

5G links countless devices and systems in near real time, bringing benefits and vulnerabilities. MITRE and its partners are testing the technology, policies, and standards to speed secure delivery of 5G-enabled opportunities to market. First up: drones.

Many of us hear about 5G through ad campaigns. It’s understandable, then, to think this fifth-generation wireless technology means faster internet or the next evolution of gaming. But the possibilities go far beyond consumer device upgrades.

5G paves the way to a revolutionary set of capabilities—from driverless cars and smart cities to remote surgeries. It’s a telecommunications leap that will transform economies, healthcare, military operations, power grids, the global airspace, and more.

By connecting devices and systems at lightning speed with ultra-reliability, 5G provides a stronger, wider-reaching telecommunications backbone.

To fully realize 5G’s potential, “we need to prepare for the opportunities and the threats,” says Charles Clancy, senior vice president and general manager, MITRE Labs, and chief futurist.

That’s why MITRE’s experts in wireless technology, spectrum, cybersecurity, national security, aviation, and artificial intelligence are collaborating with government and industry to implement 5G securely, broadly, and equitably.

MITRE Engenuity, our tech foundation for public good, brings teams together to collaborate with the private sector to create public-interest solutions. The MITRE Engenuity-led Open Generation 5G Consortium is prioritizing use case innovation—or discovering solutions based on the interactions between users and systems—to advance R&D in 5G and more.

“Collaborating across industry and government allows us to accelerate the enterprise value of 5G solutions on real-world networks,” says Laurie Giandomenico, MITRE vice president and chief acceleration officer, who leads MITRE Engenuity as well as MITRE’s Accelerator and private sector activities.

“The consortium speaks with one technical voice, relies on data-driven evidence, and creates opportunities for innovation with significant impact at lower cost.”

The multi-stakeholder group is focusing first on Uncrewed Aircraft Systems—known as UAS, or drones.

Unlocking Opportunity in the Skies

One of the most important use cases involves the National Airspace System, where safety is paramount. The rapidly growing number of UAS sharing the airspace presents complex challenges to safety.

With NY-based non-profit Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance, Inc. (NUAIR), which manages the aviation range located within Oneida County, New York, MITRE Engenuity Open Generation 5G Consortium is building a first-in-the-nation, private 5G-enabled experimentation hub within an aviation test range covering 65-square-miles and utilizing commercial grade 5G equipment.  

The team will test drones in several real-world applications, including crucial beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) capabilities. BVLOS use cases, where the pilot on the ground cannot see the drone once it flies past a certain point, enable UAS innovation in emergency response, critical infrastructure inspection, package delivery, and more.

In announcing the 5G test network partnership, New York Governor Kathy Hochul highlighted the Griffiss International Airport-based experimental hub’s importance to commercializing UAS integration.

The move is a landmark effort in MITRE Engenuity’s plans to create 5G experimentation hubs at Federal Aviation Administration-designated UAS test sites.

It’s also the first business vertical, or specialized market, the Open Generation Consortium is tackling to deliver use case innovation. Success is vital to securing regional, national, and global airspace—eventually expanding safe and secure drone use for commercial purposes.

“Many applications will develop once we show that 5G can support those operations,” says Leila Ribeiro, Open Generation technology director and chief 5G engineer.

Ajit Kahaduwe, MITRE Engenuity managing director, incubation and new product development, and 2021 Open Generation 5G Summit host, says a whole new transportation industry stands to come out of this work.

“Before approving BVLOS operations, UAS and 5G stakeholders, including MITRE Engenuity Open Generation’s members, must prove safe and reliable UAS BVLOS flights under various complicated circumstances,” Kahaduwe says.

“It’s important to demonstrate that, at any time, the ground pilot can receive information from the drone and send commands back, if needed,” Ribeiro adds.

Ribeiro and team are testing the quality and reliability of the command-and-control link via 5G and looking for low latency, or no perceptible delay in communications.

All Perspectives on Board

“The hardest use cases need an ecosystem of companies to solve,” says Kahaduwe.

Core Open Generation members include Verizon, Ericsson, Nokia, and Qualcomm. These industry leaders bring expertise and resources (such as spectrum and equipment) needed to support advanced R&D in areas such as network slicing to power specific uses.

Members also bring network aggregation across technologies including open radio access networking and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication, among others.  

Academic partners Virginia Tech and Northeastern University contribute specialized research capabilities and lab resources to this large-scale challenge.

As founder of MITRE Engenuity and originator of the Open Generation 5G Consortium, MITRE contributes a range of strengths, from expertise to lab capabilities. We bring 60+ years of systems engineering expertise and a solid technical foundation in communications and spectrum—the range of electromagnetic waves available for radio and mobile signals—including interference assessments and spectrum sharing.

Our unique vantage point across whole-of-nation challenges is key to harnessing 5G for public good. As an objective, trusted adviser intersecting with government through our federally funded R&D centers and labs, we build communities and momentum around critical public challenges. In this way, we achieve what no other organization could do alone.

A Foundation for Next-Generation Technology

The UAS initiative is a vital part of MITRE’s work to accelerate our nation’s development, deployment, and leadership of advanced telecommunications technologies.

To stay competitive and reap economic rewards—estimates indicate widespread 5G adoption will add $347 to $536 billion to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product—the U.S. needs to increase the speed at which it’s developing and deploying the technology.

While fast deployment is crucial, 5G must also be adopted in ways that ensure security and reflect egalitarian values and human rights—because the work being done now will set the stage for the next generation of the IT ecosystem.

“We’re helping partners establish best practices to drive disruptive new 5G applications,” says Clancy, who has written extensively on the transformative impact of 5G. “In parallel, we’re paving the way for what will become 6G.”

And laying the groundwork is critical, given that “the nation with the biggest [5G] impact will expand its global telecommunications leadership—for better or worse.”

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