AT&T, Air Force move ahead on 5G testing at three bases

AT&T and the Air Force are expanding an OTA to bring 5G and other new "networking-as-a-service" capabilities to three bases, bringing many of the same services AT&T offers in the commercial market.

Two years ago, the Air Force looked to AT&T for experimental connectivity work at three bases through an Other Transaction Authority award intended to acquire IT services from commercial providers.

That was through the branch’s Enterprise IT as a Service program and started with initial risk reduction efforts.

Now the Air Force is ready for those three bases to take a leap into 5G and other new “networking-as-a-service” capabilities that are essentially the same as what AT&T offers in the commercial market and via that original OTA from 2018. The value of the expanded work was not disclosed.

“That’s the foundation of it and how the Air Force might adapt it for their various use cases, and take advantage of the capabilities that come with 5G as far as network slicing and edge capabilities,” said Lance Spencer, client executive vice president for AT&T Public Sector and FirstNet who leads the company’s work with the Air Force. “Those are possible future activities that we would work through with them.”

AT&T and the Air Force announced Wednesday that they will test out 5G at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. System design work is complete and delivery of AT&T’s 5G service is anticipated to complete by the end of 2021.

“We think it is vital to test commercially provided services like 5G and software-based networking-as-a-service capabilities as we explore ways to help us innovate and improve our global air, space and cyber readiness,” Col. Justin K. Collins, deputy for the Air Force’s enterprise IT and cyber infrastructure division, said in a release. “We expect 5G service will help us improve the user experience and support a broad array of use cases that can enhance mission effectiveness.”

Those efforts are happening alongside AT&T’s work at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida to get 5G going for what is envisioned as a “smart base of the future,” along with a separate job at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada to roll out both 5G infrastructure and the FirstNet public safety network there.

Consider too that AT&T’s nationwide 5G network has grown from being live in 19 cities last year to what is now in 395 markets across the U.S. That progress in the overall commercial market is evidently what the Air Force and many other agencies are watching and learning from.

Regarding the three bases announced Wednesday, those latest initiatives and investments fall under the OTAs issued through the Air Force’s Enterprise IT-as-a-Service program.

EITaaS is intended to help government agencies rely on commercially-provided networking services in order to create a better user experience. For the Air Force, that means near-ubiquitous wireless connectivity across the bases as AT&T described in its announcement.

Using the OTA mechanism helps the Air Force get those services in more of a commercial manner and AT&T deliver them in that way as well, Spencer said.

“With the OTA construct, it has helped us bring these commercial capabilities more in a way that we’re used to delivering them,” Spencer said.

AT&T can then “bring the product as it exists” without significant specialization and customization, Spencer added.

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