To protect the content of 5G transmissions, the Pentagon should accelerate development of mobile applications using end-to-end encryption. Today’s military radios or encrypted email only encrypt a message in transit. The message exists in an unencrypted form in the receiving server.
The blazing download rates of 20 gigabits per second promised by 5G advocates will be the exception, rather than the rule. The real benefit of emerging 5G architectures is how they could improve coverage, latency, and speed to mobile users from a teen streaming HD video in a downtown Minneapolis coffee shop to a Marine platoon at an advance base in the Philippines. Realizing these benefits, however, will require the U.S. government to focus on its broader goals for 5G and to rethink how it secures sensitive communications.
Even if it isn’t at broadband speeds everywhere, 5G will enable the Internet of Things and accelerate the decoupling of content from infrastructure as “cord-cutting” internet users move entirely to mobile networks instead of relying on Internet delivered by cable. Military communications could also increasingly ride on 5G wireless signals, connecting deployed troops and obviating the need for new wired infrastructure to support forces in garrison or base.
Supporting the jump to 5G, however, is a major enterprise. The shift from 3G to 4G mobile phones exploited new waveforms but leveraged mostly existing spectrum allocations and infrastructure. 5G will be different. Achieving the massive gain in bandwidth and shorter delay times, or latency, it promises will require new infrastructure and new ways to allocate spectrum. These investments, however, could also improve the connectivity of all users – provided the government sets the right policies and incentives.