Why the Military is Nonplussed by 5G Network Launch


The FCC approved a plan in April to allow Virginia-based Ligado Networks to deploy a brand-new 5G network that utilizes a portion of the wireless spectrum adjacent to that used by global positioning systems (GPS). Military experts are unhappy about that decision and are not in favor of Ligado moving forward.

Reports suggest that the company is going to deploy a low-power 5G network to carry cell phone signals and data across the country. But defense experts worry that 5G signals will interfere with GPS, possibly overwhelming them altogether. This is not good for the military inasmuch as significant portions of our defense infrastructure rely heavily on GPS technology.

  • Way Too Much Noise

Modern warfare is electronic warfare. Success on the battlefield relies on clear communication which, in itself, relies on clear signals. California’s Rock West Solutions, a company that specializes in signal analysis and sensor technology for military applications, explains that military tech experts worry about 5G signals generating too much noise.

In the signal processing arena, noise amounts to any information in an electronic signal that is not useful for the task at hand. The noise military experts are worried about is electronic interference created by 5G transmissions. That interference could make it more difficult to acquire and analyze GPS signals.

According to a GCN post by Mark Rockwell, one Pentagon official likened the potential results of 5G interference to “trying to hear the sound of leaves rustling over the noise of 100 jets taking off.” That pretty much sums up the concept of too much electronic noise.

  • Imposed FCC Restrictions

Rockwell’s post also explains that the FCC has attempted to assuage DOD concerns by putting restrictions on Ligado. First and foremost, Ligado will have to limit the power of its network overall, and particularly at its base stations. They must also deploy guard band technology.

Ligado is proposing 23 MHz guard bands which they believe will keep their signals completely separate from adjacent GPS signals. Critics of the plan say that the guard band concept proves the company knows its 5G network could interfere.

On the other hand, proponents of 5G say that the limitations imposed by the FCC will ultimately demonstrate that dynamic spectrum sharing is not only possible, but also safe and practical. Defense experts do not necessarily agree.

  • What Happens Next

With FCC approval in hand, Ligado can begin the rollout of its 5G network. Meanwhile, GCN reports that the DOD will spend the next few months testing its own 5G capabilities in order to better understand how well military applications can work alongside commercial applications.

We should know by the end of the year if concerns relating to 5G interference with GPS are legitimate or unfounded. If they prove true, the next task would be to figure out how to stop the interference without putting the brakes on 5G development. It could be a tricky balancing act.

Military operations rely on GPS both on the battlefield and off. The DOD may not be able to stop the development and deployment of 5G networks operating uncomfortably close to GPS bands. Ultimately, that might mean having to replace some of the military’s older technology with newer and better technology that overcomes 5G interference.

Rock West Solutions says that, one way or the other, all of the interested parties will work it out. Signal processing and analysis have matured over the years for this very reason. Where there is a need, there is motivation to improve technology. Hopefully, the introduction of 5G networks will lead to even better defense applications.