Dish offers up slice of its 5G network for DoD project

At a time when most of the wireless industry is questioning the intentions behind the Department of Defense’s (DoD's) recent Request for Information (RFI) about 5G, Dish Network told the DoD that its first-of-a-kind network can offer the DoD a network slice for its domestic operations.

In its response to the DoD’s RFI, Dish said 5G network standards allow network function disaggregation and sharing of resources to be taken to a new level. Dish is uniquely positioned to take advantage of these new capabilities, according to the company. 

“5G provides more robust capability to provide the DoD with any number of dedicated network slices,” the satellite TV provider stated.

“This next generation network effectively enables the DoD to manage and control a slice of Dish’s network, together with specific spectrum resources, while reducing the cost and accelerating the availability of secure 5G services for the exclusive use of the DoD,” Dish stated, referring to a graphic depicting how it would look. “This network can take advantage of dedicated DoD spectrum, commercial spectrum and shared spectrum.”

To be clear, in its comments to the DoD, Dish stated that it opposes any proposal to create a nationalized, government-owned and operated 5G network; pursuing such a system would be an inefficient use of DoD resources, it said.

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However, according to Dish, there is precedent for how the DoD can take advantage of shared physical assets and network resources while maintaining operational control and flexibility to support the DoD’s objectives.

Dish pointed to the use of satellite transponder capacity on commercial satellites as one example. FirstNet is another example of a commercial network deployment where the public safety spectrum has been deployed on a commercial network with pre-emptive access for public safety purposes.

Further, Dish said its software architecture will allow the DoD to create a policy-based approach to autonomously manage its users in terms of when, where and how they access the spectrum.

“Private DoD dedicated network slices represent an end-to-end solution that can be used to guarantee a level of service. While there are many flavors of network slicing, the ability to guarantee a level of service through a slice specific Service Level Agreement (SLA) is only possible through the cloud-native, standalone 5G network architecture Dish is deploying,” the company said. “Each DoD network slice could have its own performance characteristics along with an associated SLA, that can be securely managed by the DoD. Separate networks do not have to be constructed to support each network slice, thereby making this a scalable and cost-effective solution.”

Dish has invested more than $21 billion in wireless spectrum assets over the years. It’s not clear how receptive the military will be to the scenarios Dish outlined, but The Wall Street Journal noted that the department’s RFI dangled a prize worth more than the standard defense contract: access to up to 450 megahertz of radio frequencies currently used for military radar systems.

Changes afoot?

During the GSMA Thrive/CTIA 5G Summit last week, policy leaders and industry executives discussed the prospects of a nationalized, government-owned and operated 5G network, an idea that has cropped up over the past couple years and one that the industry (virtually) universally opposes.

The RFI released by the DoD in September raised further questions and led to speculation the department may want to change the way spectrum gets managed. Traditionally, the National Telecommunications & Information Association (NTIA) oversees federal use of spectrum while the FCC oversees commercial and other spectrum.

Pentagon spokesman Russell Goemaere told Fierce that the DoD has no plans to own and operate a nationwide 5G network. However, as the RFI asked, the DoD is exploring the idea of owning and operating a 5G network on military bases.

The DoD last week released its Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority Strategy, a 28-page document (PDF) outlining its approach to spectrum.

Changes are necessary to the current spectrum management structure to allow DoD to operate in the U.S. and evolve as outlined in that document. “DOD will continue to work with NTIA and FCC to make those changes happen,” the spokesman said.

Asked how much spectrum the DoD currently controls, he said the DoD does not control any spectrum. “However, we are given priority in certain bands by NTIA and FCC for national security and other reasons. However, since our peer competitors operate across all spectrum bands, DOD must be able to access any spectrum in the U.S., to train as we fight, including in the commercial spectrum.”

CTIA’s reaction

CTIA SVP and General Counsel Tom Power had this to say about the DoD's new spectrum strategy: “While thoughtful in some respects, this strategy seems to include another effort by the Pentagon to assert control over commercial networks. It is critical that DoD be able to carry out its mission, but nationalization schemes have no role to play in that effort and are no match for private sector investment and innovation when it comes to advancing American interests.”

“The proven approach to spectrum management, led by NTIA and the FCC, helped make America the world’s leader in wireless and will maintain our leadership as we transition to a new 5G economy,” Power said in the statement provided to Fierce.