Open RAN tested for digital battle network by AT&T, Fujitsu and Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman, which opened a 5G lab in San Diego last year, is now testing 5G private wireless and open RAN with AT&T and Fujitsu.

“We demonstrated a 5G open RAN core in a closed system in a lab,” explained Lance Spencer, client executive vice president – defense, AT&T. He said the team is conducting additional experiments with the goal of scaling the system, which is being used to transmit intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data over 5G. Spencer said connected IoT devices were not part of the demo.

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“Enabling 5G connectivity for our warfighters across domains will help realize a connected battlespace for the joint force,” said Northrop Grumman’s Ben Davies, vice president and general manager, networked information solutions division, in a statement. He said his company is working with AT&T to “bring together the high speeds, low latency and cybersecurity protections of private 5G networks with the flexibility and scalability of commercial 5G capabilities.”

The contractor explained that its 5G systems are meant to support multi-domain operations (MDO), a military term for presenting an enemy with a number of independent threats simultaneously. According to Northrop Grumman, 5G networks can help the military deploy new capabilities, make decisions faster, and respond more quickly to adversaries.

AT&T’s Spencer described the demonstration as spectrum agnostic. “We believe it is in the Department of Defense (DoD)’s interests to use commercially licensed spectrum to the greatest extent possible,” he said. “Commercial spectrum can provide DoD robust, reliable and resilient network access, simplified delivery, and agility and scalability characteristics that are unavailable via other spectrum approaches."

Last year Northrop Grumman and AT&T agreed to collaborate on research and development to build a digital battle network using AT&T’s commercial 5G network and some of the defense contractor's military technology. 

"This demonstration showcased the benefits of commercially available 5G for the DoD and the open, standards-based technologies that we’re exploring and developing as leaders in the O-RAN Alliance,” said Spencer. AT&T is a founding member of the O-RAN Alliance.

Prioritizing open RAN

“The DoD has shown considerable interest in open RAN, and we want to be among the leaders to innovate with it to ultimately deliver the advanced capabilities DoD requires,” said AT&T’s Spencer. He said the demo integrated open RAN compliant Fujitsu radios with Northrop Grumman’s tactical data links. “We are conducting additional experiments with other open RAN-compliant equipment,” Spencer added.

The DoD was named by the National Spectrum Consortium (NSC) as a driver of the industry group’s recent call for whitepapers requesting ideas on how to accelerate the development of open RAN. In a statement announcing its collaboration with the NSC, the DoD argued that open RAN architectures represent “a sustainable model for accelerating critical 5G innovation while spurring the growth of domestic supply chains based on trusted and secure vendors.” 

In addition, the DoD is collaborating with NTIA on its 5G Challenge, which will give prize funds to companies that advance 5G interoperability.

The agencies have already held a preliminary award event for companies that could successfully integrate hardware and software for open RAN central units, distributed units and/or radio units, with separate awards given to those that could  integrate multiple vendor subsystems and identify interdependencies and any potential risks in their software bills of materials. Awards were made to Radisys ($600,000), Mavenir ($550,000), Capgemini ($400,000), Fujitsu ($150,000) and Signal System Management ($150,000).

Radisys, the biggest winner in the 5G Challenge preliminary event, has worked with  defense contractor Lockheed Martin, using open RAN 5G software  to  advance integrated access backhaul to support mission critical communications for aerospace and defense.