Ericsson targets US military as its next big 5G customer
AUSTIN – Big 5G Event – Mike Murphy, Ericsson's top technology executive in North America, said the 5G networking giant is eyeing a new potential customer: the US military.
"There's a lot of interest in the US government now for adopting 5G," Murphy said during a keynote presentation here at Light Reading's Big 5G Event. "We'll be delivering products to the DoD [US Department of Defense]."
Murphy argued that Ericsson now meets many of the stipulations that the US military has for its 5G equipment, including support for open interfaces and domestic manufacturing.
Ericsson recently kicked off a broader push into the private wireless 5G space, following a lead carved by its top rival Nokia. In addition, Ericsson's new military ambitions dovetail with a program instigated by the DoD to foster the development of 5G networks at various US military bases.
That program is part of a wider effort by the Pentagon to connect all branches of the military into one secure, flexible and global communications system that is likely to rely on 5G. Already Lockheed Martin, a top Pentagon contractor, is pushing its "5G.MIL" campaign to wirelessly connect military products such as fighter jets.
Meeting the criteria
Murphy, Ericsson's CTO for North America, again reiterated the vendor's stance on open RAN, saying that all future products will feature open specifications to allow customers to mix and match equipment from Ericsson with other vendors.
"Ericsson is betting the company on open RAN over the long term," Murphy said, adding that Ericsson remains active in the O-RAN Alliance, the association helping to develop open RAN specifications.
However, companies such as Mavenir and Dish Network have questioned Ericsson's commitment to open standards, when open RAN could loosen Ericsson's grip on its network operator customers by giving them the opportunity to more easily replace Ericsson equipment with equipment from other vendors.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," Murphy said of such criticisms.
Ericsson is in the process of implementing some of the O-RAN Alliances specifications in its equipment, he said, adding that the move would help Ericsson's equipment meet DoD requirements for 5G equipment with open specifications.
Murphy noted that a significant portion of Ericsson's 5G equipment is constructed in its new manufacturing facility in Lewisville, Texas, which will help the company meet the DoD's push for 5G equipment to be made in the USA.
Specifically, Murphy said that all Ericsson's midband 5G equipment for the region would be manufactured in the facility by the end of next year.
Ericsson's interest in business from the DoD comes as little surprise. The Pentagon's Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) program "is the Department of Defense's (DoD's) concept to connect sensors from all of the military services � Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Space Force � into a single network," wrote the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in 2020. CRS explained that, traditionally, each branch of the US military operates its own communication network, and as a result they often can't communicate directly with each other.
The DoD has been moving forward on the issue. For example, the Pentagon said that later this year its CIO organization will take over work on 5G from the DoD's Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, according to a report in DefenseScoop.
Lockheed Martin has used an AT&T private 5G network to successfully transfer aircraft health and usage data from a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, according to Aviation Today.
Further, the DoD is clearly focused on open RAN technology.
"We're working with a number of US companies potentially on this, looking at multi-service installations as we move away from a closed network, black-box sort of thing � to more of an open network, open software approach that our US industry can work and dominate on," John Sherman, the DoD's CIO, told DefenseScoop.
That's partly because open RAN has long been touted by US government officials as a way for American companies to combat the rising influence of China and Chinese vendors like Huawei and ZTE.
While there remain questions about whether open RAN can foster an American 5G supplier ecosystem, the DoD appears willing to put its money where its hopes are. For example, the Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island, a major naval operation in the Pacific Northwest, recently launched a private 5G network via an $18 million contract from the DoD and the Information Warfare Research Project (IWRP) consortium.
— Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddanoMeeting the criteriaJADC2