At the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), we are excited for the innovations and opportunities presented by emerging technologies. Advanced information and communications technology (ICT) will enable new ways for DHS to accomplish its mission to safeguard the homeland and protect our critical infrastructure. We are also aware of the geopolitical implications to this and other emerging technologies. As a result of a collaboration between S&T and DHS headquarters, we seek to increase awareness and understanding of the roll out of 5G technology, while beginning early conversations on 6G. 5G will be important for years to come, but we need to prepare the department and the homeland for the coming development of 6G.
As telecommunication companies continue to implement 5G—and research 6G—components and develop products, understanding the technology needed to operate these new networks and the devices that can and will connect to them becomes vital for understanding and predicting the future of wireless connectivity. Below is an exploration of the components that make 5G possible, the devices that aim to take advantage of 5G’s claims, and the implications of these advancements to everyday consumers and the greater homeland security enterprise.
As 5G/6G technology continues to evolve and mature, this page will be updated with the latest information to keep readers informed of relevant changes.
Read our full report 5G: The Telecommunications Horizon and Homeland Security.
The 5G Standard
The 5G standard for cellular networks was developed by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) in 2016. 3GPP is an international consortium of standards organizations and industry groups that developed standards for previous network generations. The 5G standard began global deployment in 2019, with increases in data transmission speeds and capacities over previous standards.
The 5G protocol does not restrict transmission to any single frequency of the electromagnetic spectrum. Rather, 5G introduces wider channels across existing telecommunications frequencies and some previously unused parts of the spectrum. 5G networks will generally operate in three frequency bands (low, middle, and high) with the majority of 5G traffic operating in the mid-band, as it enables sufficient range and channel space. High-band frequencies are located in the previously unused 20-100 GHz range and are often referred to as millimeter wave (mmWave). These frequencies are very short range, but the large amount of airspace available allows for higher speeds compared to low- and mid-bands.
The Proposed Benefits of 5G
The updates facilitated by 5G align to enable several significant advances in network performance and applications. Data transmission at some frequencies is up to 100 times faster than current 4G networks, and the transformative impact of the standard is enabled by the decreased latency, improved reliability, and expanded capacity of 5G networks. These advancements could greatly impact Enhanced Mobile Broadband (increasing internet speeds even in remote communities), Massive Machine Type Communications (making smart cities or factories a reality), and in Ultra-reliable and Low Latency Communications (enabling self-driving cars, augmented reality, and automation). 5G has the potential to drastically change how the world connects and communicates, while also pushing forward advancements in public safety, healthcare and transportation.
5G Infrastructure and Components
Telecommunications transmission infrastructure consists of two main elements: core network components, which knit together to provide a consistent connection through mobile, fixed and converged connectivity; and radio access network (RAN) components, which are used by devices to communicate across a network. Presently, most 5G infrastructure deployment is focused on the RAN components, since existing base stations and antenna arrays require upgrades to achieve true 5G connectivity.
At the device level, specific receivers and chipsets are required for 5G connectivity. The telecom chipset marketplace has contracted since 4G first launched a decade ago. Due to high research and development (R&D) costs and stagnant technological advancement, many manufacturers chose to abandon their products or sell to larger companies, resulting in only a handful of remaining market players. While the Chinese firm Huawei was among the first companies to promote their 5G technologies, the U.S. ban on Huawei components and growing international concern has decreased its global market share. The threats posed by foreign 5G infrastructure and components, including espionage and coordinated attacks on infrastructure, are a serious national security consideration. S&T's Tech Scouting team has conducted previous research on supply chain risk management tools, along with tools for 5G mobile, infrastructure and supply chain security.
The deployment of 5G technologies has been rapid but uneven globally. Adoption is occurring at a faster rate than 4G, supported by aggressive industry and government investments by the United States, China and South Korea. The number of global 5G subscribers is anticipated to surpass one billion in 2022 and quickly accelerate to include most of the world within the decade.
5G Advanced, predicted to be deployed by 2025, is a planned set of technological and network upgrades that will expand on the existing capabilities of 5G. One key component of 5G Advanced1 is the application of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) solutions to introduce more intelligent network management capabilities. This will help to manage the expected increase in connected devices, enabling higher download speeds and preserving low latency. Enterprise applications,2 such as connected vehicles, real-time automation in manufacturing and autonomous robotics, are expected to be the primary driver of 5G Advanced technologies with the North American commercial market predicted to exceed $180 billion by 2030.
6G Development and Launch
The 6G wireless communication network will be the successor to 5G and is expected to begin launch in 2030. Notable differentiators of 6G from 5G include enhanced scalability, greater use of the radio spectrum, and dynamic access to different connection types. This will enable greater reliability and limit drops in connection, which is critical to support advanced technologies like drones and robots. This dynamic access will enable connected devices to use multiple connections concurrently (e.g., Wi-Fi and cellular) to stay connected even if one source is interrupted.
The Internet of Things
As the number of connected devices continues to grow, estimated to reach 55.7 billion3 by 2025, and data transfer speeds increase the further development of the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes a real possibility. IoT, the deployment and interconnectivity of devices far beyond personal cellular devices, includes, but is certainly not limited to, household appliances, medical devices, cars, power and transportation infrastructure, and logistics management devices. This influx of devices is projected to generate 73.1 zettabytes (ZB) of data (the equivalent of 1.9 million iPhones) necessitating new technological advances in data transfer and storage. Edge computing,4 moving servers and data processing closer to connected devices, could help with data storage while still maintaining 5G speeds and low-latency. Edge computing processors connected to 5G networks could facilitate the implementation of AI/ML on a massive scale, leading to smarter devices that can learn similarly to humans. On a microscale, these applications can be used for autonomous vehicles to improve traffic flow and allow for autonomous taxi and bus services in cities. On a macroscale, manufacturing, logistics, and analytical industries will be able to improve efficiency as AI and ML find trends and paths unseen by humans, speeding up supply chains and product production. For local, state, and federal governments services can be metered and controlled to match demand more precisely at any given moment, increasing efficiency and improving availability, and possibly slowing the effects of global warming. Additionally, these algorithms could aid in predictive modeling for services (e.g., DMV wait times, trash collection, bus usage) and weather events (e.g., tornados, floods, fires).
5G wireless technology represents a transformation of telecommunication networks. These developments introduce risks that threaten homeland security, economic security and other national and global interests that will continue to evolve through the transition to 6G. Undue influence from nation states in standards development can negatively affect the competitive balance within the information and communications technology market, potentially limiting the availability of trusted suppliers and leading to a situation where untrusted suppliers are the only market options. Additionally, 5G networks are an attractive target for criminals and foreign adversaries to exploit for valuable information and intelligence, and these challenges may become more acute with the deployment of 6G. Strong technology standards and cybersecurity practices will need to be incorporated within the design and development of ICT technology for DHS to leverage and secure the full scope of 5G and 6G use cases. Many of the opportunities that are enabled by 5G and 6G (e.g., drone teaming, enhanced communications, edge computing) will be utilized by U.S. adversaries as well. There are various security considerations to note within the current 5G framework that will also relate to the eventual deployment of 6G.
Evolving Future Scenarios
While the opportunities and threats detailed above address known implications of 5G for DHS, uncertain and evolving developments in the 5G ecosystem present varying future scenarios for DHS. Uncertainties regarding 5G’s future necessitate DHS consideration of how various scenarios will impact its mission over the next five to 10 years. Consideration of the likelihood of these scenarios and the implications of potential outcomes can inform DHS planning efforts for emerging circumstances in the 5G and 6G ecosystem.
Opportunities for DHS
As the launch of 5G promises radical new capabilities for consumers and industry, so too does it present opportunities to enhance homeland security enterprise operations and support the DHS mission space. 5G will enable an expansion in the number of connected devices and help to realize IoT on a massive scale. This capability has the potential to deploy autonomous systems to evaluate national disaster scenes and strengthen communications infrastructure and systems used by emergency responders. The proliferation of millions of wireless sensors could accelerate DHS missions already supported by remote sensing, detecting, and tracking devices. Relevant use cases include enhanced surveillance capabilities along U.S. borders, at government facilities, and in response to emergency events.
1. Toward 5G Advanced: overview of 3GPP releases 17 & 18. (2021, October 13). www.ericsson.com. https://www.ericsson.com/en/reports-and-papers/ericsson-technology-review/articles/5g-evolution-toward-5g-advanced
2. The Future of 5G | 5G Market Forecast | J.P. Morgan Research. (n.d.). www.jpmorgan.com. https://www.jpmorgan.com/insights/research/future-of-5g-adoption
3. Strategy, M. I. and. (n.d.). Who Is “Really” Leading in Mobile 5G, Part 6: Policy, Regulation And Consortia. Forbes. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/moorinsights/2019/10/12/who-is-really-leading-in-mobile-5g-part-6-policy-regulation-and-consortia/?sh=27c5a7f92755
4. What Is Edge Computing. (2020). Ibm.com. https://www.ibm.com/cloud/what-is-edge-computing