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Federal Agencies Gearing Up for 5G Infrastructure

Greater connectivity and information-sharing capacities are helping expedite services and expanding new frontiers of data usage.

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The implementation of 5G networks across federal agencies is allowing for a new phase of government modernization, especially in allowing quicker sharing of data to power a new range of technologies and draw a greater wealth of insights from available information.

Speaking at the GovernmentCIO Media & Research IT Modernization virtual event, representatives from both the private and public sectors discussed how government is adapting 5G capacities around their core missions to better deliver essential services.

In describing the common approach among federal agencies, GSA Deputy Assistant Commission for IT Acquisitions Keith Nakasone recognized that many departments are in the process of determining how to effectively integrate 5G within their broader IT systems before engaging in direct implementation.

“When we look at things from a whole-of-government approach, we really want to capture all of the requirements and build out those acquisition solutions to accelerate the process of injecting emerging technologies such as 5G into the infrastructure,” he said.

Participants also noted how 5G has shown considerable promise for enabling new technologies that would have previously been less efficient — if not impossible to fully utilize — within 4G networks. This includes advances in telemedicine and remote diagnostics, a technical frontier that has been a particular focus within the Veterans Health Administration.

“The evolution of tactile connection that can actually be made possible by 5G changes the paradigm of what we think of as a physical exam, one that can be encountered virtually. And so I think what we’re diving into are use cases that are going to be enabled by this technology — whether it’s advanced [augmented reality] and [virtual reality] for surgical navigation or patient education or training,” said Dr. Ryan Vega, chief officer of healthcare learning and innovation at VHA.

Advances in mobile technology have also increased the efficiency of emergency services, with 5G likely to further accelerate the response and action time of agencies tasked with disaster recovery.

“When I started at FEMA 20-plus years ago, cellular networks nationwide didn’t exist,” said FEMA Deputy CIO Scott Bowman. “One example of how we’ve been able to dramatically improve our timeframe for assistance to disaster survivors is with our housing inspectors. Back 20 years ago, inspectors had to use dial-up. So they were all analog, and they would typically communicate once, maybe twice a day. So the turnaround time for those inspections was measured in days not hours.”

In addition to 5G’s considerable benefits for improving the delivery of government services, contracting offices have recognized the importance of a more streamlined and flexible approach to contracting that allows agencies to keep pace with technological shift — a process currently being supported across industry as well.

“Being very practical and pragmatic as you go about bringing in this new technology is extremely important, and avoiding lock-in is critical,” said Mahtab Emdadi, regional sales director at Dell Technologies. “A lot of what we’re doing at Dell is standing up 5G reference architectures that are built on completely virtualized stacks, so that no one has to be locked in into any one telecom provider.”

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