The U.S. Department of Defense, along with the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), is soliciting public input for an upcoming “5G Challenge” to ramp up development of an “open” (i.e., carrier-agnostic) U.S. 5G ecosystem that can support Department of Defense missions.

According to a Notice of Inquiry released by the NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) and announced by the DoD on Monday, the 5G Challenge would leverage the innovative capabilities of the software development and telecommunications technology communities to enable more open implementations of 5G systems, including end-user equipment, the radio access network, and the core network, with a focus on the 5G protocol stack software.

“The Department of Defense recognizes that 5G technologies are foundational to strengthening our Nation’s warfighting capabilities as well as U.S. economic competitiveness. Open 5G systems would greatly bolster the Department’s ability to deliver on its missions, and we look forward to exploring new and innovative opportunities for their development,” said Michael Kratsios, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.

The DoD established 5G as a key modernization priority with the goal to advance U.S. and partner capabilities to fully leverage 5G technologies for military networking needs. The Department is accelerating 5G technologies and their use in DoD missions through cutting-edge testing and experimentation sites, developing the capability to secure 5G networks and operate through non-secure networks, and investing in innovative “beyond 5G” technologies.

Specifically, the NTIA is to create design incentives within the challenge to ensure cooperation, collaboration, and interoperability among the participants, as well as how to define metrics for successful and innovative responses to the 5G Challenge. Comments are due on or before 5 p.m. Eastern Time on February 10, 2021, and may be submitted by email to [email protected].

Last month, the National Spectrum Consortium—a group of nearly 400 U.S. companies and academic institutions working with government to solve pressing national issues regarding 5G, 5G-based technologies, and spectrum access—announced that it has received a five-year, $2.5 billion Spectrum Forward Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Per NSC, the goal of the Spectrum Forward OTA is to facilitate partnership between the U.S. technology and industrial base and the U.S. Government, to development technologies across a range of advanced technologies that rely on electromagnetic spectrum. These applications span the areas of 5G, Internet of Things, Cloud Computing, Augmented Reality, Big Data, and others.

The OTA is designed to accelerate the development, adoption and deployment of next-generation battlefield technologies: more specifically those that are “dual-use”—for military and commercial applications—and that support American warfighters and American jobs.

5G OI Lab

Also on Monday, Seattle’s 5G Open Innovation Lab (5G OI Lab), which is an “applied innovation ecosystem” of global developers, corporate enterprises, academia and government institutions, announced that January 22, 2021 will mark the close for its third batch of early- and later-stage start-ups with a focus on enterprise innovation and 5G-enabled services.

The Lab is seeking Seed and Series A to Series C companies serving diverse 5G markets including agriculture, energy, entertainment, logistics, manufacturing, mining, space and satellite technology and transportation.

The 5G Innovation Lab has been targeting and attracting later-stage companies that are both capitalized and have established recurring revenue streams from their product portfolio. The Lab has become a “path to the enterprise” for technology companies that have typically focused on core network and cloud solutions. According to Jim Britzimis, General Partner of the 5G Open Innovation Lab, the average raise in the first two batches of the program (in the spring and fall of 2020) is “$3.2 million and climbing.”

Thirty-two companies participated in the first two programs of 2020, with strategic and financial support from founding and corporate partners Amdocs, Dell Technologies, F5, Intel, Microsoft, NASA, T-Mobile and VMware. 5G Innovation Lab’s Fall 2020 Investor Day attracted 65 new venture capital and investment firms, resulting in more than 120 brokered introductions and meetings with engagement rates of 80 percent.

Notably, the Lab does not take an equity position in the start-up companies, rather, companies collaborate with 5G technology experts and business advisors through CEO and CTO roundtables, private working sessions, virtual networking and social events, and opportunities to meet with the Lab’s extensive partner network of venture capital firms.

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