WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Defense is using a new open-air test range in Idaho to study 5G networking and its potential applications in overseas operations.

The facility, located within the 890-square-mile Idaho National Laboratory complex, is the first of its kind and is outfitted with fifth-generation radios, antennas and base stations.

“This premier, state-of-the-art standalone and non-standalone 5G network test bed will allow U.S forces, the combatant commands, and other U.S. government agencies the ability to test, train, assess and understand how to securely operate through an ever-changing global telecommunications environment,” Tom Dekeyser, director of the Defense Department’s Operate Through program, said in a statement.

Fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless technology promises exponentially faster speeds and the ability to accommodate more and more-advanced devices compared with its predecessors. The technology also has its risks: additional pathways for digital intrusions, aggravated privacy concerns and expensive infrastructure costs, among others.

The Defense Department has for years eyed 5G, writing in a 2020 strategy that the nations “that master advanced communications technologies and ubiquitous connectivity will have a long-term economic and military advantage.” It has since pursued testbeds at a dozen military installations, including sites in California, Nevada, Utah and Washington.

The national lab said it secured funding from the Defense Department and partnered with Mavenir Systems, a Texas-based company dedicated to networks and cloud technologies, to furnish the test range. Engineers installed the equipment over the summer.

Amanda Toman, the principal director for 5G in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, at a Sept. 15 DefenseScoop event said the Idaho facility will help break apart “that 5G stack,” providing critical insights about operational uses and vulnerabilities.

“Think about all the devices we have out there, think about the need to get information to move quickly,” Toman said. “I think 5G really provides that promise and that capability to the department.”

Academia and industry are also expected to use the test range in the near future, the lab said in an announcement.

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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