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Public Sector 5G Strategy Series – Part 1: Technology

The Wheel Is Turning

If you’ve scrolled through social media or watched live TV lately, you’ve likely seen an ad for 5G. If you find yourself wondering why there is so much conversation about 5G –you are not alone. Is it worth all of this attention?

We think so. 5G is set to revolutionize the world’s telecommunications infrastructure, paving the way for even greater use of autonomous devices and expanding the number of interconnected devices in the Internet of Things (IoT).

In October 2019, GSA held its first public event about 5G, where government and industry experts gave us a compelling look at the rollout of next generation networks, discussed how they’ll support IoT applications, and outlined the steps necessary to secure this new hyperconnected future.

Going forward, we’ll be sharing a series of posts outlining how we expect 5G will drive change across government, and what agencies should do to prepare. 5G means different things to different people, so our “5G for Government” strategy is best visualized as a wheel composed of six core concepts:

  • Technology
  • Standards
  • Security
  • Policy
  • Acquisition
  • Use Cases

This post will look at the evolution of the technology enabling 5G, and more importantly, the types of devices, applications, and services that will soon depend on it.

New Tech, Same Trends

The first cellular telephones hit the market in the mid-1970s and offered wireless voice calling over an analog network. In the early 90s, this first generation cellular technology, using analog telecommunications standards, transitioned to a 2G digital network, allowing both voice and data to travel wirelessly between devices.

3G and 4G gave us mobile internet and streaming video, respectively, leading to the rise of the smartphone and entirely new industries, such as mobile application development and cross-platform analytics.

Remember when you couldn’t open an email attachment on your phone or send a photo—let alone a video—over a wireless network? When did that change?

Most people could not tell you which network generation enabled what feature, only that devices became faster, applications more data dependent, and new services arose as capabilities increased.

The same will be true for 5G, but due to its engineered flexibility and vast capacity for high-speed data transfer, the changes will come sooner and reach far beyond communications.

Why 5G Is Different

Since 5G is still new to the market, what we can say about its current technology is limited. Indeed, many experts will tell you that 5G was designed to support applications and services that are still largely confined to a laboratory setting. For now, when we look at the technology, we can only compare it to what’s currently on the market, but when we do, it becomes apparent that we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Changing Devices

Take the smartphone, for instance. Right now, a phone on a 4G network downloads data at approximately 12-36 megabits per second (Mbps). A 5G enabled phone clocks in at 50 Mbps at minimum. Phones on the fastest commercial networks can reach 1,000 (1 gigabit) per second, and average speeds are expected to exceed 10 Gbps as the technology matures.

How does it reach these speeds? 5G transmitters use higher frequency radio waves, some in or near the millimeter wave band of the electromagnetic spectrum. Bandwidth is much more plentiful there, which greatly increases the capacity and speed of data transfer. Instead of a single cellular antenna, the 5G phone contains multiple receivers, allowing it to process all this data over multiple streams, in parallel. You could liken it to filling a glass of water from the bottom up, and the top down, at the same time. 

Smaller, More Flexible Networks

Like their predecessors, 5G networks are digital cellular networks, in which the service area covered by providers is divided into a mosaic of small geographical areas called cells. While conventional cell phone towers are hundreds of feet tall, millimeter wave antennas are only a few inches long. Though an individual antenna may only cover a small area, multiple antennas can work together as phased arrays to beam data straight to the user. This technique, known as beamforming, is one of many ways that 5G networks can be optimized to improve performance while it serves huge numbers of devices.

Open To Innovation

Small but mighty, 5G networks could be used to provide general home and office internet connections. A technique called network slicing could be used to segment a larger 5G network into highly customizable “slices,” managed and operated independent of the infrastructure owner, tailored to unique business needs. When used in conjunction with software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), 5G could replace outdated cable connections in government offices, campuses, and military bases.

Edge computing is another exciting concept made practical by 5G. This technique involves creating a cloud-based IT service environment at the edge of the cell, leveraging its unique properties and raw power to move computational workloads physically closer to the user. Theoretically, sophisticated edge computing could eliminate the need for physical hard drives and bulky device components, as the actual computing would occur in the cloud and beam compiled data directly to a screen or user interface. Battery sizes would shrink, ushering in new opportunities for wearable and drone technology.

Hypercharged wireless internet and robust cloud computing are just the start. The high data rate and low latency of 5G are envisioned as opening up many new applications in the near future. The use of data-heavy virtual and augmented reality applications in healthcare and research is one promising example. Another is 5G’s facilitation of fast machine-to-machine interactions in the coming Internet of Things . For example, computers in vehicles would continuously communicate with each other, sensors on the road, and real-time, artificial intelligence) generated directions using 5G. This is the kind of “smart grid” cities will have to deploy to support self-driving cars. Over time, communication capabilities and computing power will combine and extend across networks and devices, and information and computing power will be instantaneously available. This will encourage a wave of innovation in applications, services and functions built to run on the new infrastructure. 

Lightning speed, expanded capacity, and massive connectivity are the defining characteristics of current 5G networks and enabled devices. These conditions are ideal for emerging technologies to take root.  

More than that, 5G is widely expected to be a defining stage in the global evolution of IT in general, affecting almost all parts of industry and society. In subsequent posts, we’ll take a look at the standards on which it will all be built and explore the security considerations around its deployment. 

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Until then, please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITC and LinkedIn to join our ongoing conversations about government IT.

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GSA Driving Success in the Small Business Community

Here at GSA, we couldn’t be more proud of our small business partners – they are critical to our ability to deliver mission-enabling technology products, services, and solutions to agencies.

We’re also proud of the various paths to success we provide to small businesses of all types through our contract solutions. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present new challenges and obstacles to many of GSA’s partners in the small business community, we are doing all we can to help keep this important part of the federal IT ecosystem vibrant and successful. As we all navigate new realities and requirements, GSA is working to ensure small businesses have the opportunities to thrive; and that we’re fully supporting them.

The Importance of Small Businesses

The numbers drive this home. In fiscal year 2019, the federal government spent over $68.1 billion on IT, with approximately $47 billion allocated to the IT Services sub-category. Federal agencies awarded $15.6 billion in IT services alone to small businesses. $5.3 billion of that went through GSA contracts. That’s not a small chunk of change.

Considering that almost a third of IT services spend was conducted through GSA and 75 percent of companies on GSA’s Schedule are small businesses; not to mention the nearly 1,000 small businesses on GSA’s Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs), the data show that customer agencies continue to rely on GSA and our small business partners’ solutions as invaluable tools to meet their acquisition requirements.

Long History of Supporting Small Businesses

Our small business GWACs have a long history supporting stakeholders – going back to the late 1990s. The GWACs have been focused on assisting customers in meeting statutory and other small business goals while meeting mission outcomes. The first GSA 8(a) GWAC, 8(a) FAST, was awarded in 1997. Since that time, customers have relied upon GSA’s small business GWACs to fulfill over $27B in task orders. Given their direct material contributions to the small business industrial base, the SBGWACs have been supported by every administration since their inception, having iteratively evolved through continuous improvement across each generational sprint.

Given this history, the popularity of these contracts, and the government’s reliance on GSA to deliver these solutions; we take our commitment seriously. Supporting small businesses has always been, and will continue to be, a key driver for GSA going forward.

Looking to the Future

Built with the future in mind, all of GSA’s GWACs have been designated as best-in-class (BIC) – preferred governmentwide solutions capable of supporting Tier 3 spend, a focus of the governmentwide category management strategic plan. We’re focused on ensuring our solutions meet the needs of our customers with a robust number of small businesses of all types.

GSA’s IT Category Small Business Vehicles

  • GSA’s MAS – Information Technology has approximately 4,000 small business industry partners with periods of performance for up to 20 years.
  • 8(a) STARS II GWAC has approximately 800 8(a) firms, supporting the most common IT services NAICS codes; it allows for direct buys up to $4 million, through the end of FY21.
  • VETS 2 GWAC has 70 service-disabled veteran-owned small business contract holders. The initial period of performance through February 2023 with an additional five-year option.
  • Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS), has three (3) small businesses supporting enterprise telecommunications and networking solutions with option periods through 2032- a first-ever for our flagship telecom contracts.

8(a) STARS III Update

The 8(a) STARS II GWAC has exceeded all of our expectations. We’ve raised the contract’s ceiling more than once to accommodate demand. In fact, it’s at its ceiling again and demand continues to be through the roof; we’re working on remedies now to ensure the government can continue to benefit from this easy to use and effective solution

As we move into this contract’s fourth generation we can say for certain that this program is a huge success. The 8(a) STARS program has served as a small business accelerator into the competitive government contracting marketplace, with a significant number of prior 8(a) STARS program participants growing their business so much that we now see them thriving with the big companies on GSA’s Alliant 2 GWAC.

Following that unprecedented success, we’re working on the release of the final solicitation for STARS III. The STARS III GWAC will increase opportunities for agencies to meet socioeconomic goals through our innovative solutions that, in addition to the great 8(a) STARS II foundation, will facilitate emerging technology and OCONUS requirements through specific master contract sub-areas. We plan to issue the final RFP for the 8(a) STARS III GWAC this fiscal year.

Planning The Way Ahead

As we look to the future, we intend to continue to support a large, diverse, and highly capable base of small business IT providers. GSA is pursuing creative strategies to increase the opportunities available to small businesses and expand the pool of small businesses on GSA contracts.

Emerging technology and security are key enablers for good government and GSA is looking at how we can provide more opportunities to innovative small and socioeconomic businesses (Women-Owned, HUBZone, 8(a), and Veteran-Owned), so customer agencies can tap into their expertise to drive IT modernization and improve service delivery.

We’re working to:

  • ensure that contract holder capabilities meet the evolution of technologies and refresh as needed via onramps.
  • remove small business barriers to entry by simplifying submission requirements for future GWACs.
  • further increasing engagement with industry prior to the release of solicitations via industry days and targeted conferences.
  • host regularly scheduled GWAC Program Meeting Reviews (PMR).
  • provide industry partner training.
  • encourage the establishment of an Industry Council for each SBGWAC.

Visit our website to learn more about our IT solutions or use our IT Solutions Navigator to find the vehicle that’s right for you.

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITC and LinkedIn to join our ongoing conversations about government IT.

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Health IT Services for the Fight

As our nation faces COVID 19, telehealth services are more important than ever – GSA can help. GSA’s Health Information Technology (IT) solution was established in 2016 in partnership with the Defense Health Agency (DHA) to advance IT systems and services for agencies with a health mission.

Digital health tools can help providers stay on top of the virus’ spread.

With telehealth solutions, we can help keep people safe and healthy. Patients can interact with doctors and their health information remotely while avoiding crowded hospitals or public transit. Telehealth can also map the spread of outbreaks and identify hot spots.

GSA Health IT Services on GSA Schedule

GSA’s Health IT Services Special Item Number (SIN) provides access for federal, state, and local governments to a wide range of health IT services to include telehealth, innovative health IT solutions, emerging health IT research, and other health IT services.

The SIN advances the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan in:

  • Expanding the adoption of health IT products and services;
  • Advancing interoperable health information solutions; and
  • Strengthening healthcare delivery systems.

Given the current healthcare climate and recent advances in health IT, the government will have an increasing need for industry experts who have strong health IT-specific qualifications.

The right health IT tools, now

The Health IT SIN, with close to 500 industry partners, provides a great selection of experts, who are non-traditional system integrators focused on clinical and business-related health IT. They have the skilled staff best suited to implement solutions for healthcare environments. With labor categories that include medical doctors, nurses, and other health professionals, GSA’s Health IT SIN is here to help with emerging government Health IT requirements.

Visit our website to learn more about www.gsa.gov/healthit or use our IT Solutions Navigator to find the vehicle that’s right for you.

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITC and LinkedIn to join our ongoing conversations about government IT.

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Registration Open for Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS): Path to the Future Sessions

GSA’s EIS Path to the Future online series will focus on sharing best practices that will help federal agencies prepare for EIS transition activities.

Be sure to attend if you are a:

  • CIO/IT staff member
  • Contracting Officer
  • Contracting Specialist
  • Financial staff member
  • Program manager
  • Project manager
  • Telecom staff member
  • Transition executive or manager

You can sign up to attend some or all of the sessions listed below. Attendees will earn one Continuous Learning Point (CLP) for each session attended – up to six for the series. Your GSA support team will be available to answer your questions during the event.

The sessions:

Tips for Proposal Evaluation
Wednesday, June 10
2 to 3 p.m. (ET)
Join us to hear from DOI about how they sustained their EIS task-order award after a GAO protest and the lessons they learned that will benefit all agencies.

Trusted Internet Connection (TIC) 3
Wednesday, June 17
3 to 4 p.m. (ET)
In this session, you’ll learn from GSA and DHS/CISA what’s expected of agencies to protect their networks. Discover what is available to help your agency meet security requirements using EIS. We will discuss how solutions can be packaged to provide the security you need now and will need later.

Transition Closeout
Thursday, June 18
2 to 3 p.m. (ET)
As government agencies move to the EIS acquisition vehicle, legacy telecommunications contracts will expire. GSA will limit the use of its legacy telecommunications contracts and freeze all future growth on those vehicles. Extended use of these contracts is limited to agencies who are making sufficient transition progress to be 100% off the expiring contracts by September 30, 2022. The Networks Authorized User List (NAUL) will be updated to remove users in phases, which is expected to begin in summer 2020. In addition, GSA will stop processing any new Networx/WITS contract modifications and any new LSA implementation orders on October 1, 2020. Join us for this session to ensure that your agency is positioned well for the future and will avoid disruptions in service.

EIS Ordering
Wednesday, June 24
2:30 to 3:30 p.m. (ET)
After your task order is awarded and you’ve developed your implementation plan with your EIS supplier, it’ll be time to begin the ordering process. This interactive discussion will review who should be involved, what information needs to be conveyed, and how an agency begins the process. GSA will share all of this – and more – to help you expedite your ordering process.

Rules and Tips for Awarding EIS Contract Modifications Prior to Awarding Task Orders
Wednesday, July 15
2 to 3 p.m. (ET)
This session will cover the authorization of orders, Network Site Codes (NSCs) not in the traffic model, requesting status of vendor submissions (modifications) that affect your task-order award(s), and modification priority.

Solutions to Modernize your Enterprise Network
Wednesday, July 22
2 to 3 p.m. (ET)
During this session, we’ll discuss advancements in network technologies – such as software-defined networking and managed security services – and how your agency can leverage these technologies as part of your EIS modernization plan. We will also explore the as-a-service model common with cloud computing and its applicability to network services.

On the registration page, check the boxes for each one-hour event you would like to attend. You must have a .gov or .mil email address to register.

Sign up for some or all of the sessions today!

For more information, visit our pages for EIS and the EIS transition. Members of the media who would like more information or to attend should contact us at press@gsa.gov.

GSA is here to help! If you have questions about EIS or the EIS transition, please contact your telecom agency manager.

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITC and LinkedIn to join our ongoing conversations about government IT.

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