May 25, 2023

AT&T and Naval Postgraduate School collaboration using AT&T 5G enables innovative technology research and experimentation for national security advantage

Desiree Dillehay, NPS Foundation

In October 2021, AT&T completed the installation of a 5G millimeter wave antenna atop a 50-foot tower at the Naval Postgraduate School Beach Lab in Monterey under a three-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with NPS. Symbolically, the antenna is the physical representation of the NPS-AT&T collaboration to enable faculty, students, and AT&T representatives to explore and develop “5G at Sea” applications and edge computing-based maritime solutions. The solutions are aimed at benefiting national defense, homeland security, and commercial uses such as shipping, energy, recreational boating, and more.

Public-private collaborations like this one are integral to meeting national defense science and technology challenges. The Naval Postgraduate School’s ability to conduct research and development activities under CRADAs with a variety of industry partners directly supports the 2023 National Defense Science and Technology Strategy and the Chief of Naval Operations’ Navigation Plan 2022.

“We need to be able to partner with private industry, and the great brain-trust that exists within other academic institutions and research labs, to advance the state-of-the-art beyond what the Naval Postgraduate School or the Department of the Navy is capable of doing on its own,” said Dr. Kevin Smith, Vice Provost for Research at NPS. “We have found that these other organizations also value that shared responsibility of national security and want to engage with us and our students in support of warfighting requirements. NPS can serve as a convening place for the exchange of ideas, and as an honest broker for the Navy and DOD through testing and evaluation of new technologies, systems, or concepts of operations.”
In October 2021, AT&T completed the installation of a 5G millimeter wave antenna atop a 50-foot tower at the Naval Postgraduate School Beach Lab in Monterey under a three-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with NPS.

AT&T’s collaboration with NPS started in July 2020 in conjunction with the Sea Air Land Military Research (SLAMR) initiative. SLAMR, the brainchild of now-retired NPS professor Dr. Ray Buettner, served as a model for NPS interdisciplinary applied collaboration and research with industry, the warfare development community, and the naval research establishment. The SLAMR initiative began with a $10,000 Seed grant from the Naval Postgraduate School Foundation in 2016. Additional seedling grants of more than $450,000 from the NPS Foundation were used to refurbish a former county wastewater treatment plant into what is now the NPS Beach Lab where AT&T’s 5G antenna is sited. The Beach Lab is a multi-domain defense technology facility that enables shared collaboration, rapid prototyping and experimentation across government, academia, and private industry teams, supported by connectivity provided by the AT&T private 5G network.

By leveraging some of the funding provided by the NPS Foundation, NPS was able to institute a $42 million dollar, 5-year funding vehicle to expand collaborative agreements in the development and fielding of autonomous systems and robotics. This funding vehicle was instrumental to the development of the initial SLAMR concept, previously known as the SLAMR Defense Network. AT&T is a key collaborator in this ongoing NPS initiative, which includes public and private organizations that have agreed to explore innovative connectivity and wireless solutions to bolster defense operations at sea. The initiative has included discussions with AT&T, Ocean Power Technologies (OPT), TMGcore, Inc., as well as several other companies that specialize in autonomous systems and robotics. AT&T's maritime 5G node helps to ensure highly reliable and highly secure connectivity, allowing the teams to explore solutions that can seamlessly connect ships, unmanned systems, and sensors in maritime environments.

Under the CRADA and as a part of the ongoing initiative, NPS, AT&T, and Ocean Power Technologies are exploring the deployment of a self-powered buoy equipped with Wi-Fi capabilities. Positioned approximately 5-8 nautical miles offshore in Monterey Bay, this buoy will connect vessels at sea and shore nodes.

“SLAMR is another great example of the innovations we expect to power with AT&T 5G,” said Lance Spencer, Client Executive Vice President – Defense, AT&T Public Sector. “We’re proud to collaborate with the Naval Postgraduate School to explore the many ways in which 5G can usher in a wave of innovation that benefits the Department of Defense and across the public and private sectors.”

In addition to enabling an all-domain research environment for the Department of the Navy and academic and industry partners, AT&T’s 5G antenna at the NPS Beach Lab enables a fast, highly secure private 5G network that supports course and lab work at NPS and facilitates research and development in support of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

AT&T is working with NPS staff to install seven additional 5G antennae on the exterior of NPS’ Root Hall and Ingersoll Hall. The additional networking capabilities are expected to provide highly secure 5G connectivity within the campus’ academic quad while connecting to and extending the connectivity enabled by the existing antenna at the Beach Lab. The on-campus 5G installations will mirror the architecture of the Beach Lab antenna by intelligently routing network traffic. This networking solution is expected to enable students and faculty to use 5G technology at the beach site and on campus for ongoing and new research.

Several NPS students have completed thesis research using the 5G capabilities provided by AT&T, and many more interdisciplinary student and faculty research projects are ongoing. For example, in November 2022, AT&T demonstrated a prototype man-portable tactical 5G kit while supporting thesis research by U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Vincent Santini and his thesis advisor, Dr. Alex Bordetsky. More recently, in February 2023, AT&T and Santini conducted thesis experiments and demonstrations of AT&T’s tactical 5G kit at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, as part of a 3rd Marine Air Wing (3rd MAW) communications exercise.

This work continued in April, when Santini was joined by another NPS Marine student, Capt. Lyle Bacaltos, at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Tactical Operational Experimentation Exercise 2023 (TOEE 23) at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Santini and Bacaltos conducted thesis experiments and demonstrations of an NPS-developed long-range, low-bandwidth expendable communications system in conjunction with two AT&T prototype man-portable tactical 5G kits. Their solution included local 5G connectivity to Marines and other event participants in the Command Operations Center and adjacent exercise areas.

“I came to AT&T with a problem set: our Combat Operations Centers are not truly mobile, require lots of equipment to bring data services online, and require too many wires that take too much time to set up to meet the timely demands surrounding Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations,” said Santini. “AT&T provided a solution using their team of experts who were veterans and who understood the language and demands of the Marine Corps. Industry already has technology that can help the DOD solve its modern problems, and they have the resources to do so. They can even expand student ideas to benefit the DOD’s needs better. I highly recommend all technology based NPS thesis work with industry."

Future NPS research and experimentation using AT&T’s 5G capabilities includes collaboration between the Modeling Virtual Environments and Simulation (MOVES) Institute and AT&T in fiscal year 2024 to investigate how small units can use the Live Virtual Constructive Training Environment (LVC-TE) to test new concepts and tactics. The work will coincide with MOVES curricula and will be conducted in the MOVES LVC Interoperability Lab and on campus to design, develop, and test integrated synthetic environments. The network antennae planned for the campus will be used to transmit simulation data wirelessly to students at distributed locations who will be connecting tactical Android tablets and augmented reality head-mounted displays to the network.

“We want to use the environment we create in collaboration with AT&T to recommend best practices for U.S. Marine Corps Training and Education Command to consider when deploying the Live Virtual Constructive Training Environment in the future,” said Chris Fitzpatrick, Faculty Associate for Research in the MOVES Department.

To support research, experimentation and prototyping by Santini, Bacaltos, Bordetsky, Fitzpatrick and many others at NPS, AT&T is working with NPS’ Information Technology and Communication Services (ITACS) office to extend the current CRADA.


The Collaborative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) does not constitute endorsement of AT&T or other non-federal organizations or their products and services by the Naval Postgraduate School, the Department of the Navy, or the Department of Defense.

The Naval Postgraduate School Foundation is a non-federal entity. It is not part of the DOD or any of its components and has no governmental status.

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