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Improved cellular coverage comes to Air Force Reserve bases

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nicole King
  • Air Force Reserve Command

Improvements to commercial cellular service are on the horizon for Air Force Reserve host bases throughout the country.

The upgrades will be completed by commercial telecommunication companies who competed for and were selected for an opportunity to lease land on bases to upgrade their commercial cellular network infrastructure. The changes will provide infrastructure for 5G capabilities in the future and support of the National Cyber Strategy and Department of Defense initiatives to improve network capabilities.

The program to lease land for improved communications infrastructure started in 2019 with an exploratory first phase that included a combination of different types of bases around the Air Force. The host base for Air Force Reserve Command, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, along with Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia, and Grissom ARB, Indiana, were three of the bases included in Phase 1. Phase 2 includes 20 Air Force bases by region with an additional phase 2B that includes the seven remaining Air Force Reserve host bases. The infrastructure put in place at Dobbins and Grissom during Phase 1 is set to go live this month.

“The big take away from this is that our bases will be positioned and 5G-ready by the end of 2023,” said Kenneth Morgan, AFRC’s chief information technology officer. “That means when we deploy capabilities, we can deploy those technologies universally across the command.”

This modernization of infrastructure will provide more reliable cellular coverage and allow for future upgrades as technology progresses. It will also ensure fence-to-fence coverage for Airmen and will be able to handle surge periods during unit training assemblies.

“If this system works as advertised, it should be of great benefit to Grissom personnel and also to anyone living in old base housing that is within range of one of the towers,” said Dan Harshman, from Grissom’s Cyber Operations Flight. “Grissom is notorious for having very poor cell phone coverage both on and off base.”

While the rest of the Air Force is providing opportunities to lease regionally, AFRC approached the opportunity to lease as a major command. AFRC partnered with the Air Force Civil Engineering Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, to solicit companies to apply for the 25-year leases.  

“AFCEC did a solicitation for just Air Force Reserve Command so we could finish up all of our bases,” said Morgan. “This accelerated our capability by about four years.”

The infrastructure companies will put in place not only includes full-size cell towers, but will also include fiber cable, small cells, in-office solutions and other technologies where needed. The equipment will be owned, operated and maintained by the commercial companies at a cost to them, not the Air Force.

“A quality 4G/5G cell service will provide an important commercial backup during network or phone outages as well as improve our communication capabilities,” said Harshman.

The new infrastructure should also have a benefit for the local communities surrounding the bases because the cellular capability is commercial and available to anyone who is near enough to the tower to get a signal.

“We have a lot of bases that are collocated with airports, so it will actually give greater coverage to areas around that airport by gaining access to our property as well,” said Morgan. “It is kind of a win-win in that aspect.”