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NIST's leadership in Advanced Communications

NIST is currently the U.S. government’s leader in fundamental and applied research, standards and government-academia-industry coordination for advanced communications technologies.

NIST Advanced Communications: By the Numbers

  • 200+ NIST staff and associates in the Communications Technology Laboratory
  • 30+ NIST experts leading global standards development organizations including 3GPP, IEEE, IETF, ITU, ORAN, ATIS, ISO-IEC/JTC1, FIDO Alliance, and WinnForum
  • 180+ participants from 80+ industry, academia and government organizations led by NIST in the 5G mmWave Channel Model Alliance to enhance 5G performance and spectrum sharing and coordinate U.S. positions on international standards 
  • 320+ technical publications in advanced radio frequency electromagnetics and advanced wireless since 2015, along with leading the U.S. government Future Generation Wireless R&D Development Gaps Analysis

NIST leads the way in federal engagement in 5G standards development

  • Providing leadership and technical expertise in the most significant advanced communications related standards bodies — Over 30 NIST experts lead and participate in global standards and specification development organizations such as 3GPP, IEEE, IETF, ITU-T, ORAN, ATIS, ISO-IEC/JTC1, FIDO Alliance and WinnForum. These experts are a subgroup of over 400 NIST staff that participate in over 1,000 standards development activities in over 110 standardization organizations around the world.
  • Ensuring federal cybersecurity needs are represented in 5G standards — NIST leads the efforts to share information and facilitate coordination among federal agencies and with the private sector on standards for cybersecurity and 5G. NIST has informed interagency discussions on standards engagement, by analyzing and sharing data and information about U.S. participation in some select standards organizations vis-à-vis that of China and Chinese companies. NIST has organized and conducted training for interagency staff on standards-related issues, including effective standards engagements in standards bodies.
  • Enabling industry coordination and outreach — Working with National Economic Council leadership, NIST organized a focus session on 5G standardization at the 2018 White House 5G Summit. Industry speakers from CTIA, ITIC, TIA, ATIS, ANSI, Qualcomm and Oracle identified opportunities and challenges in 5G standardization. On behalf of the National Security Council and NEC, NIST has facilitated interagency discussions and exchanges with the U.S. private sector on 5G and related security standards in partnership with the Information Technology Industry Council, Telecommunications Industry Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

NIST leads in advanced communications R&D and testing enhanced spectrum

NIST’s role as an independent, impartial measurement organization enables NIST to provide robust test processes and validated measurement data necessary to develop, evaluate and deploy spectrum sharing technologies that can increase access to the crowded frequency spectrum by both federal agencies and nonfederal users. 

  • Enhancing federal spectrum testing capabilities — NIST hosts the National Advanced Spectrum and Communications Test Network (NASCTN), a multi-agency-chartered partnership that includes DOD, NASA, NOAA, NSF, and NTIA and academic partners, as well as commercial carriers through the Coordinated Carrier Test program and CTIA. The work of NASCTN and its partners is enabling generation of validated data and models for use by the spectrum sharing community. Since 2015, NASCTN has executed eight key spectrum sharing projects, including data to improve and evaluate spectrum sharing efforts in the 4G LTE (AWS-3) and the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) 3.5 GHz bands as well as impacts on federal systems due to commercial deployments in adjacent bands. 
  • Driving the application of transformational emerging technologies to advanced communications — NIST is integrating critical emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) into advanced communications, e.g., by demonstrating the effectiveness of AI applied to spectrum sharing and testing. This work has facilitated the development of technical solutions and policies for spectrum sharing in the 3.5 GHz band by government and industry, including standards specifications and implementation strategies. NIST has developed the NIST 5G Spectrum Sharing Test Bed that is enabling testing of the impact of spectrum sharing on communications and RF remote sensing in adjacent bands.
  • Meeting the future communications needs of our first responders — NIST Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) division supports FirstNet’s National Public Safety Broadband Network. The PSCR Innovation Laboratory supports unique testing capabilities for rapidly deployable networks including aerial drone-based systems.
  • Shaping the future of wireless R&D — NIST expertise in wireless communication R&D also enables NIST to develop forward-looking road maps such as the “Future Generation Wireless Research and Development Gaps Report,” which was cited as guidance for the 2019 OSTP report titled “Research and Development Priorities for American Leadership in Wireless Communications.” Similarly, NIST led the IEEE “5G and beyond” road map working group to identify hardware technology gaps for deploying mm-wave fixed and mobile wireless, resulting in the IEEE “5G and Beyond Roadmap White Paper.”
  • Accelerating technology deployment and adoption — Leveraging NIST’s strong partnerships with industry and academia, NIST established the 5G mmWave Channel Model Alliance, a group consisting of 180 participants representing over 80 companies and organizations worldwide. The alliance develops best practices for acquiring and verifying channel propagation data, and its outputs have also led to new standards development activities in bodies such as 3GPP and IEEE. These propagation models are being used by U.S. manufacturers for future 5G and 6G applications. NIST’s collaborations with CTIA are facilitating the development of standardized certification tests for cellular-enabled Internet of Things (IOT) devices. This work resulted in the 2019 publication of the CTIA “Test Plan for Wireless Large-Form-Factor Device Over-the-Air Performance.”
  • Leading the department in technical output — NIST’s research for RF electromagnetics and wireless communications alone has resulted in over 320 technical publications over the past five years and marks a significant contribution to the development of 5G and beyond communication technologies. 

NIST leads efforts to secure advanced communications

NIST collaborates with industry to develop and apply standards and guidelines used by government and industry to secure advanced communications capabilities. NIST’s unique expertise in the development of encryption standards has resulted in global adoption of standards such as the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), which is used as the default setting in virtually every commercial product for consumers and enterprises. A recent study estimated an approximately $250 billion economic impact for this standard over the past 20 years. NIST also maintains the National Vulnerability Database, the U.S. government repository of standards based vulnerability management data vulnerabilities used by global cybersecurity industries to automate vulnerability management, security measurement, and compliance.

  • Partnering with industry to address 5G cybersecurity challenges — NIST's National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE), in partnership with leading industry organizations, is undertaking a project on 5G cybersecurity: Preparing a Secure Evolution to 5G, which was initiated with the input from nearly 200 telecommunications and security industry experts. Leveraging its many years of expertise, NIST developed and maintains a widely used reference for wireless communication security, Special Publication 800-187, Guide to LTE Security. This same expertise is also informing NIST experts’ contributions to the development of security standards for 5G communications in the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and other standards developing organizations.
  • Strengthening supply chain security — NIST’s expertise in security and wireless communications is also informing the development of guidance for supply chain security. 
    • NIST is a sitting member of the Federal Acquisition Security Council (FASC) led by the White House Office of Management and Budget; co-chairs the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Supply Chain Risk Management Task Force; and co-hosts the quarterly federal Software and Supply Chain Assurance Meetings with DOD, DHS and GSA. 
    • NIST, through the NCCoE, has launched a project in collaboration with industry on Supply Chain Assurance, which will produce example implementations to demonstrate whether purchased computing devices are genuine and unaltered during manufacturing and distribution processes. This work will complement existing NIST guidelines and other resources such as Special Publication (SP) 800-161, Supply Chain Risk Management Practices for Federal Information Systems and Organizations; NISTIR 7622, Notional Supply Chain Risk Management Practices for Federal Information Systems; NISTIR 8272, Impact Analysis Tool for Interdependent Cyber Supply Chain Risks, and Assessing SCRM Capabilities and Perspectives of the IT Vendor Community: Toward a Cyber-Supply Chain Code of Practice.
    • NIST has engaged with government, industry and academia to develop a framework for 5G-and-beyond supply chain security. This measurement-based framework seeks to encompass security from the chip level to the system level, support more cost-effective implementation than provenance-based security strategies, and enable independent verification at multiple levels in the supply chain through rigorous testing.


Created July 16, 2020, Updated April 5, 2022