Maxwell: smart base pilot kicks off

AT&T has announced it is working with Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, to pilot a more efficient and effective “smart base.” The concept uses Internet of Things technology to pull together connected smart perimeters, gate monitoring, notifications, fleet management and more. Claire Apthorp spoke to those involved to find out more about the pilot and talk early results.


Since 2015, AT&T has been busy building what it sees as the city of the future. What does the city of the future look like? According to AT&T, it is cleaner, safer and better engaged with its citizens than ever before. From free Wi-Fi at bus stations to live traffic updates via mobile aps; to technology that tackles water, waste, energy and air challenges; and remote monitoring for roads, bridges, buildings and even the technology to detect gun fire – all critical data regarding a city’s environment and infrastructure will be connected to help make them more liveable and efficient.

Increasingly known as the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), this concept of using sensors to collect data, and integrating that data via a network into a real-time picture, is now set to revolutionise the way military bases are run.

Maxwell pilot

In February, AT&T signed a vendor agreement with Maxwell Air Force Base (AFB) to bring the power of the IoT to its base operations and infrastructure.

“Military bases are operated much like small cities, so our Smart Cities concept applies itself well to this context,” Rocky Thurston, Air Force client executive vice president, AT&T Global Public Sector Solutions, said. “Maxwell was seen as likely to be receptive with a progressive mind set, so our team approached them and we worked together on which use case we could bring to bear to suit them.”

"Military bases are operated much like small cities, so our Smart Cities concept applies itself well to this context."

With base commanders tasked with keeping the airmen and their families safe on base, it was decided that the best use case for Maxwell was security – a critical issue given the base’s mission: it is the home of Air University, the Air Force's education and leadership hub, the 908th Airlift Wing, the Business and Enterprise Systems Directorate of the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center, and more than 30 tenant units.

Improving security

Maxwell AFB borders the Alabama River in Montgomery, Alabama. With a fencing structure that was not as secure as it could be, this was pin-pointed as the primary goal for the pilot programme.

“Whenever there was a breach in the fencing, a security team would be sent out to figure out what happened, and that was a massive strain of resources”, Thurston said. “We collaborated and came up with concept of deploying smart perimeter devices with infrared beams to detect if someone is crossing the perimeter.”

With the devices’ chips all connected to a cellular LTE network, also provided by AT&T, the next step in the process was to integrate a video surveillance capability that automatically comes on when a breach is detected, and give security teams the ability to access that video remotely via the AT&T messaging toolkit.

“Now, when the IR beam is triggered, the camera turns on and shows security forces exactly what is happening in that specific location”, Thurston said. “For the officer sitting in his car somewhere on base, that means receiving a text message with the video screen showing what is happening, and also a phone call if it’s an emergency – and that’s what makes it really smart – all these devices integrated and working together.”

The next level

AT&T has also gone on to deploy sensors at the base gates, and is using the use case to prove out the integration of different networks. While the perimeter devices work on the LTE cellular network, the video cameras are hardwired over the existing wired network and the gate devices are on Wi-Fi. All this data is pulled together into a single dashboard or user interface – a single pane of glass that allows security forces to see all the activity in one web-based interface that can be accessed by laptop, smartphone, etc.

With a quick deployment schedule that saw each of these toolsets deployed one month at a time to be up and running by month three, AT&T has had very positive feedback from Maxwell so far.

‘They are thrilled, and we are in constant communication with them about where it’s going. We’re looking into radar-based solutions for the gates and facial recognition technology, and how to better integrate the single pane of glass into the command and control day to day routine,” Thurston said. “And now that it is successful, we are starting to talk about other types of use cases, and how to use the IoT to make the base smarter and smarter.”

The future is smart

Certainly as US military bases respond to pressure to be more efficient and green, there is big potential for many of the Smart Cities concepts to be rolled out here too: things like waste management, installing smart street lights and monitoring water supply are all things that can be made more efficient on military bases to reduce environmental impact and deliver cost-efficiencies.

But with so many networks and sensors all capturing and sending data 24/7, AT&T is also using the Maxwell pilot to address the issue of IoT security in the smart base environment.

"Security of IoT is a big issue, and we pride ourselves on leading the message around that."

“Security of IoT is a big issue, and we pride ourselves on leading the message around that,” Thurston said. “We are also going to document and prove out the controlled network aspect of this – because as you put a lot more things on networks there are security vulnerabilities so we have to demonstrate the security of the network itself.

“And the network is the key thing. It’s not just about selling sensors, it’s about the bigger picture. It’s about integrating the sensors and multiple networks, and the consolidation of all that data into that single pane of glass. That’s how you become truly smart, without that these are all just independent systems.”

In bringing the concept of smart cities to a new venue, AT&T is garnering a lot of interest in these capabilities. The potential application of the concept is almost limitless. Outside of the military, there are countless venues and structures that are vital to national security – critical infrastructure, ports, prisons, airports – all of which could benefit from a bit of big-picture thinking for a smarter future.