Current military communication systems have limited ability to support mobile, distributed operations in remote geographic areas due to the small size of networks and relatively short range of military radios. Today, military mobile ad hoc networks (MANETs) are used to relay communications services beyond the range of a single radio. However, when MANETs grow, the traffic is divided into the number of users served by the networks, and the service data rate delivered to an individual in a MANET drops to a small fraction of the radio capability. The scaling limitations of a MANET—typically 10s to 100s of users—are reached when the traffic that can be delivered to an individual becomes unacceptably low. Much larger networks will be needed as operations become more distributed and increased numbers of autonomous sensors are deployed.
DARPA’s Fixed Wireless at a Distance program seeks to enable pervasive, high-throughput military communications using a mobility backbone infrastructure that provides unlimited scalability for high-speed communication for warfighters.
The program envisions advanced fixed military transmission facilities and capabilities placed in protected areas, such as the confines of a forward operating base; on strategic high-terrain features; atop structures of opportunity; or on aerostats. Signals from these multiple, distributed sources are combined to reach a distant “client” radio or radios.
This is similar to commercial infrastructure, such as cellular base stations and WiFi access points, which also provide infrastructure to improve pervasiveness of communication services. The key differences between Fixed Wireless at a Distance and commercial architectures are that this program seeks to maximize geographic coverage area rather than population size, and the system must support mobility and expeditionary activities where infrastructure cannot always be installed in advance of military operations.
Service delivery is expected to support three types of client radio systems – enhanced range communication devices, legacy military radio systems and commercial communications systems (such as 3G/4G cellular and WiFi) for operations in the vicinity of the forward operating base.
The program has been structured in three phases: Phase 1– Prototype Development; Phase 2 – Technology Development; and Phase 3 – Demonstration System Integration..
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