Next phase of Mobile Hotspot program takes wing

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded L-3 Communications a $16.4 million contract to continue work on the agency’s mobile hotspot solution.

The Mobile Hotspots program is an attempt to overcome the challenges of data transmission in remote areas outside of forward operation locations, according to DARPA. The program is developing a mobile millimeter-wave communications structure to connect soldiers in the field with forward-operating bases, tactical operations centers, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets.

Current military systems are unable to support mobile operation in remote geographic areas as a result of small network sizes and the short range of military radios. The ultimate goal is to provide cell-tower-grade performance without traditional, ground infrastructure.

The contract will support the program for Phase 2 and an optional Phase 3. In Phase 2, L-3 is to develop radio and router pods containing mobile hotspot subsystems to be mounted on Shadow unmanned aerial vehicles. The pods would create UAV-borne mobile hotspots. The estimated completion date is March 12, 2015.

Using UAVs is a part of the vision of the program, which would utilize organically-placed air, mobile and fixed assets to provide gigabit-per-seconds speed to soldiers.

To do so would require DARPA to develop advanced pointing, acquisition, and tracking (PAT) technologies, enabling small UAVs to work as flying network nodes. Additional requirements include steerable antennas, efficient millimeter-wave power amplifiers, and dynamic networking in order to establish and maintain the network. The network would most likely use commercial protocols such as WiFi, WiMax, or LTE.

Some commercial products are equipped to fulfill similar roles, but the military also has to deal with mission-specific issues.

“While some advanced commercial millimeter-wave components can be leveraged for this program, the technical challenge is more complex given the infrastructure and terrain challenges of a forward-operating locations,” said Dick Ridgway, DARPA program manager.

About the Author

Joey Cheng is an editorial fellow with Defense Systems.

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