DARPA mobile millimeter hotspot backhaul for cell tower performance without infrastructure and pervasive adhoc networks

1. DARPAs Mobile Hotspots program intends to develop and demonstrate a scalable, mobile, millimeter-wave communications backbone with the capacity and range needed to connect dismounted warfighters with forward-operating bases (FOBs), tactical operations centers (TOCs), intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, and fixed communications infrastructure. The backbone should also provide reliable end-to-end data delivery among the hotspots, as well as from ISR sources and command centers to the hotspot users. In essence, Mobile Hotspots seeks to provide cell-tower-class performance without the infrastructure.

The program envisions air, mobile and fixed assets, most of which are organic to the deployed unit, that provide a gigabit-per-second tactical backbone network extending to the lowest-echelon warfighters. To achieve this, the program seeks to develop advanced pointing, acquisition and tracking (PAT) technologies, not commercially available, needed to provide high connectivity to the forward-located mobile hotspots. Advanced PAT technology is key for connectivity to small UAVs, for example, enabling them to serve as flying nodes on the mobile high-speed backbone.

“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. “Mobile Hotspots will require the development of steerable antennas, efficient millimeter-wave power amplifiers, and dynamic networking to establish and maintain the mobile data backhaul network. We anticipate using commercial radio protocols, such as WiFi, WiMax or LTE [Long Term Evolution], as a cost-effective demonstration of the high-capacity backbone. However, the millimeter-wave mobile backbone developed during this program will be compatible with other military radios and protocols.”

Additionally, the program seeks novel technologies to increase the transmission power to provide adequate ranges within the small size, weight, and power (SWAP) constraints required for company-level unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

2. DARPA is looking for technology to extend infrastructure range and simplify infrastructure operation. Unique networking technology is sought to support military mobile ad hoc networks (MANETs) from fixed infrastructure.”

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, MANETs are used to relay communications traffic and provide 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.

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.

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.

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