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Communication Evolution

As the U.S. military, like much of the rest of the world, rushes to take advantage of the huge potential of Fourth Generation Long Term Evolution (4G LTE) technology, the explosive popularity of this standard for high speed wireless communication is offering both opportunities and challenges for the Department of Defense.

Even as the military services launch a number of pilot projects exploring the operational use of 3G and 4G LTE, and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) reaches out to industry for help in taking advantage of 4G LTE, the demand by the telecommunications industry for more bandwidth is putting heavy pressure on the military’s traditional access to portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. 

The global wireless broadband industry is seeking to reallocate spectrum from defense to commercial use to meet consumer demand for greater mobility and more data-rich applications. 

The extent of that demand is evident in a report issued by Juniper Research, which projects that this year there will be more than 220 million 4G LTE subscribers around the world in 70 countries. In addition, a mobile data traffic forecast through 2018, issued by Cisco, indicates that a 4G connection generates far more traffic on average than a non4G connection. 

Although 4G connections represent only 2.9 percent of mobile connections today, the Cisco study found that they already account for 30 percent of mobile data traffic. By 2018, 4G will be 15 percent of connections but 51 percent of total traffic, and by 2018, a 4G connection will generate six times more traffic on average than a non-4G connection.

“The number of connected devices and the demand for greater bandwidth and network performance is what is driving this,” said Mike Zirkle, associate director for public sector marketing, Verizon Enterprise Solutions. “In fact, the Cisco forecast states that the number of mobile devices will exceed the number of people on earth. When you get into that, LTE is certainly a big part of the global data growth.”

In addition to competition for bandwidth, the military also faces technical challenges in deploying 4G LTE in ways that meet its unique operational needs. The Navy, for example, faces a problem in that there are few cell towers its warships can access when at sea. 

“Very simply, the difference between the military and civilian sector in 4G LTE is the commercial vendors,” said Rob Semple, senior manager of business development for Exelis. “AT&T, Sprint and Verizon have an extensive network of cellular phone towers to provide uninterrupted coverage. Because of this extensive network, available frequencies that operate within the specified frequencies needed become scarce, and the military sold off a bunch of frequencies that were made available to the commercial market.”

Spectrum Issues

A big difference between military and commercial requirements is that the commercial world can plan for what it needs, explained Vanu Bose, chief executive officer of Vanu Inc. 

Verizon Wireless, for example, engineers its network about six months ahead of demand and invests on average more than $6 billion annually in its network to satisfy growing demand for voice and data services.

“The military is dealing with a global spectrum situation where the frequency allocation and uses are different all over the world. This is also the case in the U.S.,” Bose said.

Military training programs offer an example of how this can be a problem. “Some of the guys who do training cannot use the same system at U.S. bases as they do in the field because the frequencies are not available,” Bose explained. 

Recognizing the potential for growth in one of the more vigorous sectors of the economy, the Obama administration has been pushing to free up more bandwidth. A 2010 policy called for making available a total of 500 Mhz of federal and non-federal spectrum over the next 10 years, suitable for both mobile and fixed wireless broadband use. Nations in other parts of the world are also taking similar actions to make additional spectrum available for wireless broadband.

DoD officials have responded to the need, issuing a major report on electromagnetic spectrum strategy in 2013 and agreeing last fall to a compromise under which the military would give up use of one portion of the spectrum while moving to another portion that would be shared with commercial broadcasters.

The 2013 report recognized that carriers are finding creative ways to meet demand by offloading traffic to low power unlicensed WiFi hotspots and deploying smaller wireless cells. 

“They expect more improvements will be needed and continue to develop more capable wireless devices and applications,” it stated. “Consequently, DoD has the opportunity to leverage commercial technologies and wireless services to meet DoD requirements, where appropriate.”

Military Benefits

The military benefits from a lot of 4G conversion center on reliability and significant security updates inside of 4G LTE, according to Zirkle. “In LTE, both signaling and payload information is encrypted,” he said. “LTE offers enhanced security through strong mutual authentication, user identity confidentiality, along with other security enhancements that make it even more secure than existing 3G technologies.”

The opportunities for the federal government and the military are the same as what is being seen in the broader market, he added. “The goal is to have the most reliable network in the United States. The military certainly takes advantage of that.”

Just as with video and enterprise applications that are increasingly being pushed to the edge in the corporate world, the military wants to take advantage of unclassified capabilities, for example for training. “The need is not just for email or text messages, but video and more unified communications and collaboration such as navigation and data services—components that are enabled because of 4G LTE,” Zirkle said. “4G LTE delivers speeds of 5 to 12 Mbps from network to device and 2 to 5 Mbps from device to network.”

Another factor is the increasing acceptance of “bring your own device” in the workplace policies. “People recognize that 4G LTE networks allow greater data speeds and coverage, which translates into better quality applications, larger and higher-quality video images, and faster connectivity,” said David Bezzant, senior national director of public sector direct sales for T-Mobile.

Crowdsourced consumer data shows that T-Mobile has the fastest nationwide 4G LTE network, Bezzant said. “Compared to other technologies, 4G LTE technology is spectrally efficient so network speeds are faster, latency lower, and there is more capacity per megahertz of spectrum.”  

The military can benefit from T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network, Bezzant continued, as a result of improved data connection continuity through rapid failover from landlines; improved low-latency voice and text applications for dissemination of mission command data; video streaming capabilities for surveillance and monitoring; and bandwidth for high-resolution imagery needs such as mapping.

“T-Mobile believes our nationwide 4G LTE network helps the military leverage its own investments in data centers and networks by improving its ability to operate larger, more sophisticated cloud-based services on mobile devices,” he remarked. “T-Mobile covers 96 percent of Americans coast to coast, reaching over 287 million Americans. Overseas military personnel can also benefit from T-Mobile’s unlimited data coverage Simple Choice plan.”

T-Mobile has already enhanced its LTE by deploying 10+10 MHz 4G LTE in 43 of the top 50 metro areas, delivering download speeds up to 72 Mbps. “In November 2013, we began deployments of Wideband LTE with 15+15 MHz and 20+20 MHz,” he said. “What that means is that we’re building 4G LTE super-highways that are incredibly fast and wide open—and where you can experience download speeds up to147 Mbps.” 

Still, there is only a finite amount of spectrum. “If the government clears out the spectrum for exclusive federal use, we would probably still run out of bandwidth in 10 years,” Bose said, adding, “LTE requires a wide spectrum to operate.”

LTE networks run on frequencies in the 700 MHz to 2.5 GHz range, though spectrum on lower frequencies is preferable for carriers since it can maintain signal strength over longer distances. Industry observers contend that because 4G LTE provides much greater bandwidth—up to 100 times more in some cases—the military can benefit from this technology. 

“The big advantage of LTE is, with the global uptick in its usage, everything gets cheaper because volumes of users get so high,” Bose added. 

On the other hand, military usage doesn’t come close to that of the commercial market, nor can the military invest in spectrum for its own needs the way commercial entities do. For example, the range of 4G LTE penetration becomes difficult for the military as it has to deploy a mobile network in austere environments. 

“Where a major cell company would have five towers to cover a 10-mile area, the military would have to deploy mobile ‘cell towers’ or points of presence to provide the coverage and reachback capability to the network inject point via some type of wideband communications,” Semple said. 

Industry Collaboration

DISA in March released a request calling for industry, universities and research organizations that are involved in wireless technology, radars and signal processing, electronic warfare, and spectrum monitoring and sensing to collaborate to find ways for the military to better use 4G LTE technology.

In response, Vanu Inc. is involved in putting together a consortium of private industry to work with the government on solving its dynamic spectrum problems. The company builds wireless network equipment and focuses on creating solutions for places that do not have coverage today.

Meanwhile, a number of companies are involved in testing and elevating LTE systems to understand where the military can use it.

“The military continues to explore extending the network to the disadvantaged user via cellphone, 3G and 4G LTE, focusing more on 4G LTE due to its increased bandwidth,” Semple stated. “This allows the disadvantaged user to leverage COTS smartphones with specifically developed apps to support their mission.”

Using commercially developed smartphones is a key strategy, since today’s soldiers grew up and are comfortable with these devices and other technologies. “DoD has conducted numerous training exercises that leverage the 4G LTE technology to extend the network to the soldier during Network Integration Evaluations and Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiments,” Semple stressed. 

Exelis provides that capability now with its Global Network on the Move-Active Distribution (GNOMAD). 

“GNOMAD supplies a mobile point of presence to provide services out to the disadvantaged user via high data rate light-of-sight radios, or with its 3G/4G PICO cell module,” Semple stated. “The GNOMAD connects back into the network via its wideband SATCOM link (Ku-, Ka- or X-band) while operating on the move.” 

4G at Sea 

Another company that is active in this area is Oceus Networks, which has been working with the Navy on a high profile 4G LTE project. Jeff Harman, senior vice president of DoD solutions for the company, noted that the Navy has been active in exploring innovative uses of 4G LTE technology for operations at sea.

“The Navy’s visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) mission requires the ability to stream full motion video from helicopters to the ships and fast boats engaged in VBSS operations,” he said. 

To do this, Naval Air Systems Command partnered with Oceus to develop a pilot program on two ships using 4G LTE technology to enable this mission. The USS Kearsarge and the USS San Antonio were equipped with a microwave-based wireless wide-area network augment existing satellite-based communications. The LTE network lets personnel on
the two ships receive real-time video streaming from air nodes mounted on helicopters, which in turn allows officers to make quicker and more accurate decisions based on what advance units are doing.

Oceus also is providing solutions based on secure communications in a 4G LTE environment for other military organizations as well. “Our solutions have been integrated onto Navy ships and helicopters, on Army vehicles and for dismounted solders, and on UAVs and aerostats,” Harman said. 

A key focus for Oceus has been in providing end-to-end solutions for the military. “We don’t just provide the bandwidth, but we also worked with the military, including the National Security Agency, to ensure these 4G LTE transmissions are secure,” he said.

Oceus was the first company to receive interim authority to operate 4G LTE at the secret level. 

“We have integrated applications and improved the user experience for the devices used by our men and women in uniform,” he added. “Additionally, we developed a mission management solution to better enable the military to use these new capabilities in their mission.”  

Along with testing and evaluating LTE systems, DoD remains focused on how companies can provide secure systems, particularly when it comes to cell/smartphone usage.

“If you talk to any warfighter who has been to Iraq or Afghanistan, they will tell you they used their cellphones there,” Vanu commented. “Many comment that the mapping capability on their cellphone is often better than any other technology. It’s easier to use and the map itself is oftentimes better than what the military supplies.”

Consequently, Bose maintained, war-fighters need to be enabled with those capabilities in a way that is as secure as possible. “It’s never going to be as secure as a Type 1 military radio,” he said. “But we need a middle ground. If we change the security requirements you can open up the use of modified commercial technology much more easily.” 

Advanced Security

The security incorporated in 4G systems is much more advanced in comparison to earlier cellular standards, said Kevin Kelly, chief executive officer of LGS Innovations.

“To enhance security, mobile device management capabilities are being developed to enable DoD to support an overlay of its own mobile user management with VPN AES (FIPS) encryption standards, DoD user authentication, and DoD application stores,” he said. 

Kelly added that a substantial body of 4G LTE and LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) technology is building in the industry, and that future tactical systems should apply this technology base. These technologies include small cells, micro cores, self-optimizing networks, multi-cell coordinated signal processing, multiband operation and RF component miniaturization.

The LTE-A standard will deliver much higher throughput, with up to 100 Mbps in mobility conditions and up to 1 Gbps in static mode.

Kelly sees a wide range of tactical use cases. “They have a common theme of supporting deployed personnel from the Army, Marines, or Navy by providing local broadband wireless communications in an on-the-move or at-the-halt common operational picture, with either agile or fixed backhaul to operating bases, airborne platforms, satellites, or other communication links to the theater backbone network,” he said. 

 The tactical base stations would be deployed with the military assets, and personnel would use tactical smartphones with security enhancements corresponding to mission threat levels. “An example would be a call for fire (CFF), which could be made faster and more accurate by sharing a common operational picture with all personnel, issuing commands and receiving location information for force tracking, using digital targeting devices to further identify hostile locations, supplementing the communications with text and photographs, and transmitting graphically entered symbols initiating the CFF,” Kelly said.

Smartphone combat fire support applications have been developed under DoD’s Forge.mil, a collaborative software development program, that support the CFF mission in a net-centric environment and provide the military observer with improved situational awareness in the local area, graphics based targeting, highly networked mission fire support and coordinating measures processes, and command review/authorization. 

“In effect, deployed military personnel would have local broadband communications that would be deployed with them, using DoD applications on smartphones and tablets with which they are already familiar,” he explained.

Another use case leverages the complementary capabilities of mobile broadband applications of 4G LTE IP systems with the robust, secure voice communications of widely deployed Time Division Multiplexed (TDM) Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems. 

“LMR systems support military and first responder secure communications, but have very low rate data capability,” he said. “These systems can coexist in the same physical area, and they can provide broadband services and extended calling as complementary extensions of each network through interoperability either with gateways or with further IP to TDM interface standards development.”

LGS Innovations offers a full portfolio of 4G LTE products, both in its own capacity and as the exclusive reseller of Alcatel-Lucent products where the end customer is the federal government.

“LGS is a leader of base station router technology in which the base station is a small, software-defined fully integrated wireless network element with IP interfaces that interconnect to IP networks with plug and play capability,” Kelly explained. ♦  

Last modified on Thursday, 10 July 2014 11:17

Additional Info

  • Issue: 4
  • Volume: 18
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