Digital Communications: Industry Pushing Ahead with Software-Based Radios

Article excerpt

LONDON -- THE U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT'S TROUBLED program to replace its radios with a family of software-based communications devices is plodding along slowly. Experts note that it could be several years before these next-generation technologies are available for military use.

The delays in the U.S. joint tactical radio have created a market for military radios that are seeking to fill a near-term demand, according to manufacturers. There is an immediate need--in the U.S. military and elsewhere--for devices that can exchange voice and data communications seamlessly and securely, industry officials say.

Some of the Defense Department's major radio suppliers are jumping into this market on the conviction that software-based radios are the future of military communications regardless of what happens with the U.S. joint tactical radio program.

ITT Corp., which produces military radios for the United States and several international customers, has developed an advanced wideband data radio called SpearNet.

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The 1.5-pound handheld radio has a range of 1 kilometer. The device operates like a small PC in a network--it automatically connects to other radios in the area and creates an ad-hoc net.

"The more radios you have in that network, the broader area of coverage you have in communications," says Ron Manley, director of international business development at ITT.

In a demonstration at a defense industry exhibition, a soldier outfitted with an Internet protocol-based video camera and a SpearNet radio strolled around and transmitted real-time images back to his "headquarters" at the company's booth.

Such capability allows information to travel from an individual soldier up through the squad to the battalion and finally to the brigade headquarters, says Manley. In urban environments, if troops need to transmit information around the corner, the data will jump through nearby radios to transmit to the intended endpoint.

The radio draws only 100 milliwatts of power, he adds.

Because the range of the radio is limited, the company is trying to integrate the Ethernet interface found on the high capacity data radios that currently are used by U.K. forces. These radios operate on ultra high frequency bands, which are commonly used for television and other radio transmissions.

The high capacity radio, combined with SpearNet, would create a longer-range backbone onto which other SpearNet radios can be populated, says Manley.

The radios also could be employed at sea and placed aboard small boats so units ashore could stay in communication with the larger ships. With the high capacity radio, the range can extend as far as 20 to 30 kilometers.

The radio operates in the 20 megahertz frequency, which is difficult to detect, intercept and jam, says Manley. …