New Technology To Expand Radio Spectrum for Troops

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  Space News Business

New Technology To Expand Radio Spectrum for Troops

By JEREMY SINGER
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 09 January 2008
11:49 am ET





BOSTON —


The U.S. Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) and an industry partner are preparing for what is being touted as the largest test yet of technology that would greatly expand the radio spectrum available to military users by rapidly identifying and switching to temporarily idle frequencies.







Radios featuring this technology could begin to appear in military operations later this year, according to Marc McHenry, founder and chief executive officer of




Shared Spectrum Co. of Vienna, Va.

The technology to make better use of radio frequency spectrum is being developed under




DARPA’s




Next




Generation, or XG,




communications program. DARPA chose Shared Spectrum in 2005 over Raytheon Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. to continue working on




the technology under a $19 million contract that wraps up in April.

DARPA Director Tony Tether told the House Armed Services terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities subcommittee




March 21 that while the radio frequency spectrum is generally cluttered, large swaths of bandwidth




often go unused at different times and places.

The XG effort is intended to take




advantage of that unused spectrum, which could lead to a 10-fold increase in spectrum availability, Tether said.

The program features software




that analyzes spectrum and uses




algorithms to determine if troops can broadcast in frequencies




in a particular area without interfering with those




already assigned to the band. The radios can sense interference and then leap to




a new frequency, where they will communicate for as long as it is




available,




according to McHenry, who




led DARPA’s research in this area prior to founding Shared Spectrum.

In addition to making more spectrum available, the XG effort could help address the problem of enemy jamming, Tether said in his testimony. The radios’ ability to determine which frequencies are




in use and hop




to unused bands also could cut down on what some Pentagon officials say is the bigger problem of




unintentional interference by




friendly forces




,




McHenry said.

Details




still are being developed, but the upcoming test




likely will involve




up to 25 radios, McHenry said during a Dec. 20 interview. Prior demonstrations




include




transmissions from an unmanned aerial vehicle to the ground this past fall at the Loring Commerce Center, a former U.S. Air Force




base in Maine, and from a U.S. Navy ship to shore during the Trident Warrior exercise off




Virginia this past March, he said.

As part of the DARPA contract, Shared Spectrum is




working to incorporate its technology into radios supplied by




Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., and Thales Communications




Inc. of Clarksburg, Md., for the experiment.




The company envisions




licensing its technology to those firms and other radio manufacturers, McHenry said.




Shared Spectrum also is




talking with




the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps about the possibility of a follow-on contract to equip Thales and Harris radios with the software for operational use, according to Sal D’Itri, director of sales and marketing for Shared Spectrum.





Shared Spectrum might build radios in-house for niche applications like small unmanned aerial vehicles and ground-based robots used




for purposes including bomb inspection and disposal




, D’Itri said. Operators of these vehicles are struggling to get the necessary radio frequency assignments, he said.







For hazardous missions such as bomb disposal, overcoming jamming is especially critical because the inability to communicate with robotic vehicles would force people to put themselves in harm’s way, D’Itri said.



Though




currently focused on the




military market




, Shared Spectrum




believes




the XG technology could have civil or commercial




uses as well, McHenry said. The company




already is working with the National Institute of Justice, the research and development arm of the U.S. Justice Department, on applying the technology to radios used by public safety officials, he said.

Satellite applications also are envisioned for the technology. McHenry said




Shared Spectrum is




working with another company, which he declined to identify, that has offered to host its technology on a satellite




. Space-based applications include expanding the frequencies available for satellite-to-ground communications as well as identifying zones of available spectrum for radio operators on the ground, he said.