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Pushing MANETs to the Spear's Tip

November 14, 2011
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
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The U.S. Coast Guard 1st District is making plans to extend its network of disparate yet connected radio frequencies down to its front lines. Though still involved in testing the first type of router that enables these mobile ad hoc networks, personnel will experiment with a more recent version later this month by installing the new tools in two aircraft. If all goes according to plan, the smaller, lighter technology could make its way into the vests of boarding-team leaders, giving them the ability to connect with higher headquarters via not only voice, but also full-motion video and videoteleconferencing. In addition, the routers should enable more data sharing including information collected by sensors, allowing experts at various locations to evaluate the readings and help inform better decisions.

Lt. Ryan Kowalske, USCG, with the district explains that his organization has employed the Cisco 891 router to enable transmissions among different Coast Guard and local partners' radio networks in the Boston Harbor area. The radios have the ability to connect with the router in real time. Officials now are looking to increase the assets they can connect by evaluating and potentially fielding the more portable 5915 Embedded Services Router.

The lieutenant explains that though the 5915 offers several new capabilities that can benefit missions, the most important feature to the 1st District is the smaller size. At approximately 4 inches by 4 inches and with its blade-only configuration, the router fits in many places its larger counterparts cannot.

Another feature of particular interest to Lt. Kowalske is the Dynamic Link Exchange Protocol (DLEP), which addresses challenges that network personnel face when merging Internet protocol routing and radio frequency communications. According to Cisco, DLEP offers several benefits to users including faster convergence and optimal route selection to avoid the disruption of delay-sensitive traffic; reduced impact on radio equipment by minimizing internal queuing and buffering as well as providing consistent quality of service for networks with multiple radios; and enabling delivery of network-based applications and information over radio links.

Murray Duff, mobility programs manager, Cisco Global Government Solutions Group, explains that his company's 5900 series, which includes the 5915 and 5940 routers, addresses the issues of dynamic access to information anytime, anywhere, whether on the move or in a fixed location and with reduced size, weight and power draw. The routers also are designed to stand up to extreme environmental conditions and for use by personnel who are not experts in communications or signals. "The 5900 delivers ad hoc mobility," Duff states. "It builds the network on its own."

He says that with its specification and capabilities, he believes the 5900s primarily can benefit four groups: defense, first responders, transportation and vehicle fleets. Cisco has had the most interest from the first-responder and transportation sectors but wants to find the right solution for the military. Company officials are working with the U.S. Army to include the routers in a future Network Integration Evaluation (NIE). "We want to have it in the next NIE in the spring," Duff says. Through the event, developers hope that warfighters find a solution for some of their network needs and also provide feedback on what can improve the products for field use.