DARPA's Mobile Hotspots program uses a variety of technologies to extend communications to far-flung military units in combat. (DARPA)
DARPA has entered phase two of its Mobile Hotspots program to provide 1 Gb/s communications backbone to deployed units.
L-3 communications and FIRST RF are leading teams made up of participants from the first phase, according to DARPA. The goals for the second round include integrating some of the Phase One technologies into Shadow-compatible aerial pods and ground vehicles.
This second phase will end with demonstrations of at least four Shadow-compatible pods, two ground vehicles and a fixed ground node. DARPA plans a third phase that will include field testing of the Mobile Hotspot systems on networks of multiple SRQ-7 Shadow UAVs and mobile ground vehicles.
The overall goal of the program is to develop a reliable capability to provide connectivity between tactical operations centers and deployed troops deep in the field. The program is building and demonstrating a scalable, mobile millimeter-wave communications backhaul network mounted on small UAVs, providing a 1 Gb/s capacity.
“We’re pleased with the technical achievements we’ve seen so far in steerable millimeter-wave antennas and millimeter-wave amplifier technology,” said Dick Ridgway, DARPA program manager. “These successes—and the novel networking approaches needed to maintain these high-capacity links—are key to providing forward deployed units with the same high-capacity connectivity we all enjoy over our 4G cell-phone networks.”
Phase 1 accomplishments include:
Smaller, steerable millimeter-wave antennas: Enables the formation of a high-capacity backhaul network between aerial and ground platforms.
Low-noise amplifiers: Boosts the desired communications signal while minimizing unwanted noise. The prototype achieved the record for the world’s lowest noise millimeter-wave LNA at about half the noise figure of a typical LNA.
More efficient and capable power amplifiers: Efficient millimeter-wave amplification is required to achieve the long ranges, more than 50 km, desired in the Mobile Hotspots program.
New approaches for robust airborne networking: Solutions to overcome connectivity and network topology challenges associated with mobility and signal blockages due to terrain and platform shadowing.
Low-Size, Weight, and Power (SWAP) pod design to carry it all: The program requires pods to weigh no more than 20 pounds, measure no wider than 8 inches, and consume no more than 150 watts of power.