Friday, September 09, 2005

the age of the mobile device

The Wireless Road Ahead

Trace Gunsch | Military Information Technology Online Archives
This article was Originally Published on Jul 09, 2004 in Volume: 8 Issue: 5

Warfighters need to understand the changes brought about by wireless technology and begin to adapt doctrine and procedures to these capabilities.

The age of the personal computer is rapidly being replaced by the age of the mobile device. From cell phones and personal digital assistants to Internet cafes and highway traffic systems, wireless systems are changing the interactions of our society.

In the military, wireless communications are affecting all areas of our business, from logistics and training to collaboration and medical. Wireless systems have and will continue to have an impact on our military in all of these areas. Our warfighters need to understand these changes and begin to adapt doctrine and procedures to make the best use of these capabilities.

Wireless technologies are causing great changes to the health care industry and military health care, for example. Wearable computers and sensors, embedded in clothing or strapped directly to the body, allow continuous monitoring of patients and instant feedback to medical personnel. In the not-too-distant future, miniature robotic devices, called nanobots, will be able to travel throughout the body, in the bloodstream or other channels, and will receive commands and transmit data wirelessly.

These wearable sensors and nanobots can provide continual data of blood cell counts, oxygen content, blood pressure and pulse, which can be automatically logged into databases for trend analysis. Medical professionals can then monitor trends in real time, and receive notification when unusual events occur.

Nanobots can also be instructed to hunt for specific bacteria, cancerous cells or other targets, and provide exact location information to a medic. At Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies for the Objective Force Warrior Program, researchers are looking into using nanobots to deliver specific drugs directly to affected tissue or perform precision elimination of damaged cells. They are also hoping to develop nanobots that would detect if a soldier were injured and either cauterize the wound or act as a tourniquet. Such nanobots could remain in the bloodstream, constantly monitoring a warfighter’s health, and waiting for additional instructions, delivered wirelessly.

There are certainly many concerns about nanobots in the warfighter’s bloodstream, both ethical and physical, but with wireless capability, security also becomes a major concern. While these nanobots offer many potential advantages, they must have safeguards to prevent an enemy hacker disabling the warfighter through false data, or worse, through attacking healthy cells.

Another area for wireless in the medical field is to further enable telemedicine and remote consultation. Already, telecommunications is enabling medical specialists to consult on cases around the world using video teleconferencing software. Wireless communications extends these capabilities to the soldier in a foxhole, allowing medical experts to be many “places” at once, advising medics and monitoring patients through a variety of sensors.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is already in use in the civilian sector for conducting wireless inventories of livestock, pallet shipments and expensive equipment such as medical test units. In October 2003, the Department of Defense announced a mandate that all suppliers attach RFID tags to their palletized products by January 2005. In the future, wireless tags will be attached to all individual items to make tracking of inventory even more precise.

In the commercial world and in the military, this wireless technology will greatly improve inventory efforts and cut down on theft. A user will be able to send out an electronic signal inside a warehouse, for example, and every device will respond back with serial number, expiration date or other requested information. These benefits of wireless will not be achieved, however, without some adaptation of current logistics policies. For instance, many organizations presently mandate visual confirmation of serial numbers for inventories. As RFID matures, these policies need to adapt to allow wireless inventories.

In the Tactical Arena

Wireless has been a staple of tactical communications for decades, so the impact of growth in wireless communications will not change the way the military operates in the tactical environment. Instead, the result is a myriad of technical problems the military must solve before expanding the use of wireless in the tactical world. The tactical arena is the primary area where the military’s needs for wireless communications differ substantially from the commercial world.

Industry has the same needs and challenges for business, educational, medical and logistical uses for wireless. Even security, though usually not a life-and-death issue for industry, is of high concern because of the need to prevent industrial espionage or virus sabotage. On the battlefield, however, many additional factors come into play.

The most obvious challenge for the battlefield is sheer capacity. The military’s appetite for wireless bandwidth is never satisfied, with sensors and data-acquiring devices competing with warfighter communications for airtime in an effort to provide decision-makers the most complete operational picture and enable the net-centric warfare concept.

Warfighters also have much more stringent mobility requirements than their civilian counterparts. The typical business road warrior can rely on a somewhat solid infrastructure of cell towers and wireless access points. The warfighter’s network consists of mobile antennas, mobile routers and a constantly changing network routing structure. This creates a need for networks and networking devices that can self-configure and automatically find neighbor nodes and routing paths, a concept known as ad hoc networking.

Bandwidth and mobility aren’t the only obstacles that are more difficult for the tactical military than for industry. Interference is a much tougher obstacle to overcome because tall towers, which in the commercial world provide line of sight over hilltops, trees and buildings, are risky to erect on the battlefield. Communications jamming is another obstacle that most commercial users do not have to overcome. Emissions are also a concern, where any source of radio waves signals represents a potential target to the enemy—the more emissions, the more valuable of the target. These areas are where the military needs to focus its research efforts, finding ways to adapt commercial products for military use, if at all possible, or creating military-unique solutions, if not.

New Wireless Uses

The growth of wireless capabilities is a given and is causing great ripples of impact to our society and our military. The military needs to deal with the changes caused by wireless technologies in three particular ways.

Defense planners need to recognize the social changes that wireless brings and adapt to make the best use of them, for example by reconsidering policies and procedures that will stifle the positive use of wireless. In training efforts, instructors should seek methods of incorporating wireless capabilities into their courses, enabling out-of-classroom training, field trips, study groups and other programs.

Logisticians can greatly utilize wireless advantages by changing outmoded inventory policies and adopting RFID tagging. Military personnel at all echelons need to recognize the negative effects of wireless and adapt to those as well, in particular the risk of information overload and competition for our attention, and the ethical and security concerns of wireless medical uses.

Program managers need to look at their programs with fresh eyes to see where wireless capabilities can enhance capabilities. For example, the Phrasealator, which provides limited translation capability for warfighters in foreign lands, could be greatly enhanced with a wireless capability. Not only would wireless communication allow the handheld device access to ever-improving language databases, but also those databases could contain multiple languages, giving the Phrasealator far more capability than the current pop-in modules. Further, wireless communication could allow a warfighter to request translation services from a remote military translator, in real-time or delayed, as the case warrants. Many other military programs could benefit similarly by investigating wireless capabilities.

The military has limited resources to apply to research and development of wireless capabilities. We need to focus these resources in those areas where the military’s needs differ substantially from industry, such as ad hoc networking, emissions prevention and jamming. In other areas, where industry has a similar focus, such as RFID, bandwidth growth, medical and security, the military needs to take more of an advisory role, encouraging and assisting from the sidelines.

Trace Gunsch is critical skills expert, Emerging Technology, Technology Integration Center, Army Information Systems Engineering Command.

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++ Related

Trace Gunsch | Maximum Wireless | | Volume: 9 Issue: 6 | Published: Aug 25, 2005

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Adapting Future Wireless Technologies

Abstract: The Army Science Board Panel focused on: (I) Identifying and assessing wireless technologies that may enhance and support the features required to ensure tactical information dominance; (2) Addressing the role of information management in sizing system capacity and issues such as quality of service; (3) Evaluating the degree of enhancement that could be offered by commercial technologies in each of the layers in the 3-D architecture (terrestrial, A/B, space) to achieve connectivity; (4) Addressing vulnerabilities and methods to counter use by adversaries. (5) Addressing issues posed by legacy systems. (6) Addressing joint and coalition issues. The Panel's overarching recommendations include investing more in wireless infrastructure based on commercial advances, focusing management attention on communications UAVs and payloads, developing systems capable of multiple air interfaces with access to multiple bands, establishing an Army process for systematically evaluating new, disruptive technologies & integrating them into the GIG, and treating Army wireless systems in a merged context of "Network Operations" comprising converged voice and data. The Panel also recommends that JTRS should be directed toward incorporating future commercial waveforms, and that the spectrum management business model should be reengineered to support flexible, shared access to spectrum.

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Broadening the Army’s Bandwidth

The Army is transforming itself from a heavy Cold War force to a much more agile one, which it has dubbed the future force. A crucial part of that transformation requires the Army to shift its communications from being segmented to being networked. The difference is that in the former it is easy to communicate up and down vertical communication stovepipes but not across them. In the latter, any node in the network can communicate with any other node. Networked communications require considerable bandwidth, which facilitates the capacity to send and receive information. The Army is concerned about whether it has enough bandwidth available and asked RAND Arroyo Center to determine the nature and extent of potential bandwidth problems for the future force. The specific concern is whether enough capacity exists to meet the operational requirements spelled out for the future force. The results of that research appear in Future Army Bandwidth Needs and Capabilities.


Spectrum reuse is key to achieving as much capacity as possible. Directional antennas facilitate reuse even with fixed frequency allocations. Fully dynamic spectrum management could aid even greater reuse of the spectrum by doing away with the need for static channel/frequency assignments. Dynamic spectrum management finds available frequencies that may not be used at a particular time. DARPA is developing technologies to enable dynamic access to radio frequency spectrum. This important technology concept needs to receive continued support.

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