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US Army wants a UMTS network to play with

The US Army’s Communications Electronics Command has ordered an HSDPA-enabled UMTS network from Nokia North America, with a view to “exploring the possibilities of 3G wireless broadband for defence purposes”. The system will be installed at one of the Army’s Research & Development Centres.

This seems to be part of a broader test program, as the Army was also recently reported to be acquiring IEEE 802.16e Mobile WiMAX equipment from Samsung. The US and British armies have both recently had traumatic experiences procuring modern mobile communications systems, with the UK’s Bowman project running late, vastly over budget and suffering some serious technical issues, with the US’s JTRS (Joint Tactical Radio System) going much the same way before being radically cut back.

An alternative some have proposed is to go for so called COTS systems. Depending on who you talk to, the acronym means either Cheap Off The Shelf or Civilian Off The Shelf. Given that many civilian mobile radio systems have progressed dramatically whilst JTRS ground its way through the works, including the development of ruggedised rapid-deployment versions for remote and hostile locations, and that more and more encryption is today done at the application level, the interest is clear.

South Korea, meanwhile, has already taken the plunge – its formidable army is planning to migrate all its radio communications onto a national 802.16 network with deployable capability, as part of a reorganisation for “Ubiquitous Defence”. Some of the motivation may be to help Samsung commercialise its leading position in WiMAX/WiBro protocol design, but it is also a sign of the possibilities.

Alternatively, the US Army could just be studying how to jam the radio signals. Iraqi insurgents do not have 3G coverage yet but they are notorious for using mobile phones to command detonate their roadside bombs, so much so that the US Army has taken to using 900MHz RF jammers on its supply convoys.

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