LTE and WLAN Connect Conflict and Disaster Zones

Cellular and consumer networking technologies evolved from past military developments. Yet the fast pace of consumer technology development did not need to prioritize key facets demanded by military and public safety, such as ruggedization and security. Now, the faster evolution of consumer technology has turned the tables. Critical communications is leveraging Long Term Evolution (LTE) and wireless local-area networking (WLAN) to access higher data rates and ensure other performance improvements.

Public safety and military communications (MilCom) must provide constant, secure, reliable communications between individuals, dispatchers, and the infrastructure. Yet these networks face threats from severe weather, attacks, fires, and more. Network deployments also vary, ranging from rural regions with limited infrastructure to the crowded signal environments of cities. Using a combination of LTE and WLAN in addition to existing network technologies, emergency-responder and MilCom networks are improving network coverage while adding key capabilities.

An example is data sharing in real time while simplifying the inclusion of more users. The higher data rates and increased coverage afforded by LTE and WLAN also aid in providing enhanced situational awareness. For instance, geographic information, such as maps and building blueprints, can be combined with high-definition images and video from drones, personnel, and other sources at the scene.

For emergency responders in particular, WLAN networks offer ease of deployment, the potential for a hybrid solution, and low cost. In addition, the emergence of the 6 GHz IEEE 802.11ax standard allows for dedicated channels that can be centrally supervised. Public safety generally uses ad-hoc networks to cover traffic spikes during an event or to extend coverage to remote areas. Often, these networks are referred to as either a wireless ad-hoc network (WANET) or mobile ad-hoc network (MANET). Both are self-configuring and self-organizing networks of mobile devices.

Because these networks can be formed rapidly, they are a top choice for emergency scenarios and military conflict zones. Soldiers use both handheld and in-vehicle devices, which form the network nodes. Military ad-hoc networks also comprise unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and ship area networks.

LTE Takes on Critical Communications

In a battlefield scenario using traditional communications equipment, troops waste time conveying information such as their location and the enemy’s position. In contrast, LTE capabilities allow them to share images and video in real time in addition to sending texts or simply talking. Collecting and merging this information gives the military enhanced situational awareness.

An LTE public safety system supports core critical communications features such as push-to-talk, peer-to-peer operation, and prioritization. It also enables personnel to take advantage of high-definition feeds, such as closed-circuit television and other sources for applications like facial recognition. Individual nations continue to dedicate broadband networks for public safety. For example, the U.S. First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) licenses the 759 to 769 MHz and 788 to 799 MHz frequency bands.

Just this month, Lockheed Martin revealed an LTE-over-satellite system that will serve emergency responders as well as families disconnected by network failures from natural disasters. With the LTE-over-Satellite solution, individuals use their existing commercial phones to connect to a pop-up cellular network that is connected directly to a satellite. Hotspots can be mounted to vehicles, trucks, or ships to provide additional connectivity. With a vehicular-mounted device, a first responder has continuous LTE-over-satellite connectivity traveling to and into the scene.

As this example shows, the adoption of LTE and WLAN for critical communications will continue to evolve with the technologies. Fifth-generation (5G) cellular will eventually play a role in military and public-safety communications as well. With ongoing growth in reliability, security, and data capabilities, critical communications dramatically improves situational awareness, monitoring, and response. Ultimately, leveraging these consumer-first technologies helps first responder and military units save lives.

Learn more about how Keysight supports military and public-safety communications here.