Man-portable mobile video in the field

The German Army can now create its own mobile network on the battlefield using a man-portable product capable of streaming video. James Atkinson reports from DSEi 2013

Man-portable mobile video in the field

Cisco’s embedded services router division has teamed up with STEEP, based in Bonn, Germany, to develop a communication solution capable of transmitting voice, images and video in the field using multiple systems. 

One of STEEP’s core competencies is the integration of quality products into customised service solutions. A key requirement for the project was to use commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components for ease of supply and to keep the cost down. 

The product, designed for the German Army, is known as the MUP - or mobile unified platform. The 180 x 180 x 100mm MUP comes in a either a vehicle mounted version or a man-portable one carried in a specially designed rucksack weighing just 17.5kg.

Multiple interfaces

The MUP can be operated via a web browser or via the integrated 6.1” multi-touch display. It comes with a GPS/Galileo chip, while its built-in interfaces include: 1 x MUP expansion slot; 2 x miniPCle; 2 x SFP Ethernet; 1 x 1000B-T; 1 x 100B-T PoE 802.3af; and Bluetooth.

The expansion slot module can handle the following options or extensions: ISDN, SO, E1, FXS; UMTS, HSPDA, HSUPA, and coming in 2014, LTE; 4 x SFP (100MBit/s); USB 2.0/3.0; 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi/WiMAX; and other customer interfaces can be integrated. 

The MUP features an embedded Cisco ESR-5915 router to handle routing protocols, extensions and accredited VPN connections and encryption. The router comes with Cisco IOS software and Cisco Mobile Ready Net capabilities. This provides highly secure data, voice, and video communications to stationary and mobile network nodes across both wired and wireless links.

The rucksack comes with two SmartBatteries (more can be carried, but this adds to the weight), each of which lasts 1.5 hours without external power. It is designed to operate between -31degrees C to +49degrees C and comes with an IP67 certified front panel, IP21 back panel and meets MIL-STD 810F and 461E standards. 

The MUP is mounted on a metal frame inside with four rails, each installed on two shock absorbers. It has fold out passive ventilation flaps and a foam block at the back for 10 wireless telephones to be stored, along with the GeNUCard.

Stefan Dopp, sales at STEEP, explains that the MUP has a range of 200m (it is capable of a 600m range using stronger power sources, but this is illegal in Germany for RF interference reasons). However, the Wi-Fi allows users to create a mesh architecture to extend coverage across a wider area. 

Open source

Dopp says 10 MUPs with 100 mobile phones or laptops would comfortably cover a brigade, allowing the army to build its own network on the battlefield.

‘Essentially there is a PC inside the MUP. You could use Microsoft programs, but the German Army wanted an open source operating system [Debian GNU/Linux 64-bit in this instance]. The brain is in the front panel, which you can remove and install in a vehicle, as it has been designed to fit into a conventional double din slot – the same as the GPS integrated into your car,’ says Dopp.

The administrator can assign SSIDs to the 10 users, who can also control access – all 10 can use the MUP at the same time, or be restricted if a commander needs to prioritise a transmission. Access and monitoring can also be done remotely – a service level agreement requested by the German Army, which has ordered over 70 MUPs so far.

STEEP says the MUP costs around €17,500 in its current German Army configuration. This compares with an average cost for a bespoke combat net radio, which will only provide voice, of around €50,000 per unit.

Derrick Hirschhorn, business development manager, defense, at Cisco says: ‘The ESR-5900 range comes with the Cisco IOS operating system and functions like any other router, but what is special about it is the different form factors. The MUP uses the ESR-5915, but we also have a larger, more robust router – the ESR-5940.’

Written by Wireless magazine
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