Mobile 4G networks over satellite

Two UK projects have developed a man-portable, easily deployable 4G network over satellite for use by military and PPDR users, as James Atkinson finds out at British APCO Manchester

Mobile 4G networks over satellite

The search to provide the military and PPDR (Public Protection and Disaster Relief) community with secure, high-speed mobile networks has taken a step forward in the UK with two programmes, Projects LYNX and HYDRA, co-funded by the Technology Strategy Board and industry.

Project HYDRA

Project HYDRA is a mobile system designed to provide a 4G network via high-speed Ka-band satellite backhaul, which enables complete independence from existing fixed line and mobile networks.

It can be used anywhere with any smartphone or mobile device. The HYDRA project partners are Avanti, Quortus and British APCO.

HYDRA is the first solution of its type and provides a fully capable private 4G private network over a radius of 2km. It can securely transmit data, make calls without interference and even locate disaster victims using the signal from their mobile phones.

It can be deployed as a transportable platform, providing immediate backhaul for 4G communications and can be configured for 2G and 3G. It can also be installed as a permanent feature in areas where additional capacity is often required.

The system uses Avanti’s Ka-band HYLAS satellites and Artemis multiband satellite. Ka-band has the advantage of providing higher download and upload speeds at lower costs than traditional satellite networks.

Indran Sivarajah, consultant with Avanti, tells Wireless: ‘We want to demonstrate that we can provide a reliable 4G service via Avanti’s Ka-band satellite that is the equal of terrestrial networks. The results we are getting here are 10Mbps download speeds on a mobile handset and 5Mbps on the upload.’ However, the potential capability is thought to be in excess of 60Mpbs download and 20Mbps upload.

What is new about the HYDRA system is that by applying Quortus core network and satellite optimisation software in small footprint tactical solutions, it enables advanced network features to be handled at the edge for the first time.

Features include: smart voice and data offload, session creation, switching and handoff, traffic compression and aggregation, edge caching and presence information for mobile apps.

Sivarajah says the US military are interested in using the system in man-portable backpacks. Other applications include oil and gas rigs and ship to shore communications.

Project LYNX

Project LYNX is developing a ruggedised (IP65) light-weight, portable Ka-band satcom terminal, fitted in a compact suitcase. Project partners are Avanti, Alcatel-Lucent, British APCO, Cobham and NSL.

The goal is to enable PPDR responders to rapidly deploy high bandwidth, IP-based communications in remote locations or where comms systems have been lost. The system was demonstrated over Avanti’s Ka-band satellite network at British APCO’s April event in Manchester.

Adrian Payne, senior consultant with Cobham Technical Services, explains that Cobham has developed the portable suitcase form factor, which uses an easily stowable, flat panel antenna developed for the project. It can work over 2GHz of bandwidth and covers both commercial and military Ka-bands.

The terminal integrates the antenna, RF components, modem and AC/DC PSU into one rugged suitcase fitted with wheels and handles – it can be checked in as hand luggage on an aircraft. In short, it contains everything needed to set up a broadband satellite communications link in just a few minutes.

The suitcase also has room for extra plug-in modules. For example, Alcatel-Lucent is developing a 3G mobile phone small cell. This creates a bubble of 3G coverage around the LYNX terminal, which links back over the satellite to the home network.

NSL is developing a GNSS monitoring station module providing real-time direct access to GNSS data from global locations. It consists of high-end GPS and GALILEO, a dual frequency (E1/E5a) receiver, which seamlessly connects to the LYNX satellite terminal for transferring GNSS data from the field to a central processing facility.

Avanti is working on a caching server module, which will provide Wi-Fi access via mobile phones or tablets to files stored on a hard drive in the module. This synchronises files with a Cloud server over satellite, enabling multiple users to gain local access to files, such as mapping data, while minimising the use of satellite bandwidth.

Payne says: ‘At Cobham we are looking at a mesh radio system, which would enable soldiers with push-to-talk handheld terminals to make secure, encrypted group calls, including VOIP over satellite calls. Although it has not been developed yet, a TETRA module could also be plugged into the LYNX terminal.’

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