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Mobile 4G networks using satellite

13th June 2014

A 4G network that is simple to set up over satellite has been developed not once but twice, for military use and Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR), as shown at British APCO Manchester.

The military as well as those working in Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR) have long sought a safe, fast, mobile network for use in the field. Two UK projects are close to achieving this using 4G. Funding for both, called LYNX and HYDRA, come from industry and the Technology Strategy Board.

The HYDRA programme

Project HYDRA has been developed with partners Avanti, Quortus and British APCO. This is a 4G network that can be used in any location, with any mobile device including smartphones. It achieves independence from the use of fixed line or existing mobile networks through super fast Ka-band satellite backhaul.

You’ll get a fully functioning, and private, 4G network spread over an area of 2km with HYDRA, the first such network of this kind. Transmissions such as data and calls can be made securely. There’s no interference in signals. The system aids search and rescue by pinpointing the mobile signal of disaster victims.

Immediate backhaul for 4G communications is built in the system’s functionality, as it can be transported anywhere, as well as deployed permanently in a static facility. HYDRA will also work with 2G and 3G.

Avanti’s Ka-band HYLAS satellites and Artemis multiband satellite are used by HYDRA. Compared to traditional satellite networks, Ka-band provides faster downloads and uploads at a cheaper rate.

Indran Sivarajah, consultant with Avanti, has been quoted as saying that the company wants to demonstrate ‘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.’ It is thought that potential capability might be 60Mpbs (download) or more with 20Mbps upload.

Unique to HYDRA is the use of Quortus core network and satellite optimisation software implemented in a small form factor. For the first time advanced network features can be used in a tactical solution.

Network features such as edge caching and presence information for mobile apps, traffic compression and aggregation, session creation, smart voice and data offload, and switching and handoff.

According to Sivarajah, interest has been shown by the US military, which may use the system in easy to carry backpacks. The solution could also be applied on oil and gas rigs, and in communications such as ship to shore.

The LYNX programme

Compact enough to fit in a suitcase, project LYNX is a rugged (IP65), highly mobile K-band sitcom terminal. Partners in its development are Avanti, Alcatel-Lucent, British APCO, Cobham and NSL.

PPDR responders would be able to use the solution to quickly setup high bandwidth, IP-based communications, should comms systems go down or where relief is required in remote locations. Its first outing was a demonstration in April at British APCO’s event, using Avanti’s Ka-band satellite network.

The portable suitcase form factor for the solution was developed by Cobham Technical Services. The company developed a flat panel antenna that is easy to store, specifically for this project. It covers commercial and military Ka-bands and operates over 2GHz of bandwidth.

Integral to the rugged suitcase terminal, along with the antenna, are the RF components, modem and AC/DC PSU. Everything you’d need to set up a broadband satellite link in minutes, contained in a suitcase that is wheeled, has handles, and fits most airline’s requirements for hand luggage.

The suitcase can also be expanded with plug-in models. Alcatel-Lucent has a 3G mobile phone small cell in development. This links a small amount of 3G coverage around the LYNX terminal to the home network over the satellite.

Meanwhile NSL has come up with a GNSS monitoring station module. With this you’ll get real-time GNSS data access globally. The module is made up of top-end GPS and dual frequency (E1/E5a) receiver, GALILEO that transfers GNSS data through the LYNX satellite terminal to a central processing facility.

In development at Avanti is a caching server module. This provides access to files stored in the module, on a hard drive, through mobile phones or tablets using wifi access. Use of satellite bandwidth by multiple users gaining local access to files is kept minimal as files are synchronised with a Cloud server over the satellite.

Cobham is developing a mesh radio system. Armed forces would use this with push-to-talk handheld terminals enabling secure, encrypted group calls that would include VOIP over satellite calls. Should one be developed, a TETRA module could also be plugged into the LYNX suitcase.

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