Navy plans to hook up ships with 4G LTE

The Navy will put 4G LTE networks on three vessels by the end of the year to better help with mission planning.

An operations specialist aboard an amphibious dock landing ship. Pretty soon smartphones may start to pop up on Navy ships too. U.S. Navy

A few U.S. Navy ships will get their own 4G LTE networks by the end of the year.

The Navy confirmed to Wired that it would place ruggedized 4G LTE networks on three ships to allow for better mission planning.

It represents the first time the Navy has offered cellular service on any of its ships. Also a first, the Navy will be buying tablets and smartphones off the shelf and working with the National Security Agency to secure the devices.

The ships will be using a microwave-based wireless wide area network that can extend out to up to 20 nautical miles, and get speeds of 300 megabits per second. That kind of extension is necessary because the Navy plans to use the wireless network to transmit data like real-time video feeds when its Marines and sailors are aboard other ships or on land on a mission.

The ships' communication system will continue to run via satellite, and won't rely on the wireless network. Satellite is necessary because it's more reliable than a traditional cellular network, particularly at sea, when cellular connection is virtually non-existent. But the less equipment that's reliant on satellite, the more bandwidth is freed up for critical operations.

The deployment of smartphones and tablets, meanwhile, could be seen as a test by the Navy for a potential wider roll out of devices.

The Navy's plan emerges as the U.S. carriers roll out their own 4G LTE networks, with Verizon Wireless ahead of the pack. In fact, the Navy will have its network up in three ships before T-Mobile USA gets 4G LTE, which is slated to launch some time next year.

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