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DARPA wants to build 100Gbps wireless military network

The Defense Department agency is soliciting input on a wireless communications backbone that would provide high-speed streaming for air-to-ground and ground-to-ground links over long distances.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
2 min read

Defense researchers are looking to update the wireless platform currently used for military communications to deliver 100Gbps connections.

While fiber-optic cables provide the long-haul backbone for most data and voice communications networks without issue, radio signals often face electronic interference and degradation over long distances, resulting in reduced communications efficiency to soldiers in the field.

The current Common Data Link, the U.S. military's secure communications protocol created in 1991, operates at data rates of up to 274Mbps. To boost that speed, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is inviting input on creation of a new wireless communications platform that would match the weight and power of the current CDL.

DARPA has announced that a "proposer's day" will be held next month to brief participants on the 100G program, which aims "to design, build, and test a communications link with fiber-optic-equivalent capacity, long reach, and high availability in airborne-to-airborne and airborne-to-ground configurations that can serve as a deployable data backbone in a military communications network."

The goal is to utilize airborne assets to provide high-capacity data streaming over 100 kilometers for air-to ground links and 200km for air-to-air links, the agency said today.

"Providing fiber-optic-equivalent capacity on a radio frequency carrier will require spectrally efficient use of available RF spectrum," Dick Ridgway, DARPA program manager, said in a statement. "100G plans to demonstrate how high-order modulation and spatial multiplexing can be synergistically combined to achieve 100 Gigabits per second with the size, weight and power needed for a deployable system. We believe that to achieve the program's goals requires the convergence of telecommunications system providers and the defense communications tech base."

DARPA said one of the central challenges to the platform will be weather. The 100G backbone must provide tactically relevant throughput and link ranges through clouds, rain, and fog.