Defense Research Agency Pushes for Wireless Fiber

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking to develop an ultra-high bandwidth wireless equivalent to fiber optics.  DARPA's wishes have a knack for creating commercial applications, with the Internet itself being the best example of a DARPA project with civilian implications. This newest DARPA R&D program aims to develop "a fiber-equivalent communications create a 100 Gb/s (gigabit per second) data link that achieves a range greater than 200 kilometers (120 miles) between airborne assets and a range greater than 100 kilometers (62 miles) between an airborne asset (at 60,000 feet) and the ground."

The aim of DARPA's 100 Gb/s RF Backbone (100G) program is "to meet the weight and power metrics of the Common Data Link (CDL) deployed by forces today for high-capacity data streaming from platforms," it explained. Established in 1991, CDL is the military's main protocol for imagery and signals intelligence.

Cloud cover poses a "major challenge" to developing the DARPA 100 Gb/s RF Backbone. The agency goes on to explain that "free-space optical links won't propagate through the cloud layer, which means RF (radio frequency) is the only option." As envisaged, the 100G wireless backbone will be designed to operate in all weather, "enabling tactically relevant data throughput and link ranges through clouds, fog or rain."

Technical advances in millimeter-wave frequency modulation "opens the door to achieving 100G's goals," according to the agency. "Providing fiber-optic-equivalent capacity on a radio frequency carrier will require spectrally efficient use of available RF spectrum," Dick Ridgway, DARPA program manager, elaborated.

"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."

Looking to partner with private sector contractors, DARPA's scheduled a 100G program "Proposers' Day Conference" at its Contracts Management Office in Washington D.C. January 9. Further details are available on the federal government's website. 

Written by Kevin Kutcher at 10:00
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