Mobile Ad Hoc Networks: Connectivity and Interoperability on the Fly

By Joseph Straw

The U.S. Government and communications vendors continue their slow, but steady progress toward the goal of providing interoperable communications for first responders. They also seek ways to improvise with mobile networks when the need arises, such as when natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina take out entire network infrastructures or when the laws of physics keep radio signals from penetrating places like snaking canyons and the bowels of container ships.

Digital Internet Protocol (IP) technology offers a means of achieving connectivity on the fly and establishing interoperability by bridging separate systems digitally. One way of extending this technology’s reach is through a mobile ad hoc network (MANET). The system builds on wireless mesh network technology commonly used to link industrial sensors as well as some sensors used in “smart” homes.

A MANET is a type of self-forming network similar to stationary mesh networks. Every device—whether a notebook computer, smart phone, or wireless router—serves as a relay point. Unlike a wireless hotspot, in which devices connect to a single router like spokes to a hub, on a MANET, data can hop from wireless device to wireless device, forming a chain. With an Internet connection at just one end, the physical extent of the network is limited only by the number of devices and their individual ranges.

CoCo Communications Corp. of Seattle has applied MANET technology in a boarding-team solution developed for the U.S. Coast Guard. When a team boards a vessel, it carries with it a set of CoCo tactical mesh routers (TMR), each about the size of a soda can and weighing roughly a pound and a half. When activated, the first TMR will display a green light indicating a strong network signal from the patrol vessel.

(To continue reading, "MANET Makes an Impression," from the September issue, click here.)

♦ Photo of Tactical Mesh Router courtesy of CoCo Communications Corp.


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