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25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
A series of posts describing how this all came about. (Click on picture above)

Monday, June 23, 2008

COTS* Millimeter Wave Technology
Was Opposed by DoD's IRAC Representatives
is Now Saving Lives in Iraq:

Dual Use Spectrum Technology in Practice

An article in USA Today introduced Project Angel Fire to the public,
"A Marine in Iraq scans a screen with images of the streets he'll soon patrol. Spotting suspicious movement, he replays the digital video, just like a TV viewer who's missed a play from a football game.

The cutting-edge surveillance system, called Angel Fire, uses aircraft armed with cameras to monitor the battlefield. It gives troops what U.S. commanders in Iraq have sought for years: a persistent, bird's-eye view to search roads and neighborhoods for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the insurgents who plant them.

'Angel Fire distributes real-time imagery straight to the war fighter, providing the ability to zoom in and observe an area more closely,' John Young, director of Defense Research and Engineering at the Pentagon, told Congress in March. 'Angel Fire also allows for playback of significant events with a 'TiVo-like' capability to monitor areas.' "

A more detailed description of the project from the Air Force Institute of Technology states,
"Project Angel Fire’s sub-title is “Wide Area Persistent Imaging of City Sized Area for Rapid Deployment to Theater”. It is a USSTRATCOM sponsored - U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) supported project aimed at providing real time tactical level situational awareness to commanders and soldiers in theater this year. We accomplish this aim by producing intelligence sufficient to identify and track both people and vehicles using ultra large format digital 6 to 54 11-megapixel camera arrays to collect town to city-sized images at 0.5 meter ground sampling distances. Project Angel Fire’s system georectifies these images and can send them to anywhere from one to several hundred users in real time using commercial wireless data links. The system records past data enabling a TiVo-like playback of any area of the town at any sized image at full resolution. This rapid development effort has in six months demonstrated the capability to provide real time tactical situational awareness to battle field commanders and soldiers in the field or at command posts.

It also provides the intelligence community the ability to develop longer term intelligence analysis of organizations’ social networks by tracking and observing their interactions between different locations. Also during these first six months we have developed two flying prototype systems and are working on a fully deployable and scaleable system. Portions of our project are preparing to deploy to the Iraqi theater in support of the Army Mohawk Stare program.

Forty-one graduate students and four faculty members of the Research and Development Management Program, the Operational Technology Certificate Program and the Systems Design and Management Program supported this project. To date the Angel Fire project has received approximately $2.1M from the intelligence community and USSTRATCOM, and we are leveraging significantly more resources through our partnering arrangements."

So, how do you get high resolution real time video from a military aircraft to ground based units? Apparently the DoD technology base had no convenient solutions, so the AFIT developers with help from Los Alamos National Laboratory turned to COTS technology. Note the white object at the right end of the Angel Fire unit shown above. It is an HXI Terabeam commercial millimeter wave point-to-point system that was procured off the shelf for Project Angel Fire and used unmodified except for an external gimbal mount.

I have recounted on my website the history of the FCC millimeter wave rules. That discussions focuses on the internal FCC problems, but it turns out that there were other problems with coordination with NTIA and IRAC. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has been delegated the President's 47 USC 305 power to regulate federal agency use of spectrum in parallel with FCC's authority. But in practice most of NTIA's spectrum decisions are made by the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee, an interagency committee (actually the oldest in the Federal Government) that meets in a windowless room in the Herbert Hoover Commerce Department Building every 2 weeks with only occasional outside observers. FCC and NTIA have agreed to coordinate spectrum policy decisions with each other in bands that are shared. As you can see from the table excerpt here, unlike lower bands virtually all the millimeter wave bands are shared because the two agencies have never divided them up in into "his" and "hers" and "ours" like the lower bands. Thus all spectrum policy decisions become mutual issues.

When FCC went to IRAC to discuss the civil use proposals in Dockets 94-124 and 02-146 we argued that dual use was good for both sides as DoD could no longer afford to be the sole user of spectrum regions because of the fixed costs of component development. This concept of "dual use"was not an FCC-originated one, rather it came from the the R&D leaders of the Pentagon who were pushing dual use in general.

A DARPA-funded study by Potomac Institute for Policy Studies concluded

1. Dual use can make major improvements in warfighting capabilities and affordability of military systems – and it is faster.

2. Commercial success is crucial to maximizing military benefits through dual use.

But the DoD representatives at IRAC don't work for the R&D people, they work for the operational side of the military and were concerned about creating facts that would block future military use of spectrum. At lower bands, sharing is more difficult because omnidirectional antennas are often used and radio wave propagation allows signals to go a long distance. But in the millimeter wave region , highly directional antennas (less thank 1 degree beamwidth) are usually used and atmospheric molecular absorption, insignificant at lower bands, limits propagation and hence interference potential.

Only with great difficulty did FCC succeed in obtaining the cooperation of NTIA and IRAC to permit rules to be adopted in Dockets 94-124 and 02-146 since there were no civil "requirements" for millimeter wave spectrum in their eyes. (NTIA and IRAC had tried in the early 1980s to block for different reasons the spread spectrum rules in Docket 83-114 that ultimately became the basis of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.)

So it is ironic today that the DoD uses both Wi-Fi technology and millimeterwave technology to further its missions. Dual use can be a win-win situation for the both the civil economy and DoD. I hope that the spectrum managers at DoD, IRAC, and NTIA look at the lessons here, read the quoted Potomac Institute report, and consider dual use issues in their considerations of new spectrum technologies.

* COTS = commercial off the shelf

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