A Mobile Starbucks Hotspot, in Spots That Aren’t So Hot. And There’s No Coffee.

Radio Aware Routing protocols enable ad hoc battlefield networks.

How many times have you pulled out your iPod Touch, iPad, Galaxy Tab, or other Wi-Fi device to do a quick weather, email, or Google Maps check – only to discover there is no Wi-Fi signal available? If you’ve got a smartphone with a cellular bars, no problem. But suppose there’s no Wi-Fi and no cellular connection? Oh, my – no mobile Internet surfing today. Now imagine this urban shopping scenario applied to soldiers on the battlefields of Afghanistan, loggers in the remote mountains of Oregon, or line workers in the vast and amber waves of grain wind farms of Middle America. There are countless scenarios where Internet connectivity is needed but mobile access is unavailable, or where access can only be provided via a limited satellite, microwave, or custom terrestrial IP-based radio.

The good folks at Extreme Engineering Solutions (X-ES) believe the answer to this problem lies with a new kind of ad hoc networking, which relies on node-to-note autonomous routing in the hopes that there’s a node in close proximity that has Internet reachback access. The PMC/XMC-based XPedite5205 Embedded Services Router (ESR), and it’s box-level equivalent SFFR (small form-factor router), run Cisco’s latest IOS 15.2GC software straight from the enterprise and cloud space. Cisco’s Mobile Ready Net architecture “defines..a network that continuously adapts, enabling people to connect and communicate…without relying on pre-defined fixed infrastructure.” Simply stated, XPedite5205 nodes running this software can find each other, establish a mobile routing table, or exchange data, and that data may eventually find a connection to the Internet.

Mobile Ready Net uses protocols called Radio Aware Routing (RAR) and Dynamic Link Exchange Protocol (DLEP) to look for IP radios on the network through which traffic can pass to the Internet. If there’s no Internet access, nodes can still share data in a wireless (or wired, if so configured) LAN configuration. On the battlefield, for instance, this means that soldiers or Marines, ground and airborne assets can join up, disconnect, and re-establish networks on-the-move (see Figure). On the hardware side, a Freescale MPC8548E PowerQUICC does the housekeeping and network management, while a dedicated hardware encrypt/decryption engine and accelerator does line-level packet processing. When XPedite5205 is housed in a rugged box such as the XPand6000, it becomes the rugged SFFR mentioned above at 4.88 x 1.9 x 7.7 inches (WxHxL). Box-level I/O is MIL-SPEC 38999 connectors or industrial IP 66/67, or pure commercial jacks like RJ-45 in development flavors.

Figure: Ad hoc networking means Radio Aware Routing (RAR) protocols find nodes and create on-the-fly routing tables. Eventually, one node may connect with the Internet via some kind of radio and data will be routed accordingly. (Courtesy: Extreme Engineering Solutions)

What’s most interesting to me isn’t the hardware, although X-ES is a credible rugged supplier with a proven track record of innovation. They were one of the first companies to design in the ill-fated PA Semi low-power PowerPC – a fabulous idea until Apple bought PA Semi and EOL’d the chips, forcing X-ES to start over. But the company roared back with a vengeance and has now even secured the use of Cisco’s latest-and-greatest enterprise offerings. Also available for the mobile routers is Cisco’s IOS Firewall, Zone-based Firewall, IOS Intrusion Protection, and content filtering – all nifty features for ad hoc networks that never know where or who they’ll talk to next.

Now, about that cup of coffee…

Check out the company’s PRs for the XPedite5205 and SFFR .



Chris A. Ciufo is senior editor for embedded content at Extension Media, which includes the EECatalog print and digital publications and website, Embedded Intel® Solutions, and other related blogs and embedded channels. He has 29 years of embedded technology experience split between the semiconductor industry (AMD, Sharp Microelectronics) and the defense industry (VISTA Controls and Dy4 Systems), and in content creation. He co-founded and ran COTS Journal, created and ran Military Embedded Systems, and most recently oversaw the Embedded franchise at UBM Electronics. He’s considered the foremost expert on critically applying COTS to the military and aerospace industries, and is a sought-after speaker at tech conferences. He has degrees in electrical engineering, and in materials science, emphasizing solid state physics. He can be reached at cciufo@extensionmedia.com.

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