No towers? No problem.

LGS, PacStar cell phone solution goes anywhere the Army Reserve goes

Two-way radios have been a staple of
military communications for decades.
Although the technology has evolved over
the years, in some ways, it is not as
advanced as the everyday cell phone.
Military personnel have come to rely
on mobile phones' range and ease of use
for overall communications. But in disaster
situations in the United States and
overseas, cellular service is often not
available.

Therefore, the Army Reserve Command
at Fort McPherson, Ga., awarded contracts
to two companies to develop an
integrated solution that would allow the
military to launch cellular service quickly
in any area.

LGS Innovations LLC, a subsidiary of
Alcatel-Lucent, and Pacific Star
Communications, a communications systems
technology company, collaborated to
create a rapid response solution.

The effort resulted in the Tactical Base
Station Router, a system about half the
size of a laptop PC that quickly establishes
an area of cell phone coverage. It allows
local communications between mobile
phones and connections to landline
phones and mobile phones anywhere on the traditional communications grid.

"We had a long-term relationship with
the Army Reserve, as did PacStar, and we
both approached the Reserve separately
about providing this capability," said Chris
Stark, LGS' business development director
for the Tactical Base Station Router. "They
asked our two companies to get together
and get our technologies to work together,
and we did it."

RIPPLES FROM KATRINA

The project started just after Hurricane
Katrina, when military commanders assisting
with rescue efforts realized they needed
cell phone service in addition to standard
communications and networks. They
wanted a transportable, deployable cellular
solution that could be available in any area
at home or abroad.

LGS contributed its single-box Global
System for Mobile Communications
(GSM) cellular solution, which encapsulates
all cellular network functions in a box
that weighs about 5 pounds.

"We like to call it cellular over IP," Stark
said.

The base station boasts the functions of
a cell tower and all the switching fabric
behind it on a single card inside the box. It
handles all the cellular communications.
It supports standard GSM cell phone
operations so the Army Reserve Command
can buy phones for daily use, and when
disaster hits, the router will keep those
phones operational.

The product also integrates cellular
switching and logic with voice-over-IP
technology, enabling troops to talk to people
beyond the range of the base station
through standard phone connections. The
base station can run either as a standalone
box or as part of a larger VOIP
enterprisewide system.

LGS' technology is integrated with
PacStar's 5500 network, which supports as
many as 92 users connecting with phones,
laptop PCs and IP-based devices.
"We provided the public switched network
connection" for the router, said
Robert Frisbee, PacStar's chief executive
officer. The company's private branch
exchange works like a PBX in an office setting
by connecting phones to the outside
world.

"The LGS technology creates this pond
of cellular coverage where GSM phones
can speak to other GSM phones, but it had
no connectivity with the outside world,"
Frisbee said. "So the 5500 links it to the
outside world both for people on-site and
it has the interfaces required to hook it up
to the public switched telephone network."

There are two models: The small box has
a one- to two-mile range while the larger
model is a 20-watt amplified macro cell
that operates at the same power level cell
towers typically use in rural areas. That
box has a range of as much as 17 miles.
However, typical operating parameters
range from five to 10 miles. The boxes have
standard connectors for antennas, which
must be deployed at a reasonable height,
such as on a building or tower.

"The strength of the technology is that
instead of bringing what typically would
require a 20-foot truck with switching gear
in it, what we've done is compress that
down to a single card in terms of all the
switching fabric," Stark said.

The system also offers a building-block
approach. In a typical urban network,
many low-power cells are deployed in a
centralized switching architecture, which
the Tactical Base Station Router can also
do. For example, the military could construct
a network using multiple routers
that are connected on a standard IP backhaul
and distributed across a disaster area
to provide multiple coverage areas.

"There's no centralized switch, so if
[routers] lose a network, they will still
operate on their own," Stark said. "But if
they're interconnected, they'll handle all
the handover of calls as you walk through
the network, and they'll do load balancing
if they're co-located. So it's a true cellularlike
experience but enabled through IP on
the backhaul."

Staff writer Doug Beizer can be reached at
dbeizer@1105govinfo.com.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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