Untethered Operations

Opportunities in the air as government goes wireless<@VM>WiMax answers remote challenges

Wireless networks help technicians such as Airman Almaz Tegenu maintain sophisticated equipment.

DoD photo by Master Sgt. Val Gempis, U.S. Air Force. (Released)

Tucked in a corner of an airplane hangar in Iraq, an Air Force mechanic is repairing a plane's hydraulic landing gear system when he hits a snag and needs to refer to the aircraft's maintenance manual.

He doesn't stop working to start searching for the paper manual, which may or may not be in the hangar. Instead, he pulls out a ruggedized tablet computer to access the LAN. Within minutes, he has downloaded the information he needs from a U.S.-based database and is back to work on the plane.

That scenario is a reality, said Tom Badders, director of wireless strategic development for Telos Corp. in Ashburn, Va.

Ubiquitous connections to networks is happening, thanks in large part to the proliferation of wireless networks for both civilian and defense agencies.

In many cases, wireless makes the most sense, whether it's because of the devices people are using, or because of the physical requirements of bases, buildings or conference rooms.

Telos has installed wireless networks at 85 of the Air Force's 108 bases as well as at 11 other Air Force operations sites worldwide, Badders said.

"Primarily, it's for maintenance and logistics operations, so we put wireless LAN coverage on flight lines, inside hangars, back shops, wherever maintenance and logistics operations are taking place," he said.

The wireless infrastructure extends the Air Force's enterprise network to those whose is getting aircraft back in the air, and increases the service's supply-chain efficiencies. Constant connection to the network lets personnel tie into maintenance databases, supply and logistics applications to check tech orders, fix equipment, update orders, read technical manuals, and order and track parts through the supply chain.

Building the wireless network

When a systems integrator is building a wireless network for a government customer, two main issues need to be addressed: making the wireless network operate well in the given surroundings, and making the network secure.

An integrator building an 802.11 wireless network must look at how it will be secured, whether it will have Layer 2 or Layer 3 encryption and other security variables.

In addition to policies from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Defense Department, each government entity also has its own guidelines that must be adhered.

Contractors implementing wireless solutions in the federal government environment must use wireless products that have been proven, in a laboratory setting, to work within federal guidelines, and that have proven secure.

"There are tons of companies, especially now, seemingly coming out of the woodwork with wireless products," Telos' Badders said. "Knowing how they all work and how they interface with other products from a security prospective ? whether it's an intrusion detection system or an encryption methodology ? needs to be done even before you visit a customer to find out what their requirements are."

Shipment of WiFi technology reached approximately 120 million chipsets in 2005 as demand for the technology surged, said Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the WiFi Alliance.

"I think right when we came out with the 802.11i capability, which includes EES [Escrowed Encryption Standard] level encryption, the highest level of encryption commercially available, I think that really was a turning point," Hanzlik said. "Since that time, we've seen far more support for incorporating WiFi into the government's overall wireless plans."

The increased use of 802.11 handheld devices, mobile phones and tablet PCs is driving the demand.

By 2010, spending for federal wireless telecommunications alone will hit $3.3 billion, according to forecasts by IT research firm Input Inc., Reston, Va.

Most of the opportunities tend to be around wireless communications and wireless data networks, said

Marcus Fedeli manager of Federal Opportunity Products at market researcher at Input.

For example, a $100 million contract from the Air Force is in the works for data link integration for the Air Mobility Command, which provides airlift and air refueling services. The command needs hardware and software for tactical data link capabilities, and a data link solution for situational awareness in the cockpit.

Security with no wires

Wireless network security has four basic components: privacy, authentication, wireless intrusion detection and location services, said Stephen Orr, a consulting systems engineer with Cisco Systems Inc.

"We use three main design guidelines that are available within the DOD and within the federal marketplace," Orr said.

The Defense Department has a wireless architecture design guide for using commercial equipment.

Additionally, the National Information Assurance Partnership, a U.S. government initiative created for the security testing needs of both IT consumers and producers, administers the common criteria protection profile, which provides a methodology for developing security specifications for IT products.

The third guideline on Cisco's most-used list is the Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2, nonproprietary security policy for cryptographic modules.

"Various agencies have little addendums and add-ons, but those are the three main documents we use in designing our wireless architecture," Orr said.

Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va., is working with the Defense Department on a follow-on policy that is nearly final.

The policy leverages the 802.11i security standard, said Khalid Syed, a Booz Allen Hamilton official.

"As a result of that effort, we are now going to see products come off the shelf that have the potential of being FIPS-validated," Syed said.

"If a vendor wants to spend the investment to get its products validated to enter the federal government market, it has the capability to do so, given the guidance and the realignment of the standards," Syed said.
Cisco's architecture from a privacy and authentication standpoint is based on 802.11i, the security standard from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. for wireless network interface cards, access points and other products.

"What we've done is work with NIST and the other agencies to have 802.11i fulfill FIPs 140-2 federal security [requirements]," Orr said.

Using industry standards such as 802.11i in conjunction with federal requirements such as FIPS 140-2 helps ensure the wireless solution is standards-based and certifiable ? and ready for most federal customers.

When NIST has completed its certification of 802.11i access points and issued guidelines, the security concerns for wireless can be reduced.

"However, until that happens, we're still concerned about integrating the right levels of security and encryption in the network, Badders said.

For now, that might require adding layers of network security, such as an intrusion detection system, an overlay of wireless sensors that prohibit or monitor for rogue access points connecting to the network.

"The sole purpose of those sensors is to track that activity and notify the network administrator that something weird is happening to the system, and they need to track it down," Badders said.

Bring wireless to the users

Understanding the environment in which the wireless system must operate is crucial. And meeting with customers and doing a site survey are crucial to that understanding.

The essential pieces needed to create the local network are access points and wireless switch, Orr said.

"We attach our access points to various locations in the network, and then we allow the access points to communicate to the wireless switch over the wired-side infrastructure," he said. "We can leverage an already well-architected wired-network side, and just overlay our access points into their network and have it communicate back to this wireless switch."

Choosing the correct access point, boxes with antennas that broadcast the network signal, is critical to building an effective wireless network.

First, the coverage area must be identified and the best antenna signal amplification for that area chosen.

Signal strength must be great enough to let all potential users access it, but it shouldn't project beyond the designated coverage area.

"You want to make sure you don't extend a government's network out into a commercial arena," Badders said. "There are number of bases that are sometimes stuck in the middle of a city, and you need to make sure you design the networks so that it works properly in the intended area, but doesn't leak out into the commercial environment."

As increasing numbers of government facilities are blanketed with wireless coverage, expect to see more products and devices come on the market.

One trend, according to the WiFi alliance, is converged devices.

"These are devices that have WiFi and typically some form of cellular functionality inside," the WiFi Alliance's Hanzlik said. These converged devices let you "use the combination of WiFi plus cellular to really stay connected, particularly in building environments or in areas where it's difficult to get good cellular coverage."

Staff Writer Doug Beizer can be reached at dbeizer@postnewsweektech.com.

Pamela Hemmings,
Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.

Rick Steele

The Navajo Nation spans three states and 27,000 square miles. Running fiber-optic cable to each of the nation's 110 chapter houses, many of which are in remote rural areas, would be logistically difficult and incredibly expensive.

The answer, Navajo leaders think, is to build a wireless network.

The Navajo's project is a perfect candidate for the emerging technology called WiMax. It can wirelessly deliver a broadband connection between fixed points up to 30 miles away, and it can send a signal to mobile users within a 3- to 5-mile range.

WiFi, 802.11 technology has about a 300-foot range. WiMax is also known as the 802.16 standard.

The Navajo did a demonstration project where a broadband signal was delivered to a remote chapter house using microwave radio technology, and then that connection was shared locally over a WiFi signal, said Harold Skow, a Navajo Nation official.

Broadband wireless technology is nothing new, but WiMax is establishing a standard where there once were just proprietary technologies, said Pamela Hemmings, a senior consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., McLean, Va.

Public safety officials are interested in the technology, so Booz Allen Hamilton is researching WiMax.

"Since it is an emerging technology, what we wanted to do is put together a demo that would give us the opportunity to test, and then also demonstrate the capabilities of this technology," Hemmings said.

Using point-to-point antennas and technology, two Booz Allen Hamilton office buildings about 10 miles apart were linked wirelessly with a 24-megabyte connection. A spectrum antenna was used to connect mobile users within about a 3-mile radius.

"We developed this application which is supposed to create a user friendly interface that integrates all these different capabilities that you'd want have like streaming video, chat, file transfers, mapping or whatever," Hemmings said.

While not optimized for mobility, the WiMax connection and test application let a mobile user stream video back to the Booz Allen Hamilton lab while Hemmings chatted with him.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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