Troops operating in forward locations without telecommunication infrastructure often rely on a mobile ad hoc network (MANET) to communicate and share data.
Unsurprisingly, the communication devices troops use on foot or in vehicles double as nodes on the mobile network. The problem with current MANETs? They can only scale to around 50 nodes before network services become ineffective.
Indeed, for the past 20 years, researchers have unsuccessfully used Internet-based concepts in attempts to significantly scale MANETs.
As such, DARPA is currently exploring new technologies unencumbered by Internet Protocols (IP) that could be the key to enabling large MANETs. Although the Internet facilitated far-reaching technical advances, in this technology area the Internet itself may be the roadblock.
"The MANET scaling goals will not be satisfied with incremental improvement using existing protocols and concepts," explained Mark Rich, DARPA Program Manager. "Truly revolutionary ideas will explore new paradigms that allow users to effectively share information unshackled from existing constraints."
According to Rich, a MANET of a thousand nodes could support an entire battalion without the need for manual network setup, management and maintenance that comes from ‘switchboard’-era communications.
"This could provide more troops with robust services such as real-time video imagery, enhanced situational awareness and other services that we have not yet imagined," he added.
It should be noted that a request for Information (RFI) released on Monday calls for research paper abstracts describing bold, new technical approaches to overcoming the MANET scaling problem.