The U.S. Air Force is exploring the idea of utilizing commercial mobile carriers to overhaul parts of its mission communication capabilities. At the focal point of the plan is the introduction of small, powerful mobile devices that would allow the military branch to move away from its current communications infrastructure, which relies on land radios and older wireless technology.
According to Ken Gunter, event manager of the Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment – a four-week test of cellular networks and hardware to see if civilian technology can accommodate the Air Force – the current legacy systems in place are too costly to repair and maintain and are not holding up to the Air Force's needs.
Smartphones and tablets allow members of the armed forces to communicate more efficiently than ever before, and the experiment will test the various carriers' technologies to ensure that they can provide for the infrastructure needs for an entire military base, as well as maintain uninterrupted signals that can penetrate into secure buildings.
"Five years ago, we couldn't do what we're able to do now," Gunter said. "Now, I can put a device in an airman's hand with all the capabilities of a phone and computer. The Air Force told us to find the future architecture of communications, and these devices are being tested to get us there."
The Air Force and Department of Defense will be outfitting thousands of soldiers with mobile devices in 2012, and will continue to evaluate and improve their unified communications strategy throughout the year. The experiment planners will also be ensuring that network coverage is prioritized in case of emergencies or natural disasters that knock out cellular towers.
The Air Force decided to pursue cellular technology rather than Wi-Fi-based communications because of ease of coverage and bandwidth availability of 4G connections.
Unified communications will improve workflow and productivity of the armed forces, as well as provide solutions for interoperability, seamless communication and improved response times for any situation. By implementing smartphones and tablets rather than radios, servicemen and women will be able to not only make calls, but also use instant messaging, email and video chat to correspond. The ability to transmit information more quickly and efficiently is extremely important in military ventures and vital to the success of missions.