Northrop Grumman proposes network for Homeland Defense

On Aug. 5, Northrop Grumman IT, an US$18 billion company in aerospace and defense, announced a plan to create a converged wireless IP network for voice, video and data called the Secure Wireless Network for Homeland Security.

Northrop Grumman is partnering with Flarion Technologies Inc., based in Bedminster, NJ, a company spun off in February 2000 from Bell Labs that has an all IP wireless communications network technology.

The single network could be used by all first responders to any manmade or natural catastrophe as well as for state, local and federal workers, would overcome much of the data sharing issues that arose following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

A border guard in Texas could use push-to-talk technology to speak with a Coast Guard agent in the Gulf or a state trooper might stop a car and quickly access an INS database, said Pat Talty, director, Communications Systems Division, Information Technology at Northrop Grumman IT in Chantilly, Virginia. Northrop headquarters are located in Herndon, Virginia.

Besides push-to-talk capabilities, the Homeland Network would allow for the development of applications for imaging, fingerprint recognition or simply the transfer of very large files, Talty said.

The system uses Flarion’s Flash-OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) technology, which would overlay on top of carriers’ current networks.

OFDM delivers broadband performance, averaging between 900Kbps and 1.2Mbps over an IP network.

It overlays into the current infrastructure so carriers can reuse the same antenna and cell towers. The equipment fits in the same 19-inch rack the carriers use now. All you do is connect a T-1 or T-3 into a Cisco router and you have access, said Mike Gallagher, president of Flarion.

The use of Internet protocols is also the best way to meet stringent government requirements for secure lines over wireless. Using IP from end-to-end means all packets originate and terminate without any protocol conversion along the way. In current cellular technology, both CDMA and TDMA, the airlink still has a circuit switched nature and requires several conversions, according to Gallagher.

OFDM works by transmitting signals as a tone. Just as an ear can distinguish a key of the piano, the radio signal can distinguish between hundreds of tones, making error correction far faster than CDMA, for example, which uses a random code, Gallagher said.

The system is also compatible with any frequency from 300MHz to 3GHz. It would most likely be used on the 700MHz band set aside for the Public Safety network.

Still in its early stages, demonstrations have already been made to the FBI, INS, FEMA and other government agencies.

While at present there is no federal RFQ for such a network, the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) has frozen almost all IT purchasing in agencies involved in Homeland Defense until a single solution is selected, said Talty. The OMB fears that each agencies might deploy their own proprietary solutions thus exacerbating the problem of interoperability between the various departments of government.

Besides Flarion Northrop Grumman is also partnering with the leading carriers.

Matt Berger from the IDG News Service in San Francisco contributed to this story.