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DARPA Announces Research in 100 Gbps Wireless Tech

By Wesley Fenlon

Slightly faster than your average Wi-Fi network.

While the military doesn't have NASA's record of inventing awesome technologies for astronauts and letting them trickle down to the average consumer, defense spending has a way of making our lives better. Early computers and GPS came out of the military, and today they're both omnipresent consumer technologies, making our lives easier. We can only hope the military's latest wireless broadband project trickles down the same way. The next wireless standard, 802.11ac, will probably launch with speeds topping out around 1 gigabit per second. Meanwhile, DARPA's working on its own system. It's a little faster.

A hundred times faster, actually. DARPA's 100 GB/s RF Backbone, as its name implies, aims to establish 100 gigabit wireless Internet networks to link together deployed soldiers and outposts. One other advantage DARPA's 100G has over our lowly consumer tech: a range of about 124 miles.

As consumers, we grapple with wireless interference from our phones and microwaves and neighbors. The military has trickier concerns to face. They have to get secure, fast signals across hundreds or thousands of miles. High latency on those networks makes it impossible to remotely pilot UAVs and tricky to transmit sensitive information.

Extreme Tech estimates that the military's existing Common Data Link network operates at speeds of around 250 Mbps, so an increase to 100 Gbps would obviously be massive. They predict the military will use the Ku band for its 100 Gbps transmissions; it'll take a new multiplexing technique to pack that kind of bandwidth into an RF signal, but the payoff would obviously be worth the invested research.

Real-time video to and from the front lines would be enough to justify the link, and one of DARPA's stipulations is that this new technology is field-deployable. It seems reasonable that this tech could find its way into consumer electronics at some point, too. GPS started life as a communication between military ground installations and military satellites cruising the heavens. Today the US military still controls GPS but allows civilians to use it. We'd really appreciate it if they did the same with high speed Internet.