Army awards contract for long-range wireless system

The Wi-Fi system will have a 32-mile range that will connect supply units on the front lines with depots in the rear.

The Army recently awarded a multimillion -dollar contract for a far-reaching secure wireless communication system using the same, but stronger, Wi-Fi technology found in neighborhood coffee shop to link support units on the front lines with supply depots miles away, according to a top official with the winning bidder.

Comment on this article in The Forum.Telos Corp. won the $43.5 million contract for the secure, tactical wireless communication system. The network will have a range of up to 32 miles compared with the 300-foot range of a standard Wi-Fi access point in a coffee shop, home or office, according to Tom Badders, director of wireless networking at Telos. The Army awarded the contract in January, but approved its release to the public this week.

The equipment, which Telos will furnish through its Combat Service Support Automated Information System Interface contract, will dramatically boost the range of standard Wi-Fi gear by using so-called mast mounted directional yagi antennas, which look similar to television antennas, Badders said. A so-called mast-mounted omnidirectional antenna will boost the range of the wireless network up to four miles.

The contract will support Army logistics worldwide, and Telos could deliver about 13,000 systems over the life of the three-year deal, which also has two option years. The equipment will link combat service support units deployed with forward Army maneuver units with supply depots miles in the rear. The system can reach back further through interfaces with satellite systems, Badders said.

Telos built its system around the ES520 wireless bridge from Fortress Technologies. The ES520 has built-in encryption which meets Defense Department Wi-Fi security standards with built-in Federal Information Standard 140-2 developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said Chris Whalen, a spokesman for Fortress. Badders said the range from the access points can be extended by operating them in a mesh network, which allows users to move from access point node to another without losing connectivity.

The Telos contract is a follow-on to a project from the Army's Project Manager, Defense Wide Transmission Systems, which fielded more than 8,900 systems since 2002 based on Cisco 802.11b access points, with the Army buying Wi-Fi gear and then building the system itself. The Telos equipment has more flexibility and longer range than the original Army systems, Badders said.

In 2005, the Army installed its original logistics Wi-Fi system at a port in Beaumont, Texas, to track movement of cargo with a bar code scanning system. The network supported the use of wireless bar code scanners to feed data from tags attached to cargo back to a central database, and Badders said he could see similar uses for the new Telos system.

A spokesman for the Army Project Manager, Defensewide Transmission Systems said he could not answer a query before the story was posted.