European Space Agency

Mobile ad hoc networks bolster public safety operations

MANETs require no pre-installed infrastructure and can be easily and quickly deployed, operated and controlled by the organisations themselves during operations. (Image credit: Shutterstock).
The role of telecoms in any emergency setting is fundamental and there is a growing demand for wireless broadband data transmission during crisis operations. ARTES Core Competitiveness have recently co-funded the project ‘Mobile Ad hoc NETworks (MANETs) with satellite access for public safety operations’ with German safety and security specialist IABG, to enhance MANET services using satellite access.

An overloaded or unavailable network could have potentially fatal consequences in an emergency scenario, so the resilience of a country’s communications infrastructure is vital for national safety and security.

Project MANET develops features and functionality of a communication gateway product, which allow the efficient linking of MANETs to satellite networks. As ad hoc network specialist and author Professor C.K. Toh, points out: “These wireless networks lack the complexities of infrastructure setup and administration, enabling devices to create and join networks ‘on the fly’”.

When a firefighter sends video footage of a blaze to the control centre, this helps to optimise the command and control processes and the selection of appropriate measures. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

MANETs can establish an autonomous broadband network at the remote operation site using satellite links which connect the site with any ‘command and control’ centre worldwide.

In the past, European public safety organisations used analogue radio systems before migrating towards digital radio systems like TETRA (Terrestrial Trunked Radio) which are mainly designed for narrowband communication (e.g. voice or geo-location). For broadband communication wireless local area networks, TETRA Enhanced Data Service or cellular networks (such as LTE or 5G) are possibilities, but these have drawbacks for public safety communication, as they require infrastructure setup and administration.

It’s here that MANETs offer a commercially interesting alternative – actually adding value during crisis operations by efficiently enabling video surveillance or ‘command and control’, as well as transmitting geolocation data and giving remote access to databases.

“MANETs offer an intuitive and flexible solution that is completely independent of any infrastructure,” says Giovanni Garofalo, Technical Officer at ESA. “MANETs can be quickly deployed, operated and controlled by the public safety organisations during operations, putting them in a position of confidence and of being completely in control of their own communication resources.”

Seamless switching

With the new functionality developed in the project, MANETs are able to sense and smartly switch to the most suitable WAN (Wide Area Network) technology available for any particular operation.

Using a MANET with satellite access during a public safety operation. In this scenario the operation site is connected with the remote control centre either by a satellite, cellular or terrestrial network. (Image credit: IABG)

The selection mechanism is generated by the end user’s preferences and a WAN connectivity test which sets a communication path depending on the availability of the respective WAN connections.

Strong security measures have been also integrated in the solution given that public safety organisations often transmit sensitive data.

“The challenge for the ESA/IABG team was to fulfil varied user requirements such as data confidentiality and mobility support as well as QoS (quality of service) provisioning, allowing different traffic priority classes to be assigned to different applications – and to provide all this functionality in a user-friendly way,” says Wolfgang Fritsche, MANET project manager and Head of Competence Centre Digital Assurance at IABG.

MANETs with satellite access are already available today and currently deployed by various European public safety organisations. As a platform for the MANET project, IABG’s own MANET solution HiMoNN (Highly Mobile Network Node) has been used.

“Within the ESA ARTES Core Competitiveness co-funded project the functionality of this solution has been further enhanced based on user requirements gathered from the police, fire brigades, rescue services as well as from European organisations like DG ECHO or EEAS,” says Fritsche. “We’ve improved mobility support, enabled secure multicast and increased the resilience of the solution by supporting multiple gateways to Wide Area Networks.”

Published 30 June 2020
Last updated at 30 June 2020 - 14:00