DARPA wants huge Holy Grail of mobile ad hoc networks

DARPA looking for technology that lets 5,000 wireless nodes connect quickly, securely

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Even the often far-reaching researchers at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) seems to think this one is a stretch: Develop what's known as mobile ad-hoc wireless technology that lets 1000- 5000 nodes connect simultaneously and securely connect in the field.

For the past 20 years, researchers have unsuccessfully used Internet-based concepts in attempts to significantly scale mobile ad hoc network (MANET), DARPA said. A constraint with current MANETs is they can only scale to around 50 nodes before network services become ineffective. Some believe that with just a little more work on the current approach they can increase the maximum size of the MANET. Others believe that large scale MANETs are impossible.

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With that information as a backdrop, the agency today issued an industry-wide Request for Information (RFI) to find out what it will take to finally break through current MANET limitations.  DAARPA said while the Internet facilitated far-reaching technical advances, in this technology area the Internet may be the roadblock. The MANET scaling goals will not be satisfied with incremental improvement using existing protocols and concepts. Truly revolutionary ideas will explore new paradigms that allow users to effectively share information unshackled from existing constraints. 

"A MANET of a thousand nodes could support an entire battalion without the need for manual network setup, management and maintenance that comes from 'switchboard'-era communications," said Mark Rich, DARPA Program Manager. "This could provide more troops with robust services such as real-time video imagery, enhanced situational awareness and other services that we have not yet imagined."

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For this project DARPA wants a clean slate stating that "compatibility with existing networking protocols is not required; it may even be detrimental.

"DARPA asks you to take a new look at the MANET problem, unencumbered by existing protocols. All software from the hardware interface to the applications is open for discussion. Even the desirability of network layers may be debated."

DARPA said it is looking for protocols that take advantage of features of the MANET environment-broadcast radios, high information correlation between peers, duplicity of roles, and many-to-many distribution  patterns-and that overcome the difficulties-interference, unreliability, and range limitations. It may also be advantageous to explore the use of protocols that blend MANET operations with the capabilities of mobile, semi-mobile, or transient support platforms being developed by DARPA. With these platforms, broadcast, sector cast, and asymmetric communications may be available and useful.

DARPA says it intends to discuss the MANET concepts at a Novel Methods for Information Sharing in Large-Scale Mobile Ad-hoc Networks Symposium on August 7-8, 2013 at the DARPA Conference Center in Arlington, Virginia.

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