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U.S. troops get on-the-spot mobile access

Applications include disaster recovery, reverse 911, and search-and-rescue operations

By , Network World
March 15, 2007 02:54 PM ET

Network World - U.S. soldiers stationed in remote regions of Iraq and Afghanistan can flip open their Razr or LG mobile phones and place calls, thanks to a new portable cellular communications system from LGS, the U.S. government marketing arm of Alcatel-Lucent.

LGS announced its Tactical Base Station Router (TacBSR), which was developed by Bell Laboratories, in February. The TacBSR is a single box that provides instant commercial cellular communications and serves as a gateway between cellular and VoIP networks.

"The whole principal of the TacBSR is to allow customers to take the phone they use every day, with its speed-dial features, and use it anywhere they go," says Chris Stark, business development director for the TacBSR with Bell Laboratories. "Folks stationed in Iraq are using their cell phones daily in Baghdad, but they can’t use them in forward operations. Often, the military can’t deploy cellular because of the complexity of the standard cellular architecture, including towers and antennas. We’ve put all of that in a single box."

The TacBSR is available for U.S. government customers only. Applications include field deployments, disaster recovery, reverse 911, and search and rescue operations.

"With the TacBSR, the government has a couple of different communications alternatives," explains Ed Bursk, chief marketing officer with LGS. "It’s for situations where a regular phone system doesn’t exist. It might augment land mobile radios. It allows soldiers to use a BlackBerry or a flip phone to communicate instead of a special LMR."

Customers include the U.S. Army Reserve Command, which is using the TacBSR as a portable cellular system for forward-deployed operations and disaster recovery. The system allows U.S. Army Reserve Commands to take GSM-capable cellular systems anywhere they need to go.

"The system marries a GSM cellular front end with a VoIP back end," Stark says. "It has its own VoIP engine on board, and it also integrates with bigger, enterprise-level VoIP systems. Through that VoIP, it can hop off to the public switched telephone network."

Lt. Col. Lenell White, a signal operations chief, says the U.S. Army Reserve Command has deployed seven TacBSR units in various bases in the United States during the last three months.

"What we were looking for was a device that would allow us to continue to use our mobile cell phones even if there was a total outage and we had to relocate and continue operations," White says. "We did our research, and the TacBSR was the device that had all the features we needed. It’s basically a cell phone system in a box. It provides us with the mobility and quick installation that we need."

The U.S. Army Reserve Command will use its new TacBSR units for disaster recovery and response applications.

"These units are for backup," White says. "We can pull this stuff out and set it up in any austere environment."

Stark says the TacBSR has a simple software interface.

"The whole founding principal of the TacBSR is to make cellular easy enough so that the government customer can consider deploying it without having to take a whole Army along with it," he adds.

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