Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The science of military communications

I wonder if any of you based in the UK remember the British Telecom television advertisements of the late 1980s featuring ‘Beattie’, played by Maureen Lipman? In the most frequently quoted episode, Beattie’s pride leads her to see only the silver lining in her grandson’s otherwise poor GCSE results. Finding that he passed only pottery and sociology, she declares, “An ology! He gets an ology and he says he's failed. You get an ology - you're a scientist!”

It’s probably fair to say, there will be a few scientists attending the MILCOM show in San Jose at the end of the month. Maybe the organisers should organise a competition to see how many ‘ologies’ you can spot. Going right back to military origins, several ‘ologies’ would be needed to discover the earliest known occurrence of warfare. Between humans that is; not between humans and aliens – for that you just need imagination or a Heinlein book. You could imagine archaeology and geology being used to identify the defensive nature of early settlements. You can surely envisage anthropology and palaeontology being used to study the origins, and the social and cultural development of early warriors.

It’s appealing to think that warfare probably began as the result of a breakdown in communications. After commerce had been established between villages or herding camps, local competition over resources could well have given rise to the earliest conflicts. You can just imagine how it might have transpired; “Now look guys, let’s not be hasty here!” Wouldn’t unravelling those ancient conversations become the science of ‘communicatology’?

Incidentally, the earliest evidence for man having died a violent death due to the aggression of another comes from c. 18,000 BC in the remains of a young man. He was found near the Nile River with several spear points embedded in his upper body. At that time, archaeological and geological evidence suggests that food was scarce, so perhaps he died in a fight over the means of subsistence. The first archaeological record of what could have been a prehistoric battle is to be found at a Mesolithic site, also near the Nile, on the Egypt-Sudan border. That find includes more bodies and arrowheads, clearly indicating the casualties of a battle, which have been determined to be about 13,140 to 14,340 years old.

These days, the sciences involved in communications are largely employed to detect and avoid or prevent conflict arising. If early warning systems fail, it is also deployed to help win the battles and the war. This is evident from the military acronym ‘C4I’ – meaning ‘command, control, communications, computers and intelligence’. Command and control (C2) is about decision-making, and it’s supported by computers and communications; two pervasive enabling technologies that support C2 through intelligence (that’s the ‘I’).

Aculab’s enabling technologies are used extensively in military communications systems, providing many essential functions such as the core media processing capabilities for enhanced voice processor units, and a variety of signalling and media gateways. DSP boards and host media processing (HMP) software can be readily integrated through Aculab’s APIs (high- and low-level APIs are available), enabling the development of a wide range of platforms and systems for military specific applications. That’s why we call it enabling technology – yes, it’s an ‘ology’ and scientifically speaking, you may call it ‘communicatology’. Why don’t you stop by booth 1337 when you’re at MILCOM next week; we’d be pleased to see you.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Military manoeuvres

The announcement this week in the UK of the outcome of the Government’s strategic defence review has placed such matters in sharper focus prior to the MILCOM show in San Jose, CA. at the end of the month. Looking for silver linings to the dark clouds looming over our storm troopers, it’s all in the name.

Conventional forces appear to have taken a massive hit, with various fighter aircraft, warships, tanks and artillery all doomed. The high-profile casualties are the most recognisable names – the Nimrod MRA4 spy-planes and the Harrier jump jets (losing out to the Tornadoes).
Nimrod MRA4
Image via Wikipedia
But it’s not all doom and gloom as a round dozen new Chinook helicopters will be ordered.
Now, there’s a name with which to conjure.
Chinook helicopter

So perhaps ‘unconventional’ is now the name of the game as the strategy looks to be to switch resources to countering ‘asymmetric threats’ from terrorist or extremist groups, cyber crime and criminal gangs. It seems that the UK will remain able to play a role on the world stage, but its armed forces will be part of a global police force, participating in peacekeeping or humanitarian missions. The RAF might fly support for counter-insurgency and the Army could carry out Special Forces missions against terrorist groups.

As for naming conventions, the acronym ‘MILCOM’ is used for a show that is all about military communications. The old joke is that used to be an oxymoron, but in terms of technology and investment, communications is now right up there at the cutting edge. And in relation to ‘asymmetric threats’ and the notion of a UN-led Gendarmerie, it has to be on the front line.

Looking behind all this talk of cuts and political name calling, surely now there is a need to focus on the development of military communications (MILCOM) solutions. After all, information is power and that’s the name of the game. Strategically, there is more than ever a good argument for naming commercial off the shelf (COTS) building blocks as first choice when looking to construct a given system.

The benefits of a COTS approach is characterised by:

  • Reduced risk, because the equipment has been proven commercially
  • Reduced development times (even greater if a high-level API is used)
  • [Resulting in…] quicker time to market
  • The latest technology, because vendors operate in a competitive environment
  • Compliance with international standards
  • Assured interoperability, interconnectivity, and interworking (Aculab’s ‘3Is’)

Of course, the dilemma with using the COTS approach has been that commercial systems often don’t have exactly the right military-specific feature variants needed. Often, the core enabling technology has to be tweaked (a technical naming convention meaning ‘adapted’) and, therefore, a flexible approach to non-recoverable engineering (NRE) development on the part of the COTS vendor is essential. And, in terms of technology requirements, high channel densities, reliability and flexibility are all essential requirements of technology destined for military applications.

Incidentally, at Aculab we take an open approach to product evolution, where customers can request feature modifications and see that result in a change based on business case evaluation. It’s a refreshing approach, and maybe that agility and willingness will be even more in demand in the post- strategic review product development theatre.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Fax server developers looking for the most cost effective development platform should see what Aculab has to offer

Aculab may be better known for voice applications where our award winning hardware and software is used as the core technology to power contact centre IVR systems, voice conferencing servers, etcetera, but perhaps less well known is the fact that those very same media processing hardware boards (Prosody X) and host media processing software (Prosody S) also support many other functionalities:
  • Modem protocol support (wide-ranging support for ITU-T V series modem protocols) and V.150.1 Modem over IP (MoIP)
  • Video communications (RTP-based video sessions, H.263 and H.264 packetisation)
  • Full SIP stack, unique SIP redundancy capability, and H.323 call control
  • Full range of fax capabilities (T.30, T.38 up to V.34 speed, G.711 fax pass-through)
This post describes the fax solutions available from Aculab.