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Cisco Upgrades Ad Hoc Mobile Network Routers

Cisco Systems is introducing upgraded versions of two recently developed routers for deployment on ad hoc mobile networks, which are networks set up on short notice for a specific reason such as a public safety operations at a disaster site, or military operations in a battle zone. The 5940 ESR and 5915 ESR routers are based on the Cisco Mobile-Ready Net (CMRN) architecture for scalable mobile networks. ESR stands for embedded services routers, referring to the various capabilities built into them.

“This is for when you go into places where there is no infrastructure,” says Mike Luken, product manager for the CMRN line. And it’s not just for voice communications, which could be done with cell phones or police or military radios. The CMRN solution provides wireless broadband Internet access where computers could be set up on a Wi-Fi network. He gives the example of an emergency response to a disaster like a tornado. Police cars and fire trucks could be equipped with antenna to form the wireless network, and could share images of where utilities run above and below ground or see building plans of damaged structures.

The capabilities of the new routers fall into five main areas, says Luken.

•Link optimization. The platform uses technology called radio-aware routing. The quality of typical radio links fluctuate and sometimes a link can go down, he says. With radio-aware routing, the radio tells the router the link is weakening and the router can slow down the speed at which it’s sending data accordingly. It can also prioritize traffic that goes over the link before other packets. “The whole purpose for link optimizations is that we’ve had bad pipes, they’re changing a lot , how do I maximize the user experience over these links?” Luken explains.

•Security and network services. The routers provide security protections such as intrusion prevention and encryption, but also include what Cisco calls Wide-Area Applications Services (WAAS), which is a WAN optimization feature. If the ad hoc network has limited capacity in the radio links, WAAS optimizes performance by eliminating redundant data and compressing traffic as needed.

•Ad hoc deployment. The central feature of CMRN is that it can be easily deployed on short notice without the need for someone like a Cisco-certified engineer on hand to set it up and configure all the components. Other examples of ad hoc deployment would be the site of a military operation or a situation where border patrol agents are chasing suspects, he says.

•Platforms. The routers need to be able to offer different features and capabilities for the situation. The 5940 for instance, moves data up to 972 kilo packets per second (kpps), or 972 thousand packets per second, while the 5915 only operates at up to 163 kpps, but is less expensive. The 5940 is smaller and flat, “roughly the size of a 4x6-inch photograph that you have on your refrigerator,” says Luken.

•Adaptability. Cisco doesn’t sell completed ad hoc network systems, only the routers that are components of systems built by system integrator partners with names like Mission:Mobility, Parvus and TeleCommunications Systems.

Parvus announced March 22 the beginning of shipments of the DuraMAR 5915, a mobile router subsystem based on a previous version of the Cisco 5915 router. The Parvus technology was shipped in support of land-based satellite communications and fixed -wing aircraft programs, the company stated.

The new routers also include a feature called Cisco IP Multiplexing to more efficiently send traffic over the ad hoc network. Conventional mobile networks have two limitations, Luken explains, bandwidth--the size of the pipe--and network speeds, measured in kpps. If voice over IP (VoIP) traffic is being sent over the network, that consists of multiple tiny packets, which means the network can reach its packets per second limit easily, even without using a lot of bandwidth. IP Multiplexing combines the small packets into larger packets for more efficient utilization.

“So instead of send 100 packets per second, you would be sending a much smaller number of packets that are larger, and that allows you to use more of the bandwidth and not have to worry about the packets per second,” Luken says.

While typical use cases for ad hoc networks are in military or disaster-response situations, there can be enterprise applications of the technology, such as at a construction site where the project will last perhaps several months, but crews will want to communicate as well as share documents such as blueprints. A large organization holding a convention could set up an ad hoc network at the convention venue for the duration of its event.