Lab Spotlight

Traveling to Antarctica With AFRL to Test “Cell Tower in the Sky”

AFRL antartica

These days we’re used to constant mobile communication, but soldiers and civilians alike can run into trouble when out of range of a cell tower—whether at a remote military outpost or in “airplane mode” on a commercial flight.

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Information Directorate recently collaborated with industry partners to develop a new infrastructure array, the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS). Fielded government satellite communication (SATCOM) radios often require stationary antennas and universally suffer from far less bandwidth than needed, making any type of communication outside of voice calls prohibitive. But MUOS uses geosynchronous satellites as “cell towers” to direct signals to MUOS “phones” anywhere on earth. Today, the MUOS phone looks like a tactical radio, but will shrink to a more manageable size as the technology improves.

Last year, members of the team traveled to Antarctica to validate the MUOS in an environment with no cell towers. By connecting radios to an aircraft antenna, they proved that small portable radios can provide a secure and networked “pole-to-pole” communications capability on any platform on demand at 3G quality. On this frigid -28°F day, the team used MUOS to demonstrate the first-ever voice and data communications from Antarctica.

Lab Spotlight