Navy Set To Adopt Shipboard 4G LTE Networks

The U.S. Navy has announced plans to upgrade several ships with 4G wireless networks, and this change may signal what’s in store for a data-driven military in the 21st century.

According to WIRED, the Navy has confirmed that by year’s end the U.S.S. Kearsarge, U.S.S. San Antonio, and U.S.S. Whidbey Island will be the first naval ships to receive a brand-new microwave-based 4G LTE wireless wide area network (WWAN). Unlike traditional ship communications infrastructures that rely on satellites, this new WWAN network, with an approximate range of 20 nautical miles, can transfer 300 megabits per seconds’ worth of data, or enough to transmit text, video and voice at lightning-fast, real-time speeds.

Preceded by 2G and 3G, 4G is the latest and most important development in wireless technology. 4G offers a vast improvement in capacity, speed and latency over 3G and 2G networks, enabling capabilities never before possible – such as the use of cloud-based programs that can be updated in real-time, live streaming video, and overall, data speeds many times faster than previously available.

With the new WWAN in place, the Navy intends to purchase Android-powered mobile devices, according to WIRED. The Navy will work with the National Security Agency to secure and equip these devices with features fit for military use. Just like with other mobile workers, this mobile technology will give sailors greater flexibility and mobility and improve access to data with the ability to upload and share data files instantly. As a result, worker downtime is decreased and efficiency is increased, benefitting sailors who can now communicate from anywhere on the ship.

Another benefit is a cost-effective way to maximize data-transfer among ships within close range without relying on the ship’s original communication system. The old satellite system is successful in keeping the fleet in contact across vast expanses of water, but has limited bandwidth capacity. Between netting up data from shipboard drones and maintaining daily operations, the ships communication system can sometimes become overloaded.

Given the Navy’s desire to be able to transfer video, text and voice instantaneously on the network, sailors and Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit will be the first to test what the Navy has deemed an at-sea “planning vignette” – a situation in which information is passed from another vessel back to the mother ship to assess the WWAN’s ability to support the sharing of mission-critical information in real-time.

The anticipated deployment of 4G heralds a new era for a data-driven Navy. It remains to be seen what 4G LTE networks will mean for the military in the long-term as the Navy is only the second military branch, following the Army, in implementing wireless technology in the field. However, what’s clear is that 4G wireless networks can greatly improve mission-critical communication for these and other mobile workers, further improving service men and women’s ability to successfully perform their duties.

Image courtesy of DoD Airman Finley Williams, US Navy.