WIDEN narrows the gap

An EU-funded project has led to the development of a prototype network, WIDENS, that could be quickly deployed in areas where there is no communication infrastructure to support emergency operations.


An EU-funded project has led to the development of a prototype network, WIDENS, that could be quickly deployed in areas where there is no available communication infrastructure to support emergency or peacekeeping operations.


Emergency responders currently use cellular-based digital communications that require a backbone network and provide limited throughput over long distances. By contrast, WIDENS is composed of ‘terminodes’, which are software-defined radio communication nodes with mixed enhanced handset terminal and IP Router features for greater throughput.


The network enhances existing systems with high bandwidth (2Mb/s) over a dedicated emergency area of a few square kilometres. Higher throughput means large amounts of sensor data, such as images for telemedicine applications, or video-surveillance, can be exchanged. WIDENS is also straightforward to deploy in the field as there is no need for any specific equipment such as aerials.


It can be used as a standalone system for communications in remote regions while being connected to backbone network and/or command and control centres via satellite or airborne platforms. The system is also designed as a ‘healing overlay network’ for areas where there is a lack of capacity to support emergency-related traffic, or where communication infrastructure has been destroyed.


Recent field trials in Sophia Antipolis, France, were a success with the WIDENS team validating the design on five Linux laptops with a PCMCIA card for the air interface. The trial demonstrated the viability of the system for multi-hop relaying for voice communication, as well as high throughput for live video surveillance, interconnection with the internet, and fleet monitoring control room application and authentication of nodes to prevent IP spoofing.


Although WIDENS has broadly met its initial objectives, there remains some technical fine-tuning for the system to reach its full potential. And some standardisation issues remain to be worked out.

‘The standardisation activities of systems such as WIDENS is carried out within MESA, a transatlantic initiative for future public safety broadband communication systems. It is currently defining an umbrella architecture for public safety systems that will open new markets,’ said Dr Vania Conan, project co-ordinator for WIDENS.