Wireless and secure

A secure, wireless ultrawideband (UWB) data-communication network could help monitor U.S. Air Force bases and DOE nuclear facilities as well as control remotely operated weapon systems, say developers at Sandia National Laboratories, Time Domain Corp., Huntsville, Ala., and KoolSpan Inc., North Bethesda, Md.

The technology also promises to usher in advanced sensors that fuse UWB communication with UWB radar. Such systems may be deployed in hostile areas to warn tactical forces and forward bases of incoming threats and insurgents. The secure wireless communication method uses the strong 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).

UWB, or "impulse radio," needs no carrier frequency, as do other RF-wireless-network or communication technologies. UWB instead transmits a flood of ultrashort microwave pulses (on the order of 100 picosec in duration) that extend over an extremely wide band of energy covering several gigahertz.

"By spreading impulse energy over a wide frequency spectrum, the signal power falls near or within the noise floor, making these signals extremely difficult to detect, intercept, or jam and, when combined with AES, virtually impossible to crack," says H. Timothy Cooley, senior scientific engineer at Sandia. The large available spectrum of UWB also accommodates data-intensive advanced sensors.

UWB/AES is IP-network compatible and its "per-packet" rotating 256-bit encryption keys further boosts crypto-protection. The UWB/AES network architecture needs no computing infrastructure, provides real-time (hardware) encryption, and is completely self-recovering should it be interrupted or when a sensor goes down.

Recent tests of a wireless UWB network bridge show it capable of real-time 256-bit AES encryption of livestreaming video images generated from a surveillance camera or thermal imager. The tests used only microwatts of transmitted power, about 1/1,000th the power of conventional wireless IEEE 802.11b or Wi-Fi transmissions. Funding for the project comes from the U.S. Air Force Electronic Systems Center.


KoolSpan Inc.
Time Domain Corp.