Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Promise and Peril of Software-Defined Radios

The benefits of software-defined radios for the military are clear: ground and airborne forces, on many tactical and strategic levels, could communicate with one another over the same basic type of radio and radio network. That is what the US Army's Joint Tactical Radio System program aims to develop. The equivalent in the commercial telecommunications world might be having a cell phone that a user could operate with many different service providers, regarding of the type of wireless network they operate.

But Vanu Bose, founder of wireless technology maker Vanu Inc. when he was still in graduate school at MIT, says that his company knew way back in 1999 that the JTRS program was being developed wrong. His company initially bid for a contract in partnership with Boeing, but later disagreed with Boeing's proposed strategy for JTRS and decided to bid on its own for (and won) a prototyping contract, even though at the time Cambridge, Mass.-based Vanu was just a six-person company.

"I think the concept being JTRS is an excellent one," says Bose, who also happens to be the son of the founder of Bose Radio. "I think the problem was that the way the program was conceived was that there was still a lot of technology risk, and it should have been a DARPA program to evaluate the risk."

Instead, Bose says, the Army created an acquisition program to buy radios when they were dealing with a technology and architecture that no one had ever built a radio with before. The problems resulting from this are therefore not surprising (see "Alternatives Sought Amid JTRS Delays"). But the reorganization of JTRS, including a temporary halt earlier this year to development one of the planned components of JTRS, should help correct the overemphasis on production of the technology before proper design and testing has occured, says Bose.

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