From the real-time broadcast of a desert assault to the deadly accuracy of the latest smart weapons, the war on Iraq has been fueled and punctuated by technology like no other conflict in history.
Personal satellite communications, videophones and GPSes (Global Positioning Systems) may have struggled for purchase in the enterprise, but the technologies are getting a real-world, life-and-death trial on the battlefield. While its difficult to look beyond the grave situation in Iraq, the tools being tested in combat could become the corporate technologies of the future, observers say.
“Were starting to see increased interest for things like critical systems backup and such,” said Perry Milton, vice president for partner and commercial relationships at satellite network company Inmarsat Ltd., in London. “Theres a lot of discussion around homeland security, where municipalities are looking for independent secure communications in case of the failure of the main lines.”
Inmarsat earlier this month reallocated its backup satellite in anticipation of heavy use of its global area network ISDN services in the Middle East.
Several military and media outfits have been using the Inmarsat network for videophone broadcasts and logistical communications, through rental and service deals with companies such as 7E Communications Ltd., of Middlesex, England.
7E makes the Talking Head line of videophones, which run over what is essentially a mobile ISDN line. Some broadcasts are transmitted over a standard 64K-bps line, while others link two terminals together to create a 128K-bps link, which is why some broadcasts are spottier than others.
Meanwhile, in the past several weeks, Globalstar USA LLC has sold about 1,000 satellite voice-only phones to American media and military customers in the Middle East. “A number of print journalists are using our phones now in the Middle East for both voice and data—they can file stories by modem,” said Mac Jeffery, a spokesman for Globalstar, in San Jose, Calif. The phones are the size of a home cordless handset.
Globalstar—which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2002 and lost a $55 million funding deal last month—has traditionally struggled to compete against cell phone services, which are far less expensive than, if not as reliable as, satellite services.
While support for the unprecedented media coverage in Iraq gets much attention, other companies are developing technologies to support U.S. ground troops as well.
Identity and access management vendor Netegrity Inc. said its SiteMinder access control solution is in use as the access control mechanism for the U.S. Armys AKO (Army Knowledge Online) portal, which supports 1.2 million users around the world.
Pete Morrison, the Washington-based director of Netegritys public-sector division, said the most notable use of the AKO portal is in “kiosks at all the minibases [supporting the war in Iraq] where soldiers are able to send e-mails home from the battle lines.”
The technology is at work on the home front as well. Morrison said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is deploying SiteMinder to support the DisasterHelp.gov Web site.
The war is also focusing a great deal of attention on GPS. Last week, government officials reported that U.S.-led forces destroyed six GPS jamming systems used by Iraqis to disrupt signals used by the U.S. military on equipment ranging from trucks to bombs.
The focus on GPS and on homeland security has raised some concerns that the government will reinstate SA, or selective availability, the slight signal scrambling technique that made civilian GPS signals less accurate than military signals. The government turned off SA in May 2000. Immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and again last week, the government went out of its way to say that there were no plans to turn SA back on.
“The U.S. government maintains the capability to prevent hostile use of GPS and its augmentations while retaining a military advantage in a theater of operations without unduly disrupting or degrading civilian uses outside the theater of operations,” reads a statement on the home page of the Washington-based Interagency GPS Executive Board.
That said, corporate America still has not widely adopted GPS services, not even those companies for whom it makes obvious sense.
“GPS is a solution looking for a problem at FedEx [Corp.],” said Nathan Lemmon, senior technical adviser for wireless systems development at Federal Express Corporate Services, in Memphis, Tenn. “We have not found a justifiable return on investment for equipping our fleet with GPS.”