Scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) along with Mercury Continuity (MC) have successfully demonstrated the Tactical Reachback Extended Communications (TREC) system in the port of Miami. This NRL-developed communications technology, which provides a very high data rate transmission over long ranges, was tested as part of a CRADA (Cooperative Research and Development Agreement) with MC and Intelligent Designs, LLC.
The full-duplex connection was set up between a node on top of a 760-foot-tall building near the harbor and another on board the vessel Norwegian Sky, a cruise ship owned by Norwegian Cruise Line, as she operated both pier side and then while transiting the harbor out to sea. During the proof-of-concept demonstration, the team achieved data rates of 720 Mbps, exceeding by orders of magnitude the data connectivity that these vessels have in the harbor currently. As the cruise ship tracked out to sea, the data rate was ratcheted down to 100 Mbps and the link was operated out to ~16 nautical miles. On the return voyage, operating at the minimum data rate the link became solid over 22 miles from shore, and was ratcheted up to 720 Mbps in steps as the vessel drew closer to port. There were multipath effects evident, but the tracking of the directional antennas on the ship and on shore was more than sufficient to maintain a consistent signal level at or beyond those ranges.
Prior to the testing on Norwegian Sky, NRL and its industry partners put the ship node on a chartered vessel for two separate trials, validating the operation and tracking of the terminals, as well as establishing and validating test procedures for the actual cruise ship testing that would follow. These tests on the chartered vessel established the dependability of the link at a variety of data rates, and helped identify blockages (for example, due to cranes at the shipyard) that affected performance.
The TREC technology not only benefits the Navy and the DoD but could also have civilian applications, especially given MC’s plan to debut modified commercial TREC configurations for maritime and energy customers later this year. The industry partners hope to apply this technology to supporting the cruise industry with a high data rate connectivity while in harbor and out to sea more than 25 nautical miles from shore.
According to Adam Jaffe, CEO of Mercury Continuity, Inc., TREC represents more than just a cutting-edge communications system. “Beyond the relatively niche sector servicing commercial cruise lines and yachts, there is a substantially broader base of government and civilian customers who have long been eager for a wireless communications solution with ‘TREC-like’ capabilities. MC is excited about continuing our relationship with NRL to further develop this disruptive technology. We believe our work on TREC will end up having a significant impact across government and civilian sectors and on the industry at large.”
NRL initially developed TREC as a very high speed, full duplex line-of-sight data link between airborne assets and a ground station. TREC began as a 6.2 research effort at NRL sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in 2008, and NRL has remained on task by ONR to guide the contracts developing the advanced hardware and conducting all integration and testing of the various systems in the air and on the ground.
TREC had previously met all of its threshold benchmarks for performance (300 Mbps at 50 nautical miles), weight (less than 12 lbs.) and power draw (less than 57W). NRL has operated TREC successfully in repeated trials, including during experimentation where TREC provided a reliable high data rate link from a manned aircraft to the ground, in support of a payload from NRL Optical Sciences Division.