04:44 PM

Military Checks Out Satellite Radio

The U.S. military is taking a serious look at the service to improve communications to soldiers and emergency responders in crisis situations.

MANHASSET, N.Y. — Although XM satellite radio is currently the domain of home consumer and automotive applications, the U.S. military is taking a serious look at the service to improve communications to soldiers and emergency responders in crisis situations.

A Raytheon spokesperson confirmed an Associated Press report stating that Raytheon Corp. (Waltham, Mass.) and XM (Washington, D.C.) have jointly built a communications system that would use the latter's satellites to relay information to soldiers and emergency responders during a crisis.

Raytheon is now testing the communications system through the Mobile Enhanced Situational Awareness Network, known as MESA, which would get a dedicated channel on XM's satellites accessible only on devices given to emergency personnel. The receivers would be similar to the portable ones available to consumers, but modified for additional ruggedness.

XM satellite radio is gaining popularity in homes and is filtering down from high-end carmakers to lower-price makers such as Hyundai. But the service has reportedly been unprofitable, and could conceivably receive a much-needed revenue boost if a recent trial of Raytheon and XM's system results in more permanent deployment.

Earlier this month, MESA was put through its paces in test runs at the Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, an annual event in which technology vendors show their wares to U.S. and allied military brass around the world.

MESA transmitted image, data and audio signals to an injection point at XM. The transmissions were in turn relayed to space and then sent back to the portable devices that would be carried by field personnel.

Raytheon's interest in XM began last year when company engineers sought an inexpensive, lightweight system that would help emergency responders and soldiers coordinate their actions after a natural disaster or terrorist strike.

The engineers turned to commercial satellite radio receivers that are battery-powered and cost as little as $99. Their digital transmissions have enough bandwidth to carry maps and other imagery, which would be displayed on portable computers that plug into the satellite receivers. The system can also be programmed to relay specific messages to specific devices if needed.

While XM's service only reaches North America, Raytheon has signed on with Worldspace Corp., a satellite radio provider in Africa, Asia and Europe, for global coverage. That system debuted in March during tsunami relief efforts in Asia, when Raytheon and Worldspace gave satellite receivers to help agencies coordinate their activities, said Mike Feenor, the MESA program manager at Raytheon.

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