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Wi-Fi Network Launched For U.S. Soldiers In Iraq

The mesh network provides secure wireless Internet service for 20,000 U.S. troops serving at Joint Base Balad, the largest U.S. military base in the region.

Aruba Networks reported Tuesday that it has installed a secure Wi-Fi network in Iraq to provide Internet access for U.S. soldiers.

The mesh-based network provides Internet service to 20,000 U.S. soldiers serving at Joint Base Balad, the largest U.S. military base in the region. For the first time, soldiers can surf the Net securely from their laptops around the sprawling base. In the past, there was no individual access for the soldiers; they could get on the Internet only if they found a hard-wired access point.

The Aruba network was installed by Babylon Telecommunications, which has been providing service for foreign contractors and government entities in Iraq since 2003. The U.S. Army & Air Force Exchange Services awarded the contract to Babtel.

The Aruba-based mesh network has several advantages, including its capability to self-heal if access points are lost or rendered unworkable in the harsh Iraqi environment, according to the company.

"Since the mesh nodes work wirelessly, an Aruba mesh network can be quickly moved, expanded, or otherwise changed, making it inherently rapidly deployable," said Dave Logan, Aruba's general manager of federal solutions, in an e-mail Tuesday. "It is self-healing and features a highly redundant design for reliability and supportability.

"With both the embedded user-based firewall and WIDS [wireless intrusion detection system] in the Aruba architecture, the network is logically protected from both inside and outside attacks and rogue devices. So the network is encrypted and authenticated to protect it," said Logan.

The network features ruggedized outdoor access points, which can be moved about the base easily without installing data cabling. The configuration works well for the soldiers, who can access the network in clusters. Dozens of soldiers e-mailing home, gaming, or surfing the Web can be served by each individual access point, most of which are located so the soldiers can use their laptops in their living quarters.

"This approach is much more convenient than previous approaches," said Lt. Col. William (Dean) Thurmond of AAFES, who noted that the soldiers previously had to rely on hard-wired solutions in Internet cafes.

Chris Catranis, Babtel's CEO, said the first soldiers using the system were using it for voice calls and to send and receive e-mails, photos, and videos.

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