Interestingly enough, an Army friend of mine and I were talking about this very idea just the other day.  The idea?  Having many, virtually ubiquitous, cheap wireless nodes on the battlefield as a way to 1) get better coverage to the warfighter–especially considering VOIP is becoming more and more important–and 2) distribute our battlefield information infrastructure so as to make it more robust and resilient.

Well, never fear, it looks like DARPA is already on it!

The Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Advanced Technology Office (ATO) is soliciting
proposals for the design, development, and demonstration of low-cost
wireless network nodes which support adaptation by means of distributed
network processing for the Wireless Adaptable Network Node (WANN).

DARPA explains the reasoning behind the program:

Previous practice has been to build high-cost, hence sparsely deployed
nodes, and to organize the network around these nodes. This program aims
to shift the approach used to design military wireless networks from
design for radio range to design for node density. Proposers should
assume node densities associated with deployments in which each
warfighter and each vehicle has at least one radio node.

Interestingly, a defense company in the UK is developing a similar system for civilian use, with the goal of providing wireless access to cars.  CNET reported on 5 June 2006:

Defense technology company Qinetiq has signed a contract to develop
technology that could eventually lead to wireless-enabled cars.

The technology, known as W-Direct, will initially be tested in lampposts.
It operates at 60GHz, which offers more bandwidth than standard Wi-Fi.
The idea is that each lamppost will contain a wireless node, which in
turn will host “strategically placed content” to be picked up by any
wirelessly enabled passerby.

Eventually, the idea is to develop reliable technology that could be used to transmit information from vehicle to vehicle.

These are two interesting developments indeed.  Ubiquity and decentralization are concepts in tune with the information age, no doubt.  However, with the development of wireless broadband being offered by a number of cell phone providers, as well as Clear Wire, I am wondering if wi-fi as we currently know it will have a future in the civilian market.  Cheap, ubiquitous wireless nodes that could be dispersed across the battlefield make sense for the military.  But with less direct threat to the civilian information infrastructure on a regular basis, a more centralized system for providing wireless Internet to civilians may be more likely.

References

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, “BROAD AGENCY ANNOUNCEMENT (BAA) 06-26 Wireless Adaptable Network Node (WANN)”, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, 6 April 2006

David Meyer, “U.K. firm drives toward wireless cars”, CNET News.com, 5 June 2006

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