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CHIPS Articles: MWRNet: Bringing the Internet to the Balkans for our Deployed Service Members

MWRNet: Bringing the Internet to the Balkans for our Deployed Service Members
By Jim Condon - January-March 2001
Historically, deployed service members kept in touch with their families and friends with a letter or an occasional telephone call. With the rapid expansion and availability of the Internet, e-mail is taking the place of these more traditional communication methods.

Thanks to the efforts of the United States Army Europe (USAREUR) Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Section, and the European Office of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Charleston (SPAWAR Europe), service members deployed in the Balkans now have high-speed commercial Internet access that can be used for personal e-mail and distance education.

In addition to these, service members can also use video teleconferencing (VTC) services to stay in touch with family and friends.

BACKGROUND

In March 2000, USAREUR MWR sought the support of SPAWAR Europe, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, to provide a turnkey solution that included the development and implementation of a voice, video, and data network to support connectivity for their Cyber Cafés in the Balkans.

The MWR Cyber Cafés are facilities where deployed service members can use personal computers (PC), access the Internet, participate in a VTC, and perform distance learning. At that time, USAREUR MWR had already build Cyber Cafés on the following nine base camps:

•Eagle Base, Bosnia-Herzegovina
•Comanche Base, Bosnia-Herzegovina
•Camp McGovern, Bosnia-Herzegovina
•Camp Dobol, Bosnia-Herzegovina
•Butmir 2000, Bosnia-Herzegovina
•Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo
•Camp Monteith, Kosovo
•Taszar Main, Hungary
•Camp Able Sentry, Macedonia

IMPLEMENTATION

SPAWAR Europe accepted the challenge and began the project design and execution in April 2000. The system became known as MWRNet. We divided the project execution into two phases. Phase I which uses leased commercial satellite services to provide immediate connectivity; and Phase II, which involves involves the design, procurement, and installation of government-owned commercial satellite equipment.

This approach, owning verse leasing, will provide a complete return-on-investment in less than three years. Phase II also includes the construction of a Network Operations Center (NOC) and commercial satellite Master Earth Station at Thompkins Barracks, Heidelberg, Germany. The first phase will last six months from September 2000 to March 2001. The cut-over from Phase I to Phase II will take place in January and February of 2001.

DESIGN CRITERIA

Our proposal to USAREUR MWR provides a turnkey solution to satisfy their time-critical requirements for voice, video, and data services at the nine base camps including commercial Internet access and VTC capability.

We used the following set of high-level design requirements:

•Commercial satellite due to no adequate terrestrial infrastructure.
•Internet access at each base camp with bandwidths ranging from 256K to 512K.
•Capability to perform nine simultaneously 128K H.320 VTCs-one from each base camp.
•Dynamic satellite bandwidth allocation and bandwidth efficiency.
•Open architecture and future growth capability.
•Information Assurance, for example, a firewall at the NOC.
•High mean-time between failure.
•Remote management, diagnostics, and troubleshooting.

PHASE I

Phase I includes the use of Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT). These satellite terminals get their name from the small size of the satellite dish, 2.4 meters in this instance. We leased one terminal for each of the nine base camps. The VSAT is mounted in a 19-inch rack and includes a satellite modem, router, multiplexer (mux) and Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). The satellite dish and a high power amplifier were mounted external to the Cyber Café.

In addition to the installation of this equipment, we had to obtain the space segment (Intelsat 601 Ku-band) host nation approval; register the VSAT; and obtain teleport services; Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) service; and commercial Internet access.

Since many of the base camps have more than one Cyber Café and some have three, the Internet Protocol (IP) and ISDN connectivity had to be distributed across the base camp. All PCs and printers were configured and then interfaced to the router in the VSAT via HP Fast Ethernet Switches, fiber transceivers, aerial multi-modal fiber optic cable, and Category 5 copper cable.

We purchased and installed Polycom ViewStation 128 ISDN VTC suites for each base camp. At the same time, USAREUR MWR added VTC suites to each of its Family Assistance Centers in Europe. This allows deployed service members and their families in the U.S. to actually see and hear on another. SPAWAR’s commercial partners for Phase 1 were M.C. Dean, Inc. and Spacelink International, Inc.

PHASE II

In September 2000, construction began on the NOC and the 7.6-meter antenna foundation with completion scheduled for January 2001. The NOC will function as the Master Earth Station and control center for the system. The entire network will be monitored and controlled from the NOC, including: all system administration; performance monitoring; remote maintenance; software updates; virus scanning; IP network address translation; information assurance; configuration management; storage; and connection to terrestrial infrastructure. The connection to the terrestrial infrastructure includes 4 MB of Internet access provided by MCI WorldCom and one ISDN Primary Rate Interface (PRI) provided by Deutch Telecom.

One telecommunications technician and on computer specialist located at the NOC will provide 24x7 operations and system maintenance (O&M). The NOC is managed by Dave Arellanes of SPAWAR Europe. In addition to leading the SPAWAR Europe O&M Branch, Arellanes is has been instrumental in the design and installation phases of MWRNet.

CYBER CUBES

The Phase II VSAT will be installed inside of a 10x10x8-foot self-contained communications shelter. Rick Boyer, one of the SPAWAR Charleston team members, coined the term, “cyber cube,” for the shelter. These communications and automation shelters will be collocated with the main Cyber Café. The cyber cube will interface with existing PCs, printers and VTC suites using the local area network (LAN) and cable infrastructure installed during Phase I.

The environmentally controlled cyber cubes, in addition to housing the VSAT equipment, will allow for future growth and provide a location to stock spare equipment. The system is designed to expand to 4 MB of Internet/VTC bandwidth at each base camp with no new hardware or software required. All that is needed is an increase in the space segment lease.

The 2.4-meter satellite dish will mount to the top of a six-inch diameter antenna pole that is mounted to the side of the cyber cube. The cyber cube itself will be bolted to the concrete pad it sits atop, providing stability and structural integrity for the cube and dish.

A Windows 2000 server will be installed in each cyber cube providing a local proxy service and Web caching. The Phase II system was designed by a team of SPAWAR Charleston personnel including: Ace McCreight, Rick Boyer, Arnel Castillo and David Wagers.

FUTURE UPGRADES

When Phase II is complete; work will begin on numerous system feature upgrades. These will include:
- A Web-based VTC scheduling system that will simplify the process of coordinating and scheduling MWR VTC.
- The addition of IP (H.323) VTC to the existing ISDN (H.320) VTC capability.
- The ability to make MWR voice calls.
- Multi-cast streaming of Armed Forces Network (AFN) video.

CONCLUSION

The goal of MWRNet is to improve the morale and quality of life for service members deployed in the Balkans. With that goal in mind, the program has extremely successful and very popular with service members. At two of the base camps, Bondsteel and Monteith, there were more than 6,000 user sessions in the first week of implementation.

The impact of high speed Internet access and VTC capability continues to strengthen family ties and serves to bring peace of mind to the parents, families and friends of deployed service members serving in harm’s way.

Jim Condon is the senior manager for SPAWAR Europe headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany.

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