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A High Speed, Long-Range Mobile Communications Link for use in Polar Regions

Chalishazar, N., Prescott, G. and Braaten, D.,

Abstract:

The Polar Radar for Ice Sheet Measurements (PRISM) project has developed a high bandwidth, wireless communications link between an autonomous rover and a manned vehicle deployed on a polar ice sheet to exchange real-time video, timing signals for a bistatic radar, and rover sensory data. The PRISM project is developing advanced intelligent remote sensing technology that involves radar systems, an autonomous rover, and communications systems to measure detailed ice sheet characteristics, and to determine bed conditions (frozen or wet) below active ice sheets in both Greenland and Antarctica. While this wireless communications link is being developed to fill a need within the PRISM Project, the same technology will allow polar researchers separated by moderate distances (~10 km) to exchange data. The communications link is based on a high data rate 802.11b wireless technology, and a prototype system has been tested and evaluated during field experiments conducted at the NorthGRIP ice core drilling camp in Greenland (75° 06' N, 42° 20' W) from June 23-July 17, 2003. The IEEE 802.11b standard works in the 2.4-2.483 GHz band and has been widely used for high-speed data transfer in a WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network). It typically has a range of a few hundred meters and theoretical data rates on the order of 11 Mbps. It has been used for a number of applications in home and office environments. We modified a 802.11b system to operate up to a maximum distance of about 8 km and investigated the radio propagation environment over the flat terrain of the Greenland ice sheet. We evaluated its performance along three different tracks of 8 km in length, and made throughput measurements at intervals of 0.5 km. We measured the received signal strength and noise level in 2-s intervals along these 8 km tracks. Also we conducted experiments for four different antenna heights (1, 2, 3 and 5 m) for developing a radio propagation model for WLAN communication over the ice sheet. We found that peer-to-peer communication between nodes on the ice had data rates varying from 4.5 Mbps at close range to 2.5 Mbps at a distance of 8 km from the base station. The design, propagation model, throughput and coverage of this peer-to-peer communications system in Greenland are presented in this paper. This WLAN system has numerous applications in polar field camps. We tested the transfer of real-time video segments across this link for our educational outreach efforts in the field. These video segments were subsequently uploaded using an Iridium-based Internet link, and sent back to the University of Kansas. The wireless Internet connectivity was also made available to members of the North Grip camp, who were able to access e-mail and the Internet from their tents and common areas. However, throughput for wireless access to the Internet was limited by the Iridium-based Internet connection that had a maximum bandwidth of 9.6 Kbps.

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