DARPA looking for ideas for mobile ad hoc networks or MANETs

Call ahead: The next 5 years of mobile computing

In the last 30 years, mobile devices have gone from single-function, two-pound bricks to pocket-sized computers that have the processing power of a mid-1970s mainframe. In the meantime, government’s grasp of the technology has gone from ignorance to tolerance to embrace. Knowing they can’t afford to stand apart, agencies are now grappling with the problems they’ll have to solve in order to absorb the mobile revolution, including prickly issues like bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and mobile device management (MDM). Over the next five years, there are some clear areas that need to be, and in various ways are being, addressed:

1. Security and device management

This tops the list for everyone dealing with mobile technology in the public sector. With the proliferation of both the numbers and types of mobile devices, and where and how users can access government networks and data, security will become far more complex.

Government is just starting to catch up to requirements for this: the National Institute of Standards and Technology issued its latest guidelines on mobile security and management in July 2012, and the Defense Information Systems Agency is expected to implement a mobile device management system for the military later this year.

Device manufacturers, meanwhile, have also been active. BlackBerry’s new line of BlackBerry 10 phones are expected to work with Common Access Cards in the 10.1 and 10.2 versions. Other solutions, such as the Thursby PKard Reader for iOS and the baiBrowser for iOS and Android authenticate for network access using CAC, Personal Identity Verification or other cards. And biometrics solutions also are becoming more common.

Expect more change in how mobile devices communicate with each other. Agencies may have just gotten the hang of mobile device management, but they’re rapidly learning that this may not be enough. Meanwhile, companies like Citrix are focusing on developing secure containers and application management, potential answers to the problems of BYOD. Other companies, such as Novell and NTP, are working on secure ways to control file sharing.

But either way, agencies will need something in place, and soon. As Monica Basso and Jeffrey Mann noted in a recent report for Gartner, "Organizations must deploy [enterprise file synchronization and sharing] services to secure enterprise information assets. Failure to provide these capabilities will subject organizations to information leakage threats caused by users who move data through uncontrolled personal cloud services."

2. Application mobility and access

Having a mobile device is one thing, using it to conduct business and to collaborate with colleagues is another, since many office applications might not translate well to the mobile environment.

The cloud is one obvious answer. Citrix and other companies are introducing solutions that can “mobilize” Windows applications and desktops and deliver them as a service to mobile devices. And Salesforce.com recently unveiled a cloud-based service that allows agencies to securely collaborate and to build mobile applications faster.

The move to mobile could also bring Microsoft back into contention. With Windows XP due to fade from view, agencies that still have plenty of desktops and legacy applications on XP face challenges.

Those agencies willing (and able) to make the jump to Windows 8 would find it delivers a consistent interface experience across all platforms. It has a “lot of potential to address the concerns people have for mobile devices,” said Shawn McCarthy, research director for IDC Government Insights. “It’s worth a look for a lot of government enterprises.”

3. Mobile infrastructure

For most agencies, developing a mobile program means improving the networking and access points inside buildings, while making sure workers in the field have access to sufficient bandwidth to handle government-strength data transfer. In both cases that comes down to available budgets and what technologies best fit their needs.

Some parts of government have different problems, however. The Defense Department wants to provide the utility of mobile to its front-line troops, for example, but it’s not easy deploying regular mobile networks in a hostile environment.

DARPA is looking for ideas by the end of the year on mobile ad-hoc networks, or MANETs, that would use the mobile devices themselves to function as network routers for each on the fly. According to program manager Mark Rich, that “could provide more troops with robust services such as real-time video imagery, enhanced situational awareness and other services that we have not yet imagined.” 

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.


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