Home Office small boats command plans mobile ad hoc network for use across English Channel

A Border Force unit established last year to bring together hundreds of officials in one operational structure is planning another big tech deployment, allowing connectivity for immigration officers at sea

The Home Office unit leading work to tackle small-boat crossings has lifted the lid on plans to implement a mobile ad hoc network to provide connectivity for immigration officers throughout the English Channel.

Established last year as part of the Border Force, the Small Boats Operational Command is staffed by hundreds of officials and its creation was intended to “bring together the government’s response to small boats under a single integrated structure”.

PublicTechnology has previously reported on small boats-focused teams investing millions of pounds in technology initiatives, including the deployment of sensors to enable round-the-clock tracking of vessels in UK waters, as well spending money to target the online operations of those offering illicit channel crossings.

SBOC has now revealed its intention to fulfil “an operational need to deploy [a] mobile ad hoc Network (MANET) across the English Channel”.  

Also known as an on-the-fly or spontaneous network, a MANET system consists or mobile devices – or nodes – that can communicate with another and enable connectivity between machines without the need for any core physical infrastructure.

SBOC wishes to implement a MANET “that can be integrated on manned aircraft, unmanned aircraft systems, coastal radio masts, sea vessels and dismounted Border Force officers”, according to a newly published commercial notice.

The small boats unit requires a network that is “capable of deploying at least 60 nodes in the same network” which must consist of ready-made commercial-off-the-shelf technology “as it is required to be operational as soon as possible”.

Related content

The network should also “support multicast video distribution… [and] multicast voice talk-groups with dual push-to-talk functionality”, as well as offering “the ability to be deployed as body-worn equipment, desk-mount equipment, aircraft equipment, maritime equipment, directional tracking antenna and mast mounted sector antennas”.

The requirement specifies that radios “must be able to operate in the L-band [frequency] at 1357-1377 MHz” and must possess “a network latency of less than 7 milliseconds between each node in the network” – referring to the time it takes one node to communicate with another.

The radios deployed at sea “must be able to natively encode video streams, [while] each radio must have an HDMI output” and offer users “various power options, including; battery powered… 12 volt DC input and 240 volt AC input”. SBOC also requires devices that are “ruggedised and waterproof with an IP68 rating” and are equipped with a GPS receiver.

Devices must all be “high data-rate-radio-frequency radios capable of 150 mega bits per second [and a] minimum of three Ethernet ports per radio to enable network integration”. The notice also stipulates a need for “the ability to dynamically select the best network gateway to use on the MANET, when multiple gateways are present in the MANET” and “there must be a mechanism to connect multiple RF (radio frequency) MANETs together when they are beyond radio line from each other”.

SBOC is currently in the early-engagement phase and is seeking to hear from potential suppliers to judge levels of interest and assess what is available on the market currently. Those wishing to take part in this exercise have until 10 July to email the Border Force’s procurement team.

“There is no commitment to go ahead with any procurement activity or issue a contract notice,” this engagement notice says. “This notice is seeking only to establish whether products/services of this nature are available.”

A commitment to ‘stop the boats’ was a flagship policy of the Conservative administration. Following the result of yesterday’s election, it remains to be seen whether SBOC will continue in its present form and with the same remit.

Sam Trendall

Learn More →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *