C-THRU and CDE: Transforming the Future of Communications

Harwell, UK

The Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE), was set up in 2008 to harness and fund cutting-edge ideas that could be used in defence. Communications software specialist Bubblephone, who are based in the Sussex Innovation Centre in Brighton, are just one company that has benefited from the forward-thinking approach of the CDE, having received two awards to help develop their flagship product C-THRU, network optimisation software that could potentially have a significant defence application.

C-THRU is able to transform the quality and reliability of military communications networks. In addition, it will enable networks and applications that do not currently talk to each other to interoperate. Potential applications include improving tactical military communications for fixed and mobile units, missile communications, satellite communications, and so forth.

C-THRU can be defined as a network optimisation software plug-in—it it simply drops into existing network systems. In doing so, it establishes and maintains a rock-solid network connection where connections might normally fail, for example maintaining communications in mountainous terrain where a signal may be frequently disrupted. It achieves this by being “aware” of the network environment in relation to the needs of the application. Should that network environment be adversely impacted—perhaps a mountain gets in the way or the signal is jammed—C-THRU seamlessly switches to alternative networks or connection methods with no loss of performance to the user. C-THRU can also intelligently re-route traffic via a third party (or supernode) to ensure communications get through.

If you think for a moment about the kind of terrain faced by UK troops in Afghanistan, which could range from built-up urban environments to vast mountains and valleys, you can see how this kind of technology may be applied in the field and the importance it could have for UK Armed Forces.

Put simply, C-THRU will keep the connection open where without it the connection may simply drop, said Sean Curtis-Ward, CEO of Bubblephone. This presents a huge tactical advantage.

In January 2009, Bubblephone received a feasibility contract from the CDE valued at £49,000. Work under the contract culminated in October 2009 in a demonstration of C-THRU on a special test network. Just three weeks later, C-THRU was further demonstrated to MOD staff on battlefield-ready kit over a subset of the BOWMAN tactical communications network, undertaken at the EDGE UK demonstration suite at General Dynamics UK’s facility in South Wales. The BOWMAN tactical military communications network is a mission-critical system that contains different network types (such as VHF, UHF and satellite) and where transmission quality and reliability are paramount.

After the demonstration, Dr Jeremy Creasey, Technical Director at General Dynamics UK, commented: Since its last demonstration, C-THRU has advanced its Technology Readiness Level. With the right commitment and backing, Bubblephone will deliver a world-beating network technology to the MOD that will give the UK a huge technological advantage in tactical military communications. Most importantly, in the field, this will translate into saving lives and cutting costs.

Such is the overwhelming potential of C-THRU that the Brighton-based company became the first firm to be awarded second-round funding by the CDE when they were awarded a contract valued at £43,000 to deliver a beta-version of the software.

This award underlines the value of CDE as a cost-effective way to access leading-edge technology and get it into the field quickly, added Mr Curtis-Ward. Also, it represents a strong endorsement of our adaptive software, which we believe has huge commercial potential outside of the defence sector.

Bubblephone is putting the finishing touches to the first beta version of C-THRU, which will be delivered in summer to the MOD. Following that, there will be a demonstration on how C-THRU will extend the capability of the BOWMAN network with the objective of securing funding for a battlefield-ready version. The company is currently talking to a number of potential investors who appreciate the huge commercial potential of the technology. Addressable markets include mobile technologies, voice over IP, internet services—indeed any application requiring an always available, rock-solid network connection.

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