Customers of XM Satellite Radio aren't the only ones who appreciate its digital quality and nationwide coverage. The U.S. military might draft XM's...
BOSTON — Customers of XM Satellite Radio aren’t the only ones who appreciate its digital quality and nationwide coverage. The U.S. military might draft XM’s service for homeland-security purposes.
XM and Raytheon have jointly built a communications system that would use XM’s satellites to relay information to soldiers and emergency responders during a crisis.
The Mobile Enhanced Situational Awareness Network (MESA), would get a dedicated channel on XM’s satellites accessible only on devices given to emergency personnel.
The military often leases transmission space on commercial satellites, but this is an unusual collaboration between a massive defense contractor and a fun-loving radio network — XM’s first two satellites were dubbed “Rock” and “Roll,” and its next two might be “Rhythm” and “Blues.
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Commercial satellite radio receivers are lightweight, battery-powered and cost as little as $99. Their digital transmissions have enough bandwidth to carry maps and other imagery, and the system can be programmed to relay information just to specific devices so that individual users can get messages appropriate to their regions.
While XM’s service only reaches North America, Raytheon has signed on with Worldspace, a satellite-radio provider in Africa, Asia and Europe, for global coverage. That system debuted in March during tsunami relief efforts in Asia.
Even before that, MESA’s domestic potential had attracted the interest of the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Colo., which is responsible for homeland-security missions.
During test runs this month, images, data and audio were sent to an “injection point” at Washington, D.C.-based XM. The transmissions were relayed to space, then sent back to the portable devices that would be carried by field personnel.
Official assessments of MESA will take months, and procurement decisions will likely come next year. But early reviews were favorable, said Christopher Lambert of the Northern Command.
He said he could envision the system being useful not only for disasters but also for everyday police uses.
For example, an undercover cop could have the system in his car, masked as a regular XM radio most of the time, but ready to receive messages from headquarters with the flip of a switch.
XM spokesman Chance Patterson said it’s too early to say how much revenue MESA could bring the company, which has nearly 4 million subscribers but has struggled to become profitable. XM lost $642 million last year.
“It would easily pay for itself,” he said.