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Institute for Telecommunication Sciences
the research laboratory of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration

What We Do

The Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) performs cutting-edge telecommunications research and engineering with both federal government and private sector partners. As its research and engineering laboratory, ITS supports NTIA by performing the research and engineering that enables the U.S. Government, national and international standards organizations, and many aspects of private industry to manage the radio spectrum and ensure that innovative, new technologies are recognized and effective. ITS also serves as a principal Federal resource for solving the telecommunications concerns of other Federal agencies, state and local Governments, private corporations and associations, and international organizations. The FY 2015 Technical Progress Report describes research performed in the past fiscal year.

ITS Hosts Tactical Encryption and Key Management Workshop

Today, encryption and key management (E&KM) is a process that can be onerous, difficult, and time-consuming. We hypothesize that advances in processing efficiency and networking technologies can greatly simplify (or perhaps even automate) E&KM thus enabling secure dynamic coalitions and information flow control in mobile, tactical applications. We further hypothesize that these secure, dynamic coalitions and information control schemes can be constructed and maintained without a central, off-site coordination authority.

In February, ITS hosted a two-day workshop on Tactical EK&M to look into the future to see what E&KM may look like, and at the present to see what technologies can be leveraged to take us there. The workshop was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and organized and hosted as a joint effort between ITS and the RAND Corporation. The proceedings are now being readied for publication.


Research Spotlight: Speech Intelligibility

Speech intelligibility is one of the primary requirements the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPTSC) Broadband Working Group defined for mission critical voice services like those to be delivered over the new nation-wide public safety broadband network that the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is charged with deploying. The NPSTC requirements begin with “The listener MUST be able to understand [what is being said] without repetition.”

For years ITS has conducted various types of subjective testing in tightly-controlled laboratory conditions to sort through myriads of emerging telecom options to find those that sound better or work better in some respect. Where this work was directed towards intelligibility, it has been done through ITS’s participation in the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program, a joint effort with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and with the involvement of those who are directly affected—the public safety practitioners. A particular focus has been intelligibility in the presence of background noise to provide comparative intelligibility results for new digital speech and audio codecs, but now the work has expanded to include the condition of the communication network itself.

A report issued in November 2016 describes comparative intelligibility results for new digital speech and audio codecs under different conditions of radio access network (RAN) degradation. Characterizing the relationship between the condition of the RAN and intelligibility is particularly important for mission critical voice because the events that stress the RAN may very well be events that also have critical intelligibility requirements.

One public safety related example would be an event that is escalating, requiring additional personnel to report to the scene. As more and more first responders share radio resources on the scene, those resources will be stressed more and more. As they are stressed, the voice data stream can be corrupted and packets or frames of data can be lost. Voice codecs use various mechanisms to compensate for packet loss or frame erasure—the more successfully they do this, the more “robust” they are and the more likely it is that the listener will be able to understand the message.

The test results published in NTIA Technical Report TR-17-522: Intelligibility of Selected Speech Codecs in Frame-Erasure Conditions can inform codec selection for mission critical voice applications, as well as the design, provisioning, and adaptation of these services and the underlying network. Most importantly, these results can allow those engineering activities to be driven by the critical user experience factor—speech intelligibility.

New Publications

This Month in ITS History

February 2012: FirstNet Established

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, signed into law on February 22, 2012, dealt primarily with economic issues, but also included a section on Public Safety Communications and Electromagnetic Spectrum Auctions (Title VI of Public Law 112–96, codified at 47 U.S.C. §1401 ff.). The law a) established the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) as an independent authority within the NTIA, b) directed the FCC to license the 700 MHz D block exclusively to FirstNet for an initial term of 10 years, and c) directed FirstNet to establish in that frequency a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network based on a single, national network architecture. During the emergency response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (“the 9/11 attack”), responding public safety agencies were greatly hampered by the inadequacy of their communications systems and the inability of systems used by different jurisdictions to interoperate. Improving public safety communications systems has been a primary focus of ITS research throughout its history. In the 1980s, researchers worked to define the P25 standards for digital radio communications for use by public safety. In the 1990s, this work was expanded through the Public Safety Communications Research program, a joint effort with NIST, that began to address not only voice communication over land mobile radio, but also video and data communication for public safety. ITS continues to work closely with NIST, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and now with FirstNet to ensure the safety of all first responders by researching robust, interoperable communications technologies and networks and contributing to standardization of mission critical features in commercial-off-the-shelf wireless communications equipment.