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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 at MILCOM November 1-3

ITS hosted an NTIA booth at MILCOM 2016 November 1-3. On November 1, ITS engineer Chriss Hammerschmidt presented a paper on “Extracting Clutter Metrics From Mobile Propagation Measurements in the 1755-1780 MHz Band” that describes spectrum measurements ITS took during 2015 to inform and validate new radio wave propagation prediction models. ITS has been working to better understand how to factor in the effects of clutter (man-made structures and vegetation) when analyzing and predicting the behavior of radio waves—read about that in the NTIA blog "Understanding Spectrum Clutter—It’s Not About Neatness!" ITS and its predecessor labs within the Department of Commerce have been developing and improving propagation models since about 1909. These mathematical algorithms predict the behavior of radio waves, and they are an essential enabler for spectrum sharing. But increased demand for spectrum, advances in technology, and the tremendous increase in the everyday spectrum usage (sometimes referred to as the “noise floor”), mean that there are tremendous potential benefits from more research and testing to improve the accuracy of existing propagation models. The topic is of special interest to military communications professionals because frequency bands where they operate many critical communications systems are now being opened to sharing. ITS Director Keith Gremban moderated a Technical Panel on Spectrum Sharing - Issues and Approaches on November 2nd where some of the challenges of federal/non-federal spectrum sharing were discussed. Keith also chaired a Technical Paper Session on November 1 on MIMO and Directional Networking, techniques that can help to prevent interference among communications services sharing spectrum.

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 new report issued this month 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

January 1909: Maritime Radio Distress Call Saves 1,500 Lives

One of the first maritime radio distress calls saved over 1,500 lives. Early on the morning of January 23, 1909, in a dense fog, the Italy-bound SS Republic collided with the New York-bound SS Florida near Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. Six people died in the collision, which heavily damaged both ocean liners. A combined total of over 1,500 passengers were at risk. Luckily, the Republic carried a new invention, a Marconi wireless distress signal. J. Binns, the ship's Marconi-man sent out a CQD, an all stations distress signal, to alert nearby ships of the collision before the Republic went down. The call was received at 6:40 AM at the Siosconset wireless station and relayed to nearby vessels. Seven ships responded to the call, and rowboats were used to rescue all surviving passengers and crew from both ships. A tragedy had been averted and newspapers and magazines were filled with the heroic stories of passengers and rescuers alike. New wireless technology had been tested dramatically at sea and proven itself. The next year, Congress passed a change to U.S. maritime code that required all steam ships operating out of American ports to maintain radio distress signals. Much of the Department of Commerce's early radio work was directed at ensuring that all commercial vessels could send, receive, and understand Maritime distress signals like the one the Republic sent out. Today, ITS researchers still work directly to improve maritime safety through, for example, defining interference protection criteria and mitigation techniques to ensure marine radars can continue to provide accurate collision avoidance when sharing spectrum with other radio services.