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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.

ITS will host a two-day workshop on Tactical EK&M to look into the future to see what E&KM may look like, and we will look at the present to see what technologies can be leveraged to take us there. The workshop is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and organized and hosted as a joint effort between ITS and the RAND Corporation. It will take place February 15-16, 2017, at the Department of Commerce Boulder Labs and will be open to the public (U.S. Citizens only) and press on a first-come, first-served basis. Space is limited. For more details on attendance, see the Notice of Workshop on Tactical Encryption and Key Management published in the Federal Register. For more information on the workshop, including pre-registration requirements, visit the ITS Tactical Encryption and Key Management Workshop page. A draft agenda is here.


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 1927: Federal Radio Commission Established

On February 23, 1927 President Calvin Coolidge signed Public Law 69-632. This law, which became known as the Radio Act of 1927, superseded the previous Radio Act of 1912. The 1912 act, which focused on maritime radio, had put the power of regulation squarely in the hands of the Secretary of Commerce; the new act created a Federal Radio Commission to regulate the use of all radio frequency in the U.S. In their first report the Commission described the change and enumerated some of their duties: “A wholly new Federal body was called into being to deal with a condition which had become almost hopelessly involved during the months following July 3, 1926, when it became clear that the Department of Commerce had no authority under the 1912 radio law to allocate frequencies, withhold radio licenses, or regulate power or hours of transmission.” (FRC July 1, 1927) The Federal Radio Commission listened to conflicting claims to frequencies and weighed public opinion; they became known for withholding radio licenses from broadcasters in their zeal to “bring order out of chaos, by placing the 732 broadcasting stations on 89 wavelengths, so as not to create interference.” The FRC lasted only a few years before it was replaced in 1934 by the Federal Communications Commission, which had even broader powers to regulate commercial broadcasters. ITS continues to work with the FCC to coordinate government and commercial spectrum use and manage the ever-more crowded radio spectrum.