XM's Satellite Radio Network Could Get Drafted for Military Use

By Brian Bergstein, AP Technology Writer

BOSTON -- Customers of XM Satellite Radio Inc. 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 Co. 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, known as MESA, would get a dedicated channel on XM's satellites that would be accessible only on devices given to emergency personnel. The receivers would be the same as the portable ones available to consumers, with slight modifications to make them more rugged.

The military often leases transmission space on commercial satellites, but this 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" -- is unusual.

It began last year when engineers with Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon Co. were looking for an inexpensive system that would help emergency responders and soldiers coordinate their actions after a natural disaster or terrorist strike. Existing communications systems for such scenarios can be bulky and expensive.

Commercial satellite radio receivers, in contrast, are lightweight, battery-powered and cost as little as $99. Their digital transmissions have enough bandwidth to carry maps and other imagery, which would be displayed on portable computers that plug into the satellite receivers. And the system can be programmed to relay information just to specific devices if need be, so individual users can get messages appropriate to their regions.

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