Could “smart walls” replace physical barriers on the US-Mexico border?

Nelson Balido is the director and founder of Balido & Associates, a strategic business consultancy with expertise in government, trade, travel, security and cross-border. Opinions are those of the author.

Six months after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, the future of the Mexico-US border wall is in the stars. There is no doubt that his cessation order will affect the fate of our country’s southern border barrier and have a dramatic impact on construction companies currently doing business with the government as well as companies hoping to win federal contracts in the future.

The work stop stops the creation of new contracts for the construction of the physical boundary wall and stops movement in all phases of construction that have not yet been determined or started.

That does not mean, however, that there will be no way of making treaties with the government regarding our southern border. In fact, those opportunities could simply shift towards the more technology-centric smart wall that is currently dominating the conversation.

Nelson Balido

Permission granted by Balido & Associates

The general idea of ​​the new administration is that the construction of the border wall will be replaced by a metaphorical wall consisting mainly of sensors that act as an intrusion detection system rather than a physical barrier. This smart wall would act as a large-scale security system on the border line, replacing the brick wall built before January.

This means that while traditional construction companies are missing out on opportunities, tech companies have a lot to gain.

What is to be considered

Before starting to build a Smart Wall border, there are several elements that should be carefully considered to ensure the effectiveness of the implementation. These include:

Inefficiency. One of the main problems with a physical border wall, which will be an obstacle to any smart wall solution, is that physical barriers only slow down intruders rather than completely preventing them from crossing. In areas where we currently have a physical border wall, the barrier gives border authorities more time to respond to the threat, but there is simply nothing that is resilient.

Location. The border wall is on US soil. Because of the location of the border wall, even if you had someone on the other side, the law required the officer to bypass the barrier and arrest the intruder instead of simply repelling them. In a way, this creates more hassle and inefficiency than not having a wall at all.

Level of technical sophistication. With a smart border wall, there are even more obstacles to overcome in order to ensure the efficiency of the wall. An intelligent border wall would have to consist of various sensors to recognize who and what is going to the border. It is important that these sensors are sophisticated enough to differentiate between animals and humans, and that they have a long range to detect intruders as much as possible so that border authorities can react and react. This type of alarm can be made by unattended ground sensors, LiDAR technology, cameras, fiber optic cables buried in the ground, and various other technologies.

But the bottom line is that as much information as possible has to be transmitted by the “smart wall” so that the enforcement authorities know how to react and with what force.

Communication needs. After all, topline communication is critical to developing a smart border wall. A very large part of the regions along our southern border, and certainly the even larger and more distant northern border, have no means of communication. Border guards currently rely on satellite phones to go into some of these areas, but if there are no power lines or phone communication facilities then clearly there is no power for a smart border wall. So this presents a great opportunity for companies that specialize in power and energy – especially in remote areas – to win government contracts. Every intelligent wall installation or every construction plan will bring with it an enormous energy requirement that the current border wall does not have.

Even if some of these areas generate electricity needed to support the border wall’s intelligent technology, cellular and radio communications are likely to remain patchy at best, and the technology that would be required to enable communication in these very remote areas is border areas extremely expensive; for example, the cost of satellite telephone services in these areas is astronomical, making them unsustainable due to the cost involved.

However, one of the emerging technologies that can transport communication signals at very high speed and at one-time cost is troposcatter technology. Troposcatter is an emerging wearable communication system that uses atmospheric particles to carry waves of communication. The system can be taken anywhere and, depending on the situation, can be converted from a point-to-point system to a multipoint system. With the Troposcatter technology in the picture, the idea of ​​a Smart Wall is much easier to achieve, as communication could be connected to the Smart Border faster and more cost-effectively.

As you can see, stopping work on the southern border does not mean the end of contract options for private companies. In fact, a smart border wall offers countless opportunities for companies to win contracts from the federal government. Many different technological services are required. So if you own a company or product that you think could benefit from the smart border wall, now is the time to take an edge and win those contracts.

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