Imagine this… It is rush hour and every motorist on the highway is driving in the right lane. The center and left lanes are empty. That would be a bizarre way to conduct travel in high volume times, right?
This scenario, as ludicrous as it sounds, describes how most wireless communication systems work. Many different types of devices connecting to the same broadband signal channels at the same time can be a cause for bottlenecks on the data superhighway.
Thankfully, researchers at the University at Buffalo are developing a way to undo the gridlock resulting from the rapid increase in the use of smartphones, laptops and other gadgets. The solution centers on the development of cognitive radio, a type of wireless communication that instantly finds and uses the best alternative channels.
Wireless devices – everything from smartphones to smart appliances – share an increasingly crowded radio spectrum. The congestion not only limits how fast information can be shared via wireless communication systems, it wastes energy, kicks people off the Internet and causes dropped cellphone calls.
The problem, however, isn’t necessarily a lack of radio spectrum, but rather how the spectrum is used.
Cognitive radio technology, while still under development, could make wireless communications up to 10 times faster. For example, it would take a user three minutes instead of 30 to download a movie.
“We’re not fully using the radio spectrum that’s allocated to wireless devices,” says Dimitris Pados, PhD, electrical engineering professor at the University at Buffalo. “The system we’re developing eliminates those inefficiencies, allowing the transfer of as much information as possible while minimizing cross-interference.”
Large bands of radio waves allocated to wireless devices often sit idle while other bands are crowded, according to the Federal Communications Commission and counterpart agencies worldwide. An example of this is AM radio, which in most locations in the United States is used less than FM radio. Cognitive radio promises to immediately identify unused channels throughout the radio spectrum and use them to share information.
“It’s like an air traffic control system where the maximum amount of planes are taking off and landing at each airport throughout the world,” Pados said.
The UB researchers will develop algorithms that optimize (as well as model and simulate) how the platform would work. Then, working with Rome, N.Y.-based ANDRO Computational Solutions, they will conduct actual tests of the technology using small unmanned aerial vehicles.
Pados is the principal investigator of a four-year, $2.72 million grant awarded to UB by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. Co-investigators are professor Stella Batalama, and associate professors Tommaso Melodia and Weifeng Su, all from UB’s Department of Electrical Engineering.
The grant will support student and faculty researchers who are members of the Signals, Communications and Networking Research Group in UB’s Department of Electrical Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
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