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NSF funds UNL research to improve wireless networks for emergencies

With 2011's 9/11 memorials fresh in the minds and hearts of Americans, a UNL Computer and Electronics Engineering team is working at Omaha's Peter Kiewit Institute to improve wireless networks for emergency response by using untapped and under-utilized frequencies.

Amid this busy year for natural disasters—including tornadoes in the U.S. heartland and hurricanes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts—Yi Qian, assistant professor of Computer and Electronics Engineering (CEEN), is principal investigator with a $439,999 grant from the National Science Foundation for A Novel Architecture for Application-Aware Cognitive Multihop Wireless Networks.

The project cites “the recent upward trend in wireless traffic," with user demand outpacing spectral efficiency and availability, while some spectra are “significantly under-utilized.” Qian focused on the next generation of cognitive radio communication systems—two-way radio that automatically changes its transmission or reception parameters, working efficiently within a wireless communication network and avoiding interference with other users. Cognitive radio uses software to actively monitor factors inside and beyond the radio environment—including radio frequency spectrum, user behavior and network state information the radio uses to adjust its signal and reception efficiently.

Qian noted a “huge gap between the research on cognitive radios and network applications.” His team began exploring the wireless networking paradigm called Application-Aware Cognitive Multihop Wireless Networks (AC-MWN). The work sets an architecture with a mega network layer for multihop wireless networks, Qian said, with functionalities of medium access control, network and transport layers in the traditional, layered model of wireless networks. Yet this mega network layer "knows" its spectrum availability while meeting the requirements of its network applications.

As system architect for the project, Qian said this approach should use spectrum resources more efficiently, and effectively adjust application resources such as storage and computational capabilities to reach capacity closer to the upper theoretical limit for MWNs. His CEEN colleagues in the project—Professor Hamid Sharif, an expert in testbed and performance analysis, and Assistant Professor Yaoqing “Lamar” Yang, who specializes in cognitive radio—will engage two CEEN graduate students, and several undergraduate students, to help in the project’s three-year term.

Qian said their AC-MWN research could advance designs for future cognitive multihop wireless networks that help improve many communication challenges, particularly when wireless communication networks are jammed or incapacitated. Implementation may start with temporary networks for public safety, disaster rescues, environmental monitoring, and medical applications. While he’s not eager for events that may call this research into use, Qian looks forward to enhancing wireless network capabilities to serve emergency responders' communication needs in ways he believes will be revolutionary and lifesaving.

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