Laying Groundwork for Future Cellular Networks

National Science Foundation Awards Grant to University Researchers Working to Open New Radio-Wave Spectrum, Speed up Wireless Data Transfer

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a grant under its extremely competitive Networking Technology and Systems (NeTS) program to two researchers working in the ultra-high frequency radio-wave spectrum to create much greater data rates for mobile networks of the future.

Professor Theodore (Ted) Rappaport, the David Lee/Ernst Weber chair of electrical and computer engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly), and Shiwen Mao, the McWane associate professor at Auburn University, received the $500,000 grant to help lay groundwork in the relatively newly explored 60 gigahertz band. This is the second recent NeTS grant supporting NYU-Poly research in the millimeter spectrum.

The exponential growth of wireless data traffic is depleting the spectrum and significantly stressing the capacity of wireless networks. The massive unlicensed bandwidth in the 60 GHz range holds potential to meet the surging wireless data demand in coming years. The goal of this NSF project is to gain a deep understanding of the 60 GHz propagation characteristics and to develop effective 60 GHz protocols that can be used in networks of the future. 

This work between NYU-Poly and Auburn University will develop modeling and control techniques for new antennas that will be used in the millimeter wave bands, including the 60 GHz spectrum. The project will also create new network protocols and multimedia communications techniques for 60 GHz networks.

This project is part of a broad and ambitious global effort to develop novel techniques to exploit the huge license-free spectrum in the 60 GHz band and to make use of millimeter wave frequency bands for cellular networks and the backhaul networks, which connect to the Internet. The research has the potential to accelerate deployment of more powerful, bandwidth-intensive, ubiquitous, and cheaper wireless applications and services and to support more versatile, robust, and rich-multimedia wireless networks. Momentum has been building for millimeter-wave technology; for example, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently modified rules for outdoor 60 GHz devices, including those that could potentially connect broadband networks and Wi-Fi without the need of fiber lines.

Complementary to the research agenda, this project also encompasses a broad range of education and outreach activities, including integrating research findings into wireless engineering courses, developing a textbook, working with underrepresented and undergraduate populations, collaborating with an historically black college, and participating in existing programs at NYU and Auburn for outreach to K-12 students and teachers.

Rappaport is the founder and director of NYU WIRELESS, a rapidly growing research center at NYU and NYU-Poly that is exploring next-generation wireless technologies as well as their linkages to medicine and computing. He is also a member of the faculty of NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and Langone Medical Center School of Medicine. Mao is an alumnus of NYU-Poly, receiving his doctorate from the Institute in 2004.

An earlier NeTS grant to NYU-Poly, for $1.2 million over four years, supports research to advance broadband connections through millimeter-wave networks. NYU-Poly faculty involved in the research include Rappaport, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Sundeep Rangan, and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Elza Erkip. All three are affiliated with NYU WIRELESS, a new research center that includes more than 20 faculty and 100 graduate students in engineering, computer science, and medicine.