The Quest Begins to Bring Ultra-Speed Wireless Connectivity to First Responders

NYU WIRELESS, University of Padova, and Austin’s Fire Department Ramp Up Project to Spread 5G Communication Technology to Ambulances, Robots, Autonomous Vehicles, and More

4 men (2 in uniform) standing in front of research poster

Lead researchers from NYU, the University of Padova, and the Austin Fire Department met in San Antonio to launch their NIST-funded project to bring the ultra-fast possibilities of 5G millimeter wave wireless technology to first responders. Left to right: Coitt Kessler, Marco Mezzavilla, James Zottarelli, and NYU Tandon Professor Sundeep Rangan.

NIST Awards its Largest Grant to Quickly Grow mmWave Public Safety Technology Out of its Infancy

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Researchers met here yesterday to jump-start technology that could enable first responders to relay video in moving ambulances, employ virtual reality in emergencies, receive high-definition images from drones in real time, or control robots in restricted indoor environments too dangerous for humans.

Although the technology of ultra-fast fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless communication is nearing its first public deployment, millimeter-wave (mmWave) technology for such public safety communications is less understood and presents unique challenges.

But earlier this week, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) awarded $2.3 million over three years to the NYU WIRELESS research center at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, which will work with Italy’s University of Padova, the Austin Fire Department, and NYU WIRELESS industrial affiliates to create a research platform for public safety communications using frequencies above 6 gigahertz, in the mmWave spectrum.

The researchers immediately convened in San Antonio, Texas, to begin executing their plans to greatly reduce the time to bring mmWave technology to public safety communications. Within three years, they aim to develop fundamental research on the behavior of the radio waves, channel measurements and models, and public safety–specific findings for technology such as antennae and testing equipment, as well as an end-to-end system simulation of a complex public safety scenario. The researchers plan to develop the first free and open-source channel sounding, emulation, and simulation tools for designing and testing public safety communications equipment.

“Our team is grateful for this NIST grant, which will allow us to expand the knowledge we have been building about millimeter wave technology into a new area that is not just intellectually challenging but one that will ultimately save lives,” said Sundeep Rangan, who leads the project, directs NYU WIRELESS, and is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at NYU Tandon. Marco Mezzavilla, an NYU WIRELESS research scientist and program director for the NIST project added, “We plan to apply the lessons we learned at NYU WIRELESS in accelerating the pace of 5G cellular technology to this new project and demonstrate novel use cases not possible with earlier 4G systems.”

Not only must emergency communications cover land and air, they must also occasionally build their own networks, for example, when a hurricane takes down cell towers. Another challenge: Communication must be robust and reliable – link failures that mean nothing more than a dropped call for mobile phone users could crash an autonomous vehicle, for example. And emergency vehicles move rapidly – presenting a severe “handoff” challenge for antennae. The researchers plan to address all these mmWave issues, plus provide the vast mmWave bandwidth needed to communicate with many first responders simultaneously.

In the first phase of their work, they will develop special channel soundings for these emergency systems, including peer-to-peer and aerial and vehicular links not required for cellular and WiFi systems, as well as signal blockage and mobility issues that are not yet fully understood.

Other research will develop software-defined radio systems to deliver ultra-reliability. Complex channel emulation will be needed to scale to the bandwidth and for the large number of antennae required for mmWave. Based upon their experience with commercial mmWave modeling, the researchers hope to vastly simplify channel processing.

NYU WIRELESS is home to pioneering mmWave research including the propagation measurements, radio channel modeling, system simulation, and antenna technology that are the foundation for 5G.  National Instruments, an industrial affiliate of NYU WIRELESS, will provide much of the equipment and software, and NYU students have worked extensively at NI to develop key components.

“As 5G gets closer to becoming a commercial reality, there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to making 5G ready for public safety communications,” said James Kimery, director of RF research and SDR marketing at NI. “We have a long history of collaboration with NYU WIRELESS on pushing the boundaries of mmWave research and as an Austin-based company we’re doubly excited to work with them on research that could ultimately impact our local community in emergency situations.”

Theodore (Ted) S. Rappaport, the founding director of NYU WIRELESS and NYU Tandon’s David Lee/Ernst Weber Professor of Electrical Engineering, is a co-principal investigator, along with the noted wireless researchers Michele Zorzi and Andrea Zanella of the University of Padova.  Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Aditya Dhananjay will supervise much of the hardware development.

The Austin Fire Department's Robotics Emergency Deployment Team is at the forefront of the use of robotics in emergency incident management. AFD was the first metropolitan fire department in the country to receive a Certificate of Authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to use drone technology in real-time, public safety capacities. The team is already testing air, ground, and maritime robotic platforms to establish an industry standard for the first rescue-specific robots. For this project, the Austin Fire Department will consult on the design of test scenarios and may even test prototypes. The city’s hilly geography poses a difficult mmWave challenge.

The grant to NYU and its partners was the largest of 33 NIST grants announced this week for research and development projects aimed at advancing broadband communications technologies for first responders. The grants are part of the Public Safety Innovation Accelerator Program funded by NIST’s $300 million allocation from the 2015 auction of advanced wireless service licenses.

About the New York University Tandon School of Engineering
The NYU Tandon School of Engineering dates to 1854, the founding date for both the New York University School of Civil Engineering and Architecture and the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute (widely known as Brooklyn Poly). A January 2014 merger created a comprehensive school of education and research in engineering and applied sciences, rooted in a tradition of invention and entrepreneurship and dedicated to furthering technology in service to society. In addition to its main location in Brooklyn, NYU Tandon collaborates with other schools within NYU, the country’s largest private research university, and is closely connected to engineering programs at NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai. It operates Future Labs focused on start-up businesses in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn and an award-winning online graduate program. For more information, visit

NYU WIRELESS is a multi-disciplinary academic research center that offers an unprecedented and unique set of skills. Centered at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, and involving more than 200 faculty and students throughout the entire NYU community, NYU WIRELESS offers its faculty, students and affiliated sponsors from industry a world-class research environment that is creating the fundamental theories and techniques for next-generation mass-deployable wireless devices across a wide range of applications and markets. This center combines NYU Tandon, NYU School of Medicine and NYU Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and offers a depth of expertise with unparalleled capabilities for the creation of new wireless circuits and systems as well as new health care solutions for the wireless industry. For more information, visit

About University of Padova
Dating back to 1222, the University of Padova is one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious seats of learning. The University of Padova offers its students 32 departments, 37 doctoral degree courses activated this year, 2 international doctoral degree courses and 44 research and service centres across the spectrum of sciences, medicine, social sciences and humanities, with more than 2,000 professors and researchers employed. The University of Padova is one of the first subscribers of the Statement of Commitment for the implementation of the European Charter of Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers (C&C). It was rewarded with the ‘HR Excellence in Research’ logo by the European Commission on the 27th of February 2012.  Based on the number of citations of articles and publications by its researchers (source: ISI), the University of Padova ranks among the top three Italian universities for total impact index, productivity index, and presence index.

About Austin Fire Department
The Austin Fire Department was founded on September 25, 1857 and is now one of the 20 largest departments in the country, with 45 fire stations located throughout the city and more than 1,100 employees. For more information about life-saving fire prevention, please visit