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KU Research Works to Improve Wireless Broadband Service

Tuesday, August 19, 2008
[Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Victor Frost]

As cell phones become mobile computers with broadband Internet access, University of Kansas researchers examine technologies that could aid in the widespread deployment of high-speed wireless access for the Sprint Nextel network.

KU’s Information and Telecommunication Technology Center is leading multidisciplinary research to correlate the performance of millimeter wave communication systems with weather events that can weaken signals and disrupt transmissions. Transferring up to a billion bits of data a second, millimeter wave systems can reduce the costs and improve the performance of broadband wireless services. ITTC researchers will build resilient network technologies that can redirect data around affected links.

“Sprint Nextel future products will require extensive bandwidth to be differentiated in the emerging world of 4G (fourth generation) communication, or the mobile Internet,” said Tim Euler, Sprint Nextel senior technology strategist. “This demand will be met with alternative technologies like millimeter wave and network meshing techniques to ensure high reliability of the Sprint Nextel brand” 

KU, Sprint Nextel and Sunflower Broadband are collaborating on the project. ITTC researchers have placed weather stations, which are collecting meteorological data such as rain rate, relative humidity and rain droplet size, at Sunflower Broadband sites around Lawrence and on the KU campus. Additionally, onsite cameras take pictures every 30 seconds, providing additional observations. The Sunflower cable network is transporting the weather data back to ITTC, and researchers from the KU Department of Geography are analyzing the different weather measurements.

“A variety of substances in the atmosphere may affect network performance,” said Donna Tucker, co-investigator and associate professor of geography. “These may include precipitation, droplets too small to fall as precipitation, and small particles that originate from air pollution as well as natural causes.”

The KU researchers are testing the range of millimeter wave systems, which traditionally have been used only in close proximity to one another. Radios located on roofs of KU buildings are communicating with a radio affixed to a grain silo at Pendleton Farms, providing a 5.5-mile link. Initial results from the ITTC study have found millimeter wave systems work well over the relatively long distance in clear weather and are accessible most of the time.

“This project provides an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate KU students to work on a research project of interest to industry,” said Victor Frost, principal investigator on this effort and distinguished professor of electrical engineering and computer science in the KU School of Engineering. “This effort continues our more than 15-year research relationship with Sprint.”

Millimeter wave systems operate in the 71-76 GHz to 81-86 GHz portions of the radio frequency spectrum. In 2003, the Federal Communications Commission opened these high frequencies to promote the development and deployment of new wireless broadband services and equipment.

Story by Michelle Ward



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