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College of Engineering opens Wireless Institute

Lily Hough | Thursday, March 4, 2010

 Your smart phone, laptop and various other wireless devices all have one thing in common — they are vying for frequencies in an already congested wireless radio spectrum. 

 

While a slower Internet connection may frustrate students, a team of Notre Dame faculty sees it as an exciting research opportunity.
 
“Today, people want the Internet in the palm of their hand,” said Dr. J. Nicolas Laneman, associate professor of electrical engineering. “Mobile wireless devices are keeping them increasingly connected, but they are generating so much traffic that they are clogging up today’s networks. Eventually users are going to be very frustrated when they can’t access their data and services.”
 
What this explosive demand requires is innovative technology and spectrum regulation that provides more spectrum and allows service providers to squeeze more data into their spectrum allocations, Laneman said. But there are no simple solutions.
 
“We can draw many analogies between spectrum gridlock and rush hour traffic.
 
 Providing more spectrum is like adding another lane to a major highway,” Laneman said. “If we add another lane, traffic will flow more freely. But a lot of people will complain if the wider highway infringes on their land or adds additional noise to their neighborhood.”
Laneman said a balance must be found. 
 
“Such cooperation can be difficult to realize when everyone acts in what they perceive to be their own best interests rather than working toward a collective goal,” Laneman said.
Viewing such challenges as opportunities, the College of Engineering recently announced the launch of the Wireless Institute at the University of Notre Dame, which according to its Web site is “an internationally preeminent center of research, education, technology transfer and outreach activities that develops wireless communication and networking technologies, applications and economic and policy studies of great value to society.” 
 
Laneman will serve as director of the Institute, along with Christian Poellabauer, assistant professor of computer science and engineering, and Barry Keating and Jesse H. Jones, professors of finance. 
 
“We are proud that Notre Dame is able to help us launch this initiative amid the economic difficulties experienced by many universities,” Laneman said. “The faculty are really excited, and we’re working on getting the students excited, too.”
 
The first focal point laid out on the institute’s Web site is to develop technologies that unlock and make better use of spectrum. And while technological research and innovation are key components of the institute’s goals, it puts equal stress on taking a multidisciplinary approach to the issues so that students from all areas of study can get involved, Laneman said. 
 
Laneman and Keating are offering an undergraduate seminar course this semester to expose a broader set of students to the relevant issues.
 
“Students can just read the newspaper to realize that there’s so much more going on here than technology research and development,” Laneman said. “There are significant economic, legal, security and public policy issues. At a more basic level, there’s the question of what’s best for society when it comes to allocating spectrum for universal broadband access, public safety and national security along with commercial wireless services. As a values-based community with an emphasis on research, Notre Dame is an ideal place for new initiatives in this space.”