November 15, 2010

Professors Explore Future of Wireless Communication

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A team of Cornell engineering faculty have received a $1 million grant from Intel Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., and Verizon Communications Inc. to research possible solutions to counteract an expected 65-fold increase in wireless communication within the next five years.

“There is no way that the current networks can support 65 times more traffic in the next five years if you insist on the current setup protocols,” said Prof. Salman Avestimehr, electrical and computer engineering, who is head of the project. “Essentially, the project is about how to meet the video traffic demands of 2014.”

According to Avestimher, the demand for wireless content has skyrocketed, largely due to the popularity of streaming video to devices like smart phones, IPads, and computers.

“If you think about all of the communication protocols and communication infrastructures such as 2G, 3G, and WiFi, at the time they were developed, it was unclear what application was going to be the dominant application,” Avestimehr said.

Avestimher said the team will have to change many things with the current network system in order to meet the future demand for the heavy streaming of videos.

“If you can imagine the communication network as one, large, highway, and the streamed information as cars that were about to increase 65-fold, just adding a few more lanes to the highway would not help,” said Prof. Aaron Wagner, electrical and computer engineering and co-lead on the project.

According to Wagner, if the current network system stays in place, network users would experience usage failures, the likes of which have already occurred in New York City and Los Angeles.

“Right now, in NYC, many people cannot watch Netflix, indicating that the resources are not available,” Avestimehr added.

One of the team’s goals is to better predict what video content will be most popular in high-volume network areas and deliver that content closer to the user, especially at high-traffic hours during the evening. So, for example, if users in a certain city wanted to watch a sporting event shortly after it happened, the content would be stored in hubs close to that city.

“If we want to redesign the networks specifically for video we need to know potential opportunities and how can we exploit those opportunities,” Avestimehr said. “Essentially, there is a lot of redundancy at a time where there is a high demand for video traffic. We are hoping to design networks that remove this redundancy.”

According to Avestimehr, the team also plans to engineer a prototype that could combine both wireless and cellular networks in venues where both were available, such as malls and universities.

The $1 million grant also represents a new landmark for the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, according to department members.

“As a department, we have recently identified a few areas that we would like to make an impact on: mobility, healthcare, and energy,” said Prof. Tsuhan Chen, electrical and computer engineering, who is a team member and director of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to work with industry. This means that what we do will actually make an impact on the user itself,” Chen added.

Though the project is a large undertaking, members of the team said they are excited for the challenge.

“We can really make an impact on how people live, how people move, and in this case, how people enjoy mobile content on their devices,” said Chen.

Original Author: Shane Dunau