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A wireless network think tank . . . with toys

Rutgers’ wireless lab unites academia, commerce to tackle daunting challenges

By , Network World
February 04, 2008 12:07 AM ET

Network World - When you talk to the researchers at Rutgers University's Wireless Information Network Laboratory, you wonder how anyone actually communicates with radios. Or would want to.

That's because WINLAB is focused on research to solve some of the toughest problems facing large-scale wireless nets, from radio coexistence in crowded frequencies to re-engineering the Internet for mobile traffic. Research efforts like those of WINLAB eventually will help enterprises deploy multiple radio technologies and enable their own mobile users to exploit new services delivered wirelessly.

WINLAB's reputation has been growing since its founding in 1989, the brainchild of former professor David Goodman, originally from Bell Labs and now with the National Science Foundation. The original focus, pioneering at the time, was focusing on digital CDMA radio resource management and power control, at a time “when a cell phone was a rare thing,” says Director Dipankar Raychaudhuri. (Read our Q&A with Raychaudhuri.) Much of that research is a basic feature in today's CDMA cell nets.

Now WINLAB focuses its research in three broad areas that together envision a world that is bound together by short- and long-range wireless nets, intelligent devices and sensors, and people on the go who increasingly will depend on these. The areas are the mobile Internet, which will revamp today's Internet architecture and protocols to include mobile users and wireless links; cognitive radios, which can seek out and use any available frequency; and “pervasive wireless,” or embedded sensor nets wirelessly linked with Internet-based services.

It's kind of a like a radio think tank . . . with toys, from their own cellular base stations to custom-built programmable radios that can change their personalities to run on different wireless nets. And what they mostly think about here are all the stumbling blocks to realizing this wireless future. You can get a flavor of their thinking from the titles of the 2007 theses from WINLAB's graduate students, such as “On the Scalability of Ad Hoc Networks” and “Cross Layer Network Architecture for Efficient Packet Forwarding in Wireless Networks.”

Investing in future nets

Lots of folks are investing lots of money in overcoming those blocks. About 60% of WINLAB’s roughly $5 million yearly budget (not counting Rutgers' faculty salaries) comes from federal and state research grants; in other words, your tax dollars. The remainder comes from company sponsors, currently about 15 of them. Some sponsors contribute to get early access to WINLAB research results, negotiating with Rutgers for intellectual property rights if the sponsor wants to use them.

Some sponsors actually get involved in the exploratory research, which has to satisfy WINLAB interests and requirements. “These projects have to involve [academic research] theses,” says Ivan Seskar, associate director information technology for WINLAB. “It has to be research that we also are interested in.”

The research is overseen by 25 to 30 faculty and staff, with most of the faculty being full-time Rutgers professors and all specializing in some area of wireless technology. About 50 Ph.D. students at any time are working on the various research projects.

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