UTD Professors Win $950,000 in NSF Grants
For Research of Wireless, Optical Networks

RICHARDSON, Texas (Nov. 15, 2004) – A group of engineering professors at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) has received two grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) totaling $950,000 to conduct advanced research of wireless and optical communications networks.

One grant, a four-year, $450,000 award, will fund the search for “smarter” methods and principles that could enable wireless devices, including cellular phones and laptops, to act as potential relay points for other users’ transmissions, creating what has been termed “cooperative wireless networks” and improving the overall performance of wireless communications.

Andrea Fumagalli
Dr. Andrea Fumagalli
Aria Nosratinia
Dr. Aria Nosratinia

“The convenience of wireless communication, from cellular phones to wireless Internet links, is changing our lives for the better every day,” said Dr. Aria Nosratinia, associate professor of electrical engineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and principal investigator (PI) on the NSF-funded project. “However, with the growth of these applications, the radio spectrum becomes more congested, resulting in interference of transmission and reception of signals. This is the source of many quality problems in wireless networks and is the focus of our research.”

Nosratinia and his research team will develop specially designed codes utilizing protocols and algorithms that would permit cell phones and other devices to receive and re-transmit third-party messages automatically – in fact, without any effort from the relay devices’ user. Under that scenario, a cell phone call that is either blocked or degraded by spectrum conditions could be re-routed to its intended destination via another antenna within range – be that in another person’s phone on his or her hip, or on a laptop computer with wireless capability sitting on a desk. Measures will be taken to prevent loss of privacy and to address other concerns, such as battery usage and ensuring fairness to all users.

“We will investigate a cooperative mode of communication where the mobile devices help each other so that everyone’s performance improves,” said Nosratinia.

Such a network, he said, would result in “better quality, lower power consumption and higher network throughput.” Nosratinia will be assisted by Dr. Andrea Fumagalli, UTD associate professor of electrical engineering and project co-PI.

The second NSF award, a four-year grant worth $500,000, will fund the development by researchers at UTD, in Kansas and in Canada of high-speed, cost-effective, self-configuring networks based on “plug and play” optical nodes.

According to UTD’s Fumagalli, one of the project’s two PIs, these new nodes could replace existing Ethernet switches – devices that enable the creation of local area networks, which connect multiple computers and work stations. Because the nodes would transmit data via photons, or light, on fiber-optic pathways instead of via electrons over copper wire, they promise vastly larger bandwidth and much higher transmission rates.

“We hope to mimic the success of the Ethernet approach in the optical medium,” said Fumagalli. “It could provide several orders of magnitude higher bandwidth and larger geographical network coverage, and would be both inexpensive and easy to deploy.”

Deployment would involve simply plugging the device into an existing fiber-optic network – thus the term “plug and play.” The node would then serve as an interface between fiber “pipes” and multiple computer users.

“The beauty of the node would be its simplicity – you won’t have to be an engineer to set up your own fiber-optic network in an office or other environment,” Fumagalli said.

Crucial to the development of the node, he said, is the design and creation of a micro-optical spectrum analyzer – a “smart” diagnostic tool that would continuously monitor the fiber-optic network and send data over the optimum route, thus maximizing performance. Larger devices of that kind exist, Fumagalli said, but none have been built as small as the ones required for this project.

Joining Fumagalli on the project will be a second PI, Dr. Ron Hui of the University of Kansas. Kansas has received $200,000 from NSF for its role in the research, which is above the funds provided to UTD.

Three other researchers will assist with the project – Dr. Franco Maloberti and Dr. Marco Tacca of UTD’s Jonsson School and Dr. Stefano Gregori of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.  

About UTD

The University of Texas at Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson, Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major multinational technology corporations known as the Telecom Corridor®, enrolls more than 14,000 students. The school’s freshman class traditionally stands at the forefront of Texas state universities in terms of average SAT scores. The university offers a broad assortment of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. For additional information about UTD, please visit the university’s web site at www.utdallas.edu.