Waterloo probes wireless standards interoperability

The federal and provincial governments awarded the University of Waterloo this week with almost half a million dollars to conduct research that will improve wireless standard interoperability.

The Ontario Research Fund and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation has granted the university’s Emerging Radio Systems research project around $480,000. Corporate partners (who have yet to be revealed) have donated just over $100,000 in in-kind equipment for the lab. Infrastructure for the research project is anticipated to be in place by winter 2009.

Assistant professor Slim Boumaiza said that the money will go toward designing and developing advanced wireless radio systems. “We’re working on a new generation of wireless devices that are intelligent, software-enabled, and cognitive, both on the mobile side and the bay side. We want to increase the interoperability of data systems,” he said. This would include better interoperation between standards like CDMA and GSM, and WiMAX, WiFi, WiLAN, and other mobile standards.

Lawrence Surtees, vice-president of communications research with IDC Canada, said the interoperability of wireless devices continues to be a growing issue of importance as different standards proliferate.

This would benefit the enterprise, as it would cut costs. “They wouldn’t have to change their infrastructure as much between generations,” said Boumaiza. “It’s costly to have to buy new handsets (to keep up with changing wireless standards).”

This will come into play even more as businesses continue to globalize. Said Surtees: “For complex international businesses, it’s one phone for here, and another for here—and then there’s always WiMAX coming down the road… Companies can come up with some component to keep up, but then another standard arrives, so at a more fundamental level, this is a good problem to tackle with research.”

It would also benefit the vendors and the carriers, who wouldn’t have to keep churning out a variety of devices to service each generation or standard of wireless, said Surtees.

Another goal is to increase wireless speed so that multi-standard handsets can come in a smaller form-factor and better cost, he said: “We’ll use software to reprogram the hardware to a different standard. The problem now is that Bell has spectrum here, Rogers there—the location of each frequency is static, so at any time, you’re only getting a small percentage of what’s out there.”

Even IT managers on the ground could benefit from the research. According to Info-Tech Research senior research analyst Mark Tauschek, “It really means a single infrastructure framework, which would really simplify things. And, in terms of budget, it would bring down the cost of these products, and bring volume up.”

The new term for fixing this problem is “cognitive radios.” By acting smarter, the chips and systems within the handsets will also use less power, giving the user an added green benefit. “The mobile industry consumes a lot of power, and we can reduce how much we use by making the chips more efficient,” said Boumaiza.

Cognitive radio research is growing in popularity, said Surtees, citing it as the top priority in military communications research. “They will have to be at the heart of trying to make interoperable any wireless systems,” he said.

All of this will become more and more important as the amount of spectrum dwindles . He said, “If you don’t have space, you have to change, and it’s very important for Canada to keep a lead position (in the wireless space), as it’s a very evolving space.”

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