Good Vibrations
June 2004 - By Bryan Pedersen

A few years ago, the National Science Foundation (NSF) convened a panel of researchers to determine the next big advancements in networking. The proliferation of wireless technology and its growing importance were hard to ignore—so they did what any large, well-funded government foundation would do: offer grant money to further research.

Last year they awarded $800,000 to a consortium led by Stevens Institute of Technology, The University of Colorado at Boulder and the software radio company Vanu. The money went to support the construction of a wireless networking test bed and fund one year of research. The goal of the group was to make progress in the area of Heterogeneous Wireless Access Networks—heterogeneous as in different wireless networks operating simultaneously.

“A lot people these days will have both 802.11 and a cell phone. Pretty soon those two are going to be combined into one device,” says Dr. John Chapin, CTO of Vanu, who also predicts: “That is going to be the big market revolution in the second half of this year.”

The first round of demonstrations to the NSF was just completed. They displayed two devices that were linked by six different wireless signals, including 802.11b and 24Ghz. Vanu’s software radio link enables the dynamic shifts from one wireless format to another. “Today if you have an 802.11 link, the only thing it can do is 802.11,” says Chapin. “With a software radio, you can do lots of different things, which is what we demonstrated to the NSF.”

While they continue to make progress, the group is trying to land a bigger contract from the NSF that will extend its research another two or three years. The ultimate goal, says Chapin, is about “enabling much better connections at a lower cost, and exploiting multiple wireless networks at the same time. No current systems do that.”

—Bryan Pedersen


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