March 14, 2012
Photo credit: Luther Caverly

Engineering the future of cellular communications

It’s a busy place. On any given day students and faculty members are researching solutions to real problems. Traffic jams. CO2 emissions. Ad hoc networks in war zones.

Step inside this place and you’ll meet fascinating researchers like Richard Yu and his team of 10+ graduate students, funded by both private and public sources.

This busy place is known as the Alcatel-Lucent Lab at Carleton University.

Breaking down the barriers
As the principal investigator on the Advanced Lab for Heterogeneous Communication Networks, Yu is researching ways to break down the differences and barriers between various networks like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Internet Protocol to provide advanced multi-media servicers to wireless device users.

So what will this mean to the average user?

Richard Yu at the Alcatel-Lucent Lab, Carleton University
Richard Yu at the Alcatel-Lucent Lab, Carleton University

The idea is essentially that one car could relay a message to another car using Wi-Fi and an ad hoc network

Shengrong Bu
Shengrong Bu

Imagine you are watching a video on your cell phone using your data plan and you suddenly enter a Wi-Fi zone. Since Wi-Fi is cheaper, most users would rather this option than using the data plan, particularly if the changeover were uninterrupted, Yu explains.

But the research impacts other areas as well.

Stuck in traffic
With funding from various sources, including NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) and DND (Department of National Defense), and private-sector companies like IBM and Ericsson, Yu is hoping to develop a mobile ad hoc network to prevent traffic jams.

“The idea is essentially that one car could relay a message to another car using Wi-Fi and an ad hoc network, as well as cell phone networks like GPS to alert other drivers to avoid the high-traffic areas,” explains Yu.

It’s exciting to shape the future of wireless cellular networks

So the challenge is to break down barriers between various carriers like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cell phone networks. Currently the research is being simulated to test its performance.

Stay tuned. It may just be the new feature included in your next car.

Since the Alcatel lab is a busy place, Yu’s research doesn’t stop there.

Reducing CO2 emissions

Richard Yu
Richard Yu

With increased pressure from governments to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions, Yu is partnering with some of Canada’s leading telecommunications organizations like TELUS but also the Government of Ontario’s Early Researchers Award program.

As Yu points out, network devices rely heavily on base stations that consume significant amounts electricity and air conditioning, accounting for 30 to 40 per cent of the organization’s operating budget.

So Yu and his team are researching a solution that would dynamically power-down the network device when there’s little traffic on one station. In cases like this, surrounding base stations would cover the current traffic in the area, says Shengrong Bu, a PhD student working with Yu. In other words, the device would enter a sleep mode, similar to that of a computer or cell phone, ultimately reducing electricity expenses.

As part of her PhD thesis, Bu explored mathematical models to determine when to turn the base station on and off. With her research completed, Bu’s model is being applied to specific base stations.

And the end result may be lowered cell phone bills for the user.

Real results
It’s not hard to understand why both private and public institutions are turning to the Alcatel-Lucent Lab at Carleton University for answers.

“More and more wireless devices are being used, it’s exciting to shape the future of wireless cellular networks,” says Bu. “My research is real, it will have an impact!”

But despite some of his research successes, Yu counts training the next generation of researchers as one of his greatest achievements. Like Bu. When she completes her PhD in 2012, she hopes to find a professorship.

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