NSF-Backed Study Improves Wireless Experience

Liran Ma is exploring ways the new technology cognitive radio can be used to improve network speed and bandwidth for wireless devices.
“Cognitive radio is regarded as a promising technology that can significantly alleviate spectrum scarcity and improve the spectral efficiency,” said Ma, assistant professor in computer science.
As the use of wireless devices has skyrocketed, so has the need to better manage the radio spectrum, which is the frequency range used for wireless communications. Known as “smart” or “intelligent” radio, cognitive radio — or CR — is a wireless communication technique that can identify the availability of communication channels.
“[Cognitive radio] allows an unlicensed secondary user to access licensed [part of the] spectrum without causing interference to a licensed primary user,” said Ma, principal investigator of a research study funded by the National Science Foundation. 
Wi-Fi spectra are unlicensed; therefore everyone can access it for free. However that free access can lead to congestion — and slower speeds for users. Cognitive radio, on the other hand, can give wireless users access to the licensed spectrum without interfering with licensed users, said Ma. “Hence, more spectrum can be used to accommodate average users.”
Researchers are working to develop a spectrum management framework to maximize the efficiency for cognitive radio networks. Ma’s research is considering the social characteristics and context of users and their ongoing applications. 
“This research is motivated by the idea that the efficient management of spectrum requires the consideration of the entire network ecosystem where the users and their applications interact with each other,” he said.
Because cognitive radio is an emerging technology, there is still much to learn. Ma and his team are tackling unknowns, such as how to allow cognitive radio users to access the spectrum in a way that is both efficient and fair to all users, as well as whether or not cognitive radio techniques will still work effectively with a large number of users.
Ma’s research team includes TCU students, who get hands-on experience. “These undergraduate students will work as a driving force in various aspects of the project, such as algorithm design, prototyping and test-bed development,” he said.
Ma’s study started in October 2013 and is expected to end in September 2015. The professor plans to publish his findings as well as make any developed hardware and software tools available to the research community.
“The expected results of this project include novel algorithms, designs and technologies to enable the future deployment of commercial [cognitive radio] networks and new emerging applications,” he said. 
With advancements in cognitive radio spectrum management, researchers and/or practitioners could develop larger total network capacity, opportunities for quicker peer-to-peer or group information/data sharing as well as more bandwidth and faster network speeds for wireless devices, said Ma. “As a result users would enjoy a better experience.”

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