Virginia Tech Engineers Creating Solution To Cellular Deregulation And Military Wireless Problems

August 22, 1997

BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 22, 1997 -- With a grant of more than $1.8 million from the military, Virginia Tech electrical engineers are developing the first low-power, high-data-rate wireless communications device that uses a new type of computer-based radio. This radio is programmable and capable of communicating with a variety of different radios.

The three-year Global Mobile Communications project (GloMo2), sponsored by the U.S. military's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), will have "far-reaching ramifications" for both military and commercial wireless communications uses, says Jeffrey Reed, principal investigator for GloMo2 and associate director of the Mobile & Portable Radio Research Group. Reed and five other Virginia Tech electrical engineering faculty will conduct the research.

The U.S. military already wrestles with the problem of communicating with a variety of incompatible radios. The Army, Navy and Air Force each have their own types of radios, and military forces overseas have radios that differ and are incompatible with those of the U.S. military.

The U.S. public is facing a similar problem, Reed notes, because of deregulation of telecommunications. "We'll see a variety of incompatible cellular communications systems," says Reed. "Your cellular phone, for instance, won't work everywhere in the country because of this trend."

The Changeable Advanced Radio for Inter-Operable Telecommunications (CHARIOT) that Reed and his Virginia Tech colleagues are developing will automatically adapt wireless devices to different standards. "Just as cordless phones can change channels without the user noticing, the CHARIOT will program itself to become the appropriate radio, allowing transmissions to proceed smoothly," Reed says.

At the heart of GloMo2's revolution in wireless communications is software being developed by Peter Athanas who, Reed says, "has created a whole new philosophy for computer operations."

The large data sets that must be processed for cellular communications are "outrageous" in their computational requirements, says Athanas, who has developed rapid Run-Time Reconfigurable (RTR) platforms to improve computational performance and efficiency. Reed says the software Athanas is developing for the GloMo2 project will enable CHARIOT to instantaneously switch from one radio type to another with low power consumption.

Also as part of the GloMo2 effort to improve wireless communications, Warren Stutzman is working on an antenna for hand-sets that will extend the operational range of cell phones. This antenna will use the powerful computing platform of the GloMo radio to implement a "smart antenna" that can identify and filter out interference. Brian Woerner will apply new concepts in coding theory to combat interference.

William Tranter and Scott Midkiff will examine ways to apply this new radio to bridge networks that use different and incompatible radios.

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