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KU Researchers Receive DoD Grant to Improve Spectrum Efficiency

January 10, 2014

Streamlining communication and improving intelligence-gathering capabilities are the goals of a significant grant to the University of Kansas from the U.S. Department of Defense. Along with improving troop safety and military operations, KU researchers are developing technology that could pave the way for the next generation of high-speed wireless devices and services. 

Sarah Seguin, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, is the principal investigator on a $450,000 grant that will enable KU to purchase equipment to conduct research on increasing the availability on the currently useable portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. These federally regulated airwaves, which are licensed to cell phone companies as well as radio and TV stations, are in high demand. 

EECS Assistant Professor Sarah Seguin (seated) and her graduate students Nahal Niakan, Pradheesh Shanmugam, and Brian Cordill conduct research in the Radar Systems and Remote Sensing Lab.
EECS Assistant Professor Sarah Seguin (seated) and her graduate students Nahal Niakan, Pradheesh Shanmugam, and Brian Cordill conduct research in the Radar Systems and Remote Sensing Lab.

As smartphones and tablets increasingly devour bandwidth, there is a growing need for additional space on the spectrum for high-speed mobile networks. Since regulators cannot create more of this finite resource, they must take it from another user, placing military bandwidth in the cross hairs of reallocation.

“Military organizations have been one of the largest users of spectrum, with radar in particular using a wide swath of frequencies.  When that technology was first invented, there were not competing interests at these frequencies like there are today. Thus, the research focused more on increasing range and accuracy, rather than being spectrally efficient, “ said Dr. Seguin, who is an investigator in KU’s Radar Systems and Remote Sensing Lab (RSL). “Our new equipment will help us test and refine concepts regarding spectral efficiency that will benefit both the military as well as private enterprises, such as companies focused on communications.”

Dr. Seguin is working with four co-principal investigators: EECS Associate Professors Shannon Blunt and Erik Perrins and EECS Professors Christopher Allen and Ron Hui.

KU researchers are attempting to exploit time, frequency, and other variables to maximize data transmission. Think of it as designing a well-packed delivery truck, says Dr. Seguin. Different types of independent signals can coexist if packed together just right. This allows the movements of trillions of bytes of data per day, ensuring that traffic flows smoothly with minimal delays.

In addition to maximizing efficiency, KU researchers are attempting to allow radar and wireless communications to share spectrum. Traditionally, the government has allocated swaths for a single purpose, but with advances in technology, many are calling for portions of military spectrum to be open for shared use.  Wireless carriers would be able to use military frequencies, which cover congested urban areas, when vacant to provide Internet broadband or cellular service.

“There are many challenges in this research. First, we need to make sure that we are looking for and exploiting efficiencies in the technology, but not degrading the capabilities in any meaningful way,” said Dr. Seguin, an expert in preventing interference among electronic devices, which is the field known as electromagnetic compatibility.  “Our new equipment will allow us to experiment with various techniques and measure their effectiveness. We can recommend them for adoption as well as understand the specific interference and interoperability issues between radar and communications systems with real-world data.”

The grant is funded under the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP), which supports university researchers in purchasing equipment to enhance or expand defense-related research capabilities. It will support the purchase of a high-speed oscilloscope and a spectrum/signal analyzer along with two arbitrary waveform generators — all of which will test newly developed signals that better utilize the spectrum.

The RSL test facility, housed in Nichols Hall, along with the university’s state-of-the-art anechoic chamber will allow researchers to test new technologies in isolation and with other devices. These efforts continue KU’s long history of pioneering research in radar.

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