Drexel University pursues smart networking via WiMAX

Drexel University in Philadelphia has joined a handful of other universities using WiMAX technology in an effort to meet the data transfer demands of U.S. research institutions.

WiMAX, which is being dismissed and discarded in many parts of the world in favor of TD-LTE technology, still plays a crucial role in a National Science Foundation program called the Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI).

The program, started in the mid-1990s, provides a virtual laboratory for networking and distributed systems research and education. According to the GENI website, experimenters can obtain compute resources from locations around the United States; connect compute resources using Layer 2 networks in topologies best suited to their experiments; install custom software or custom operating systems on these compute resources; control how network switches in their experiment handle traffic flows; and run their own Layer 3 and above protocols by installing protocol software in their compute resources and by providing flow controllers for their switches.

In addition to Drexel, eight other research centers--including Columbia, UCLA, Rutgers and Temple--are expanding the wireless capabilities of GENI via WiMAX, said a Drexel news blog.

A 19.5-foot antenna mast designed by Drexel electrical engineers now adorns the university's 205-foot Millennium Hall dormitory. Researchers intend to use the WiMAX deployment as they verify coverage models and measure gaps between performance predictions and actual behavior, said Moshe Kam, a professor in Drexel's College of Engineering, who was quoted in the Drexel blog.

The WiMAX installation is also key to making Drexel a part of the national GENI research network.

"Researchers from Drexel and other institutions in the GENI program will be able to request time for their experiments on nodes installed in other institutions. In this manner they would be able to compare performance of the same system, with the same technical parameters, in different geographical environments and electromagnetic-signal propagation conditions," Kam said. He added the research should help refine existing propagation and performance models and improve future commercial designs.

As part of the GENI program, Drexel will also be working with nearby Temple and Rutgers universities to explore the capabilities of a "smart WiMAX" network that could adjust to accommodate broadband demand using equipment at all three sites.

Kam predicted that such smart networking will one day be crucial to making "near-optimal use of distributed resources" and will be used widely by cable and Internet providers.

For more:
- see this Drexel blog entry

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