Navy research could make wireless networks faster, increase capacity

Wireless networks in the future could be larger, faster and better able to accommodate more users thanks to research conducted by the Office of Naval Research.

Through his research in wireless network capacity, Syed Jafar, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at UC Irvine, discovered that it's possible to change mathematical formulas and algorithms used in designing wireless signals. He said current designs have been accepted as the most effective and efficient despite alternatives never being researched. Where current wireless networks are bound by fixed bandwidth, Jafar's redesign would allow each network receiver to filter out unwanted signals. Altered design formulas would also allow receivers to jam unwanted signals.

Jafar compared multi-user bandwidth to a cake, explaining that in current networks, each user receives a slice of bandwidth that becomes increasingly smaller as more users join in. By blocking undesirable signals at each receiver, user interference would decrease, allowing each user more bandwidth.

"This means that, in a network of 20 users, each person's available bandwidth can increase by a factor of 10," said Jafar. "In theory, everyone gets half the cake instead of one-twentieth. This principle can apply to networks of varying sizes."

The researcher said his work is still theoretical and in need of further testing, but the military hopes to use it to send covert messages, which often use more bandwidth than commercial communications.

"When warfighters need to send covert messages over military wireless networks, they cloak the transmission signals in a haze of virtual 'noise' or chatter," ONR said. "This method hides secret communications effectively, but also consumes immense bandwidth, limiting message size and speed."

Though it may be several years before the military can implement this technology -- and several more before it becomes commercially available -- the ONR said Jafar's work has changed the way wireless network capacity is studied, calling his assertions "game-changing." The Office said further research on the topic will be conducted immediately.

"Jafar's award-winning research determines how much user capacity a wireless network (a series of signal transmitters and receivers) can hold," ONR said. "With the rapid growth of -- and need for -- civilian and military wireless networks, this knowledge quest has taken on unprecedented urgency."

For more:
- see the Office of Naval Research's release
- see this Defense Systems article

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