The Wireless Information Network Laboratory (WINLAB) at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, has won a $5.45 million, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to construct and operate a facility for researchers around the nation to test the next generation of wireless and mobile networks. This wireless networking test bed will include both a large-scale "radio grid emulator" laboratory and a "field trial" system in and around the Rutgers campus and nearby Central New Jersey communities.
Within the next year or so local residents are likely to reap a high-tech benefit: The equipment used in the field trials will create wireless Internet "hot spots" around the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus. Wireless Web surfers with the appropriate hardware and software will be able to sample conventional and advanced wireless Internet access free of charge and may be the first to try out emerging new mobile terminals and applications.
The project is called the Open Access Research Testbed for Next-Generation Wireless Networks. Its nickname "ORBIT" draws an analogy between planetary orbits and the trajectories of mobile devices in a wireless network. Rutgers is managing the project in collaboration with Columbia University, Princeton University, Lucent Bell Labs, IBM Research and Thomson Inc.
Dipankar Raychaudhuri, electrical and computer engineering professor and director of WINLAB, said ORBIT is a way for researchers from Rutgers and other universities to test emerging wireless networking protocols in a standardized setting and nail down their capabilities each step of the way. "It will allow researchers to eliminate guesswork and speed development of new wireless Internet technologies," said Raychaudhuri.
The two-tiered project will include a new wireless system emulation laboratory to be headquartered at the Technology Centre of New Jersey, a 50-acre research park owned by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority on Route 1 in North Brunswick. Here, an indoor radio grid of about 625 stationary and mobile nodes will give researchers throughout the country remote access for testing of future network concepts under a variety of computer-generated topologies and radio conditions.
"Experiments run will be measurable and reproducible," Raychaudhuri said. "They will produce rich feedback for mobile and wireless protocol designers that should enable researchers to sharpen their concepts before proceeding to the real world."
The real world will be the Rutgers campus and the surrounding towns and suburbs of Central New Jersey. "The field test network will include about 50 nodes running a configurable mix of 3G [third generation] high-speed cellular, along with regular wi-fi wireless access (802.11) like many people have at home," said Raychaudhuri. "There will be both short-range and long-range wireless capabilities with an open application interface that will let researchers test a wide range of protocol and software ideas for the next-generation mobile Internet."
Raychaudhuri said that he expects the combination of laboratory and real-world testing to make the Rutgers region a microcosm of advanced wireless technologies that will attract national attention. "ORBIT will be a magnet for wireless researchers to come and try out new ideas. Some of these eventually may lead to new products or ventures, so the test bed may very well have an impact on the economy and jobs."
Rutgers School of Engineering Dean Michael T. Klein lauded WINLAB and the multi-faceted role ORBIT will play in moving wireless technology forward. "WINLAB is one of the School of Engineering's true steeples of excellence. This major NSF award, which will serve as a focal point for cutting-edge government, industry and multi-university collaborative research, provides an excellent foundation for enhancement of wireless technology," he said.
Just developing the two-tiered test bed is an exercise in innovation, said Michael E. Breton, associate vice president for research and sponsored programs. "WINLAB has long been a leader in the research and development of wireless technology," he said. "The ORBIT test bed will be a significant technological achievement that will underscore WINLAB's leadership position as the next generations of the Internet unfold."