The Spectrum Challenge

Jul 10, 2013

Wireless@VT Spectrum Challenge Team
Credit Virginia Tech

Just like a roadway where development has been on the rise, the airwaves too, are getting congested. 

More and more people using wireless devices, is tying up traffic on what’s known as the radio spectrum.

Two teams at Virginia Tech are finalists in a competition to solve this new problem of not enough space ‘out there.’ 

Who hasn’t had the experience of trying to get online to say, download a movie to your laptop or even just send an email, but you’re stymied because other people are trying to use the same Internet connection at the same time. And what about emergency communications, competing for a finite amount of space on the spectrum?   

It’s not an easy problem to solve, so the government has put out a call for help. Ninety teams from around the world answered the challenge and just fifteen of them advanced to round 2.

Mike Buehrer, Professor of electrical engineering, leads one of two teams from Tech, which won the first round. “One of the things were’ doing here is trying to come up with technologies that are more tolerant of interference and so when you do have competing devices trying to use the same airwaves, if they can tolerate each other’s interference then we can get more information through in the same spectrum.”

Buehrer says clearing the roadblocks on the radio spectrum will pave the way for future innovation.“Because people who want to develop new technologies will know, that we have these new algorithm, I won’t have to worry about spectrum use.  There will be spectrum available.”

The contest is sponsored by the defense department’s research agency.  DARPA gave each team what’s known as software defined radio. Their task is to come up with smart programs, which can not only get communications through, but also, play well with others.  

Jeff Poston is on the team called wireless at V-T.  “If you have all these devices that can be reconfigured at a whim, with good or malice, then what happens to the airwaves, who polices the airwaves. How do we insure that the services that are so important continue and how do we foster innovation without draconian policies that prevent the innovation?”

Because this is an international competition to see who can come up with the most elegant way to solve the spectrum space crunch problem, we can’t tell you what their secret recipe or algorithm is.  Round two in the competition is this fall.