Enabling wireless broadband technology

By John Du, reposted from our Chinese language blog.

In my past posts, I’ve talked about Tera-scale computing. Intel has been doing research in both software and hardware on future processor platforms with 10s to 100s of cores. Our objective is to handle the future’s Terabytes applications with powerful enough Tera-scale computing technologies and make the technology more intelligent, more reliable and more useful to humans.

At the same time, instant communication in ever smaller form factors is becoming a critical part of our daily life and work. Intel researchers, including those in our China lab, are doing research in numerous communication technologies with an objective to allow people to communicate more easily and have access to anything they want, when and where they want, and to do so easily, reliably and securely.

Similar to many business people today, I have a high-end cell phone to help me deal with the large amount of email I receive. However, the phone’s benefit is limited – it cannot connect with the company intranet, and I do not have the same user experience as on my laptop. Much of these limitations can be attributed to the relatively poor speed of the wireless phone network.

To address the limitations of today’s wireless networks, wireless broadband has become a very hot topic. Research in this area is a key focus of the Intel China Research Center (ICRC). In China, many readers may not be familiar with our work in this area. That is understandable, because our history is short. The Beijing communication lab was founded after I joined Intel’s research department in early 2004 and we are growing fast. We now have approximately 40 communications researchers which makes us Intel’s largest communications research team outside the US.

At ICRC, our research is focused in two areas with the objective of improving the speed and quality of future wireless communication: Multi-Input, Multi-Output (MIMO) and noise mitigation. Before I describe each of these research areas, first a primer on networks.

When we refer to broadband, we mean that the band for sending data is wide therefore enabling more data to be sent at a time. Think of water flowing through a pipe. You can get a lot more water through a 10 inch pipe per second than you can a three-quarter inch pipe in the same time. Years ago, Beijing Telecom defined broadband as 2 Megabits a second or Mbps – each second 2 million bits (or 125 thousand Chinese characters) can be transmitted. Today, most people think of broadband as the wired communication many of us have to our homes or in our offices.

Today’s most common wireless communication systems are only narrow band systems. For example, the GPRS system that many cell phones use has a peak speed of 115.2 Kbps with an average speed of about 20 Kbps ?40 Kbps.

When you compare the speeds of broadband to those of today’s wireless systems, you can see the large opportunity for improvement that our researchers are working on. We believe wireless broadband technology will become practical in a few years, with the effort of the whole industry.

To gain the most out of wireless broadband, one area of research at ICRC is in MIMO technology. MIMO is a key enabler for improving wireless channel capacity under same system bandwidth. The theory is to create more independent and parallel communication channels so as to transmit multiple data flows thereby increasing the capacity of the channel. Instead of one transmitter communicating with one receiver, imagine multiple transmitters communicating to multiple receivers at the same time and each of them sending different parts of the same message.

Though MIMO holds great promise, it also introduces new problems – and another area of research for ICRC. In a MIMO system, because data is transmitted and received on the same frequency band, there will likely be interference among signals. At the same time, the wireless network is serving thousands of users which creates the potential for interference between users. By placing a ‘traffic-cop” in the middle, the system can help avoid collisions and ensure that the proper recipient gets the transmission.

Imagine how our personal and work lives could change if we implement wireless broadband. The busy businessperson can connect with the company intranet any time remotely and get the same user experience as in the office; the police can verify car information on site by connecting to the transportation monitoring center; children in rural areas can take classes in their homes while seeing and listening real-time to the same teacher as the children in the big cities; we can play real-time games with friends while downloading big attachments from emails. Try something fun – think wildly about how your life could change with wireless broadband. I would like to hear what you envision so feel free to share.

One Response to Enabling wireless broadband technology

  1. John Hennessy says:

    While I agree the idea of truly mobile truly broadband communications is technically exciting, I have to think that at another level it is redundant. In fact, I might even claim that lower bandwith systems are actually better in a way. Why? Because they make it necessary to maximise the signal (= content) of a message. If we look at much of our modern e-mail traffic we see it is information-poor and context-rich. The legal stuff in my e-mail footers is usually longer than the mail messages themselves. The pretty formatting has merely aesthetic value. So much of our tranmission effort goes to pure entropy and that cannot be a good thing!