UWA receives grant for wireless broadband research

The University of Western Australia (UWA) has been awarded $300,000 in Federal Government funding to further research into land-based wireless internet services for rural and remote Australians.

The funding, awarded by the Australian Research Council, will be allocated over three years with $120,000 for the first year and $90,000 in each year to follow.

UWA School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering, Professor Tony Cantoni, told Computerworld Australia the three-year project will aim to improve wireless broadband services by creating theoretical mathematical modelling and developing algorithms which can then be evaluated through simulation.

“At this stage, we’ll be doing mainly theoretical stuff, we’re doing some modelling of rural areas in terms of what sorts of base station you can set up, how many antennas you put up there and in particular, the configuration of the antennas you put up, in order to provide very high speed wireless services in those sort of areas,” Cantoni said.

“The key thing is it’s not a typical mobile situation where you’ve got a high density of users in the rural area and so you’ve got to find economical systems to service them.

“By using techniques like having a large number of antennas on the base station array, you’re able to use existing high towers that would be used for television and you’re also able to reach large distances.

“Most base stations don’t use many antenna elements at all, they use a small number divided into three sectors and there’s probably three or four elements for each sector, but we’re talking about having 30 to 40 elements.”

Cantoni also hopes to collaborate with the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) down the track in order to actually test the developed technology on experimental equipment rather than just simulation.

“I’m always hopeful it will be commercialised. There’s no question that if we’re able to come up with some algorithms and some techniques that have commercial prospects we certainly know how to commercialise them," Cantoni said.

The research will build upon extensive work done by the CSIRO. “We’re looking at just a very narrow aspect of how to optimise the base station arrays to see what you can achieve through doing that, so it’s a very small part of being able to deliver broadband services for sparse areas,” Cantoni said.

The funding will be used predominantly to employ a third investigator to join Cantoni and fellow chief researcher from Curtin University’s department of mathematics and statistics, Dr Heidi Dam. However, Cantoni said he had hoped to receive around $500,000 in funding to pay additional researchers for the project to be done in less time.

According to Cantoni, the research may be too late for use in the Federal Government’s National Broadband Network (NBN) as the project will have had many elements finalised by the time the research is completed. However, he said the technology has the potential to be used offshore.

“Australia is not the only place in the world that will be rolling out high speed data services for rural areas. Australia is probably a small player in terms of the number of customers that we represent to equipment manufacturers.

“There’s the whole of Africa, Asia and China, and while the research has some importance for Australia because of the NBN, it also goes beyond Australian application.

"It’s not designed for Australia, it’s designed for low density areas where you want to still provide high speed data services.”

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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