UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering University of California San Diego
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Coping with Wireless Proliferation: Easy As ABC

Depending where you are on the UCSD campus, you may be surrounded by up to half a dozen or more wireless “bubbles.” They include competing commercial cell-phone networks, short-range Bluetooth, local area 802.11b (Wi-Fi) high-speed data service, and even Qualcomm’s high data rate CDMA2000 1xRTT and 1XEV-DO systems. But as wireless systems and standards proliferate, how can these technologies work for consumers—not just confuse them?

Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Professor Ramesh Rao thinks there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s called ABC—Always Best Connected. As UCSD division director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology [Cal-(IT)²], Rao is heading up a four year research project on “adaptive systems.” In August, the $2.7 million project was awarded nearly $1 million from California’s Industry-University Cooperative Research Program—making it the second-largest recipient of that program’s UC Discovery Grants in 2002. (see box below).

By adaptive systems, Rao means systems that will allow end-users to seamlessly and invisibly switch between wireless networks based on whichever is the best connection at the time.

“We need to hide all the complexity from the end user, but expose the changing capabilities to the available systems so the services can adapt opportunistically,” says Rao, also a member of the Jacobs School’s Center for Wireless Communications. “We want to create a mechanism to select the best of the available air interfaces, and even combine them. For instance, you could authenticate yourself over a secure telephone link, and once authenticated, you could download data over an 802.11b network in some encrypted form.”

Apart from Rao, faculty working on the project include ECE’s Pamela Cosman, Rene Cruz and Sujit Dey, as well as Geoff Voelker from the Computer Science and Engineering department. The project also includes deployment of a hybrid network testbed on the UCSD campus. Based on hardware and software developed and donated by Ericsson, a founding Cal-(IT)² industry partner, the network will support licensed as well as unlicensed band technologies—and let researchers test authentication, authorization and accounting (AAA) as a service that is not coupled with any particular air interface.

“These are core functions that should not have to be re-invented with each new generation of wireless or each new provider,” says Rao. “You could then add services onto the core IP network that would be available to all mobile users, regardless of which network they are using to access the core.”

Dollars for Discovery

The Jacobs School received two of the largest UC Discovery Grants awarded UCwide in 2002 by the state’s Industry-University Cooperative Research Program.

The largest—approximately $3 million, including matching funds from Nissan—went to Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Mohan Trivedi. The topic: “Human centered intelligent driver support systems”—using networked cameras and machine intelligence to alert drivers when there is a problem on the road or in the car.

At $2.7 million, the second largest UC Discovery Grant went to a group led by ECE Professor Ramesh Rao (see story at right). The grant is one of six winning Jacobs School projects that accounted for 65% of all UC Discovery Grants statewide last year to fund communications research. Other principal investigators on winning 2002 projects included ECE’s Larry Larson, Lawrence Milstein, Rene Cruz, Sadik Esener, and Pankaj Das, as well as Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Jan Talbot.