Carnegie Mellon University

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October 02, 2017

Optimizing the 21st century radio network

Because of the large amount of data that is constantly moving back and forth across communication networks, latency optimization isn’t the only barrier. The sheer wealth of data can overload a network, rendering it unusable. Many of us routinely experience this—you look down at your phone and it appears you have service, yet you can’t make a call or access the internet. Midnight rolls around on New Year’s Eve and your texts won’t go through, thanks to the vast number of texts being sent at that exact moment.

CMU-SV Professor Carlee Joe-Wong is interested in how to create networks that can stand up to this high traffic. Using models of pricing and economic incentive, Joe-Wong is researching how to get users to shift their cellular usage from one interface to another.

“If users experience a lack of service on their cellular networks, they will switch over from the cellular radio to the wi-fi radio, thereby decongesting the cellular network. Now imagine that principle being extended to Bluetooth or Femtocell or other radio technologies being developed,” says Joe-Wong.

In this model, users have to experience disruption before manually switching over to a different radio. But Joe-Wong envisions a network where users switch seamlessly between radios so that network congestion can be completely eliminated, and everything flows smoothly with no dip in coverage. She hopes to achieve this through monetary incentive by offering users discounts to switch between radios at high-traffic times.

One of the difficulties is that these networks are owned by different companies, so you can’t dictate what price you're going to charge at what time. But certain providers are starting to pool their networks together: Google has an initiative plan called Google-Fi where users can switch between Sprint, US Cellular, and T-Mobile networks.

“Our research looks at the efficiency and the economics of that,” says Joe-Wong. “How much does Google have to pay these providers in order to get them to like partner with Google? How much can Google charge users in order to get them to subscribe? And then does that all work out so that Google as a virtual service provider can make a profit? These are the types of questions we will need to answer to make these kinds of networks a viable option in the future.”

When it comes to cellular networks, overloads can be an inconvenience and lead to customer dissatisfaction. But when it comes to smart cities technologies such as smart streetlights that regulate traffic, a downed network can be a matter of life or death. Large-scale elimination of network congestion will go a long way toward providing communities with the network reliability necessary to ensure public safety.