New protocols could transform telecommunications
For the past decade, the telecommunications industry has been researching ways to harness and pool energy from individual cell phones as a way to boost the entire network.
Such a system could use the existing hardware and signals for mobile communications.
UBC researcher Diomidis Michalopoulos has developed communication protocols that help to move wireless providers one step closer to this vision.
A postdoctoral fellow in the Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Michalopoulos focused on principles of fairness and efficiency to anticipate the ebbs and flows of energy usage.
“Similar to how geese fly in a V formation so they’re stronger and more aerodynamic, my protocols will assess and select channels based on signal strength and energy level.”
Michalopoulos has garnered international recognition for his discovery. In 2010, he was one of three scientists worldwide to receive a Marconi Young Scholar Award. The award recognizes scientists who have made a major impact in their field by the age of 27—Guglielmo Marconi’s age when he made the first transatlantic radio transmission in 1901.
“Diomidis’ work has a very clear application that can be commercialized to benefit society,” says Panos Nasiopoulos, Director of the Institute for Computer, Information and Cognitive Systems (ICICS).
“Diomidis’ ideas may lead to a major overhaul of the telecommunications industry,” says Prof. Robert Schober, ICICS member and Michalopoulos’s supervisor in the Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Currently, wireless service providers have to set up a network of terminals to provide coverage. The signal is relayed from the source to destination terminals, supported by a network of relay terminals so that information reaches its destination—the user.
“Right now, telecommunications companies are scrambling to keep up with customers’ appetite for mobile content, from text messages to video on demand,” says Michalopoulos.
However, with a system where each cell phone user is acting as a mobile relay, the entire network is strengthened – resulting in fewer dropped calls and dead zones in areas such as basements.
“A network using the protocols like the ones I’m working on would increase coverage in low-signal areas and be able to re-route around obstacles,” Michalapoulos says.
As well, mobile networks will be able to host a large number of users beyond the current saturation point of the existing infrastructure.
“Consider having to host a dinner,” says Michalopoulos. “It’s much easier to feed a large number of guests if you ask them to contribute to the communal food. Similarly, if you have a network system where users will offer part of their resources to assist other users, the network can host considerably more users.”
By pooling resources, individual users and the network as a whole would consume less energy. Along with reducing transmission power, the cooperative energy model would lessen environmental impact since service providers wouldn’t need to build fixed base stations.
Michalopoulos points out that cooperative mobile communications presents an ideal model for China and India, where the penetration of wireless users is much higher than in North America.
“Given the population density of those regions and the number of cell phone users, those countries could use a different network structure than the one in the Western world.”