Grand Challenge: Making Better Use of Spectrum

In 2015, Canadians sent over 53 petabytes of mobile data every month, the equivalent of 13 million DVDs. By 2020, expertsFootnote 1 expect that amount to increase to over 300 petabytes: 77 million DVDs of mobile data per month. But how will our already crowded radio frequency (RF) spectrum accommodate all this new wireless traffic?

Researchers with the CRC are studying new ways to pack more networks, services and devices onto our existing RF spectrum through the Making Better Use of Spectrum (MBUS) Grand Challenge. In particular, researchers with this project are examining how new technologies (for example, new mobile phones) that are designed to sense and exploit unused spectrum can be integrated into our current mobile-technology mix without disrupting existing systems. The researchers are looking at:

  • new ways to measure spectrum sharing,
  • what rules need to be in place to minimize interference,
  • how we can best allocate spectrum to support spectrum-sharing.

Phase 1: WiFi and cellular

WiFi and cellular channels diagram

In the first phase of MBUS, researchers are using complex computer models to simulate WiFi and cellular networks in multiple scenarios where they share spectrumFootnote 2. For example, they are modelling the behaviour of WiFi and cellular networks within a busy airport terminal, and examining how, when and where interference occurs. The researchers manipulate the model to simulate different solutions to reduce interference, then they carefully examine the outcomes. These solutions may include, for example, imposing new 'etiquette' rules on networks that give "polite" devices more time to send their data on the network. An example of a "polite" device would be a mobile phone designed to reduce its power level to avoid interfering with neighbouring devices.

While studying the interference between WiFi and cellular networks as the first phase of MBUS, the researchers are also developing the tools they will need to analyze the impact of new spectrum-sharing technologies on existing networks, the next step in the MBUS program.

Dynamic spectrum sharing

In phases 2 and 3 of MBUS, researchers will investigate 'dynamic spectrum sharing.' In other words, they will examine the technologies and rules we need in place to move from our traditional licensed/unlicensed model of allocating spectrum to a truly dynamic system where intelligent devices and networks sense, select and make use of any free spectrum at any given time. A critical part of this research is ensuring that, as we move to more spectrum-sharing, those companies or groups with licensed swaths spectrum are protected from interference by spectrum-sharing devices.

By finding new ways to use our current spectrum more efficiently, CRC researchers are developing the tools Canada will need to fully exploit our wireless future.

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