The NYU WIRELESS research center announced it will build an advanced programmable platform to rapidly design, prototype, and validate technologies vital for the millimeter wave (mmWave) radio spectrum, which is potentially key to launching the next ultra-high-data-rate generation of wireless communication, or 5G.

Funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) program that supports exploratory work on potentially transformative research, the platform will be one of the first of its kind available to researchers from academia, government, and industry who are driving the early stages of mmWave technology.

Millimeter wave communication relies on highly directional transmissions in which energy is concentrated in narrow beams. Current mmWave prototyping systems use directional horn antennas mounted on mechanically rotatable gimbals. These mechanical systems are too large and slow for mobile applications. The new software-defined radio (SDR) platform will integrate an electrically steerable phased array with no physically moving parts and near-instantaneous steering. Equipment from NYU WIRELESS affiliate sponsor SiBEAM, a Lattice Semiconductor company, will provide the RF (radio frequency) front end for this testbed.

Equipment from another NYU WIRELESS affiliate sponsor, National Instruments (NI), will provide a high bandwidth and massive baseband processing system to create mmWave prototypes capable of high data rates and very low latency.

Both SiBEAM and NI will provide engineering support to New York University researchers. As part of the program, support will be provided for the system's release to other university and industry groups to speed development of mmWave technology.

The mmWave frequencies above 10 gigahertz (GHz) are a promising frontier in the quest to greatly expand the capacity in cellular and local area networks to accommodate the increased bandwidth needed in the future. The mmWave spectrum could provide 200 times the capacity of all of today's cellular spectrum allocations, and 5G is projected to become more than 1,000 times faster than 4G.

"The development of an open-source, powerful SDR platform will greatly speed the development of mmWave systems and allow academic and industry groups to bring design ideas to reality," said Sundeep Rangan, NYU WIRELESS director and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. "This project was only possible by leveraging the unique expertise of companies such as NI and SiBEAM and with crucial support from NSF." Rangan is the lead researcher for the project, which received approximately $100,000 for equipment as part of the NSF Early-concept Grant for Exploratory Research, more widely known as an EAGER Award.

"The National Science Foundation views the availability of open-source, programmable wireless platforms as a critical part of the next-generation wireless innovation ecosystem. We consider this project as one that will provide such a capability for millimeter-wave wireless networks, building upon our prior investments in enhancing the research infrastructure in this arena," said Thyaga Nandagopal, program director at the National Science Foundation.

NI is a provider of platform-based systems that enable engineers and scientists to solve the world's greatest engineering challenges. Its LabVIEW system design software has been featured in several high-profile mmWave communications demonstrations.

"We are excited to collaborate with leading research institutions and industry partners like 
NYU WIRELESS and SiBEAM to define 5G," said James Kimery, director of RF Research and SDR Marketing at NI. "Our software-defined platform based on LabVIEW and PXI is ideal for researching and prototyping cutting-edge technology to achieve faster data rates in the mmWave spectrum."

SiBEAM is a leading company in mmWave RF, and the high gain phase array that it will supply is one of the most sophisticated components of the project.

"SiBEAM believes that only mmWave spectrum provides sufficient capacity to enable the applications envisaged for 5G services and that electrically steerable phased array antenna technology is fundamental to delivering those services effectively. We are excited to make SiBEAM's technology available to a wider audience through our collaboration with NYU WIRELESS and National Instruments in this NSF-supported project," said Sohrab Emami, chief architect at SiBEAM, Inc.

The first version of the system will operate in the 60 GHz band, which is one of several that the Federal Communications Commission, using input and research from NYU WIRELESS and others, recently decided to regulate to move mmWave technology toward commercialization.

NYU WIRELESS, along with its industrial affiliates, is home to pioneering mmWave research including propagation measurements, radio channel modeling, system simulation, and antenna technology that are the foundation for 5G. FierceWirelessTech recently named NYU WIRELESS the leading academic research center for 5G worldwide. In addition to Rangan, NYU WIRELESS founder Theodore (Ted) S. Rappaport is a co-leader on the project and has successfully developed many earlier mmWave systems with NI. Aditya Dhananjay, a postdoctoral fellow at NYU WIRELESS and the NYU Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, will lead development.

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