US professor gets $800,000 grant to develop next generation networks

16 Jan 2023

Prof Lingjia Liu. Image: Chelsea Seeber/Virginia Tech

Prof Lingjia Liu’s research will focus on integrating non-terrestrial networks – such as high-altitude aircraft and satellites – with terrestrial networks, to combine the benefits of each.

A professor at the Virginia Tech University has been awarded a US government grant to help develop next-generation (NextG) mobile broadband networks.

Prof Lingjia Liu has received an $800,000 grant to research the integration of non-terrestrial networks – such as aerial and space assets – with terrestrial networks.

Terrestrial networks include any connection on land or water such as cloud servers, fibre optic cables and ground stations. The research team said these common networks can be blocked and are vulnerable to natural disasters.

Aerial networks such as high-altitude aircraft and low-altitude drone swarms have flexible mobility but can be limited by their battery capabilities. Space networks, meanwhile, can offer emergency communication for remote areas.

For example, Apple launched its Emergency SOS safety feature for the iPhone 14 last year, which lets users connect with emergency services when cellular and Wi-Fi coverage are unavailable.

The new project will focus on the use of AI and advanced machine learning algorithms to improve communication and computing efficiencies. The overall goal is to create an integrated network that combines the benefits of each network option.

Shadab Mahboob, a PhD student working with Liu, said the accessibility of this kind of network coverage “is going to be revolutionary”.

“This integration of non-terrestrial platforms like satellites to existing terrestrial networks is entirely new,” Mahboob said. “It’s something that doesn’t currently exist – even in 5G networks.

“Even in times of natural disasters or at isolated remote places, non-terrestrial networks are going to allow for communication, which is going to truly change lives,” he added.

To make this integrated network possible, Liu and his team plan to incorporate a 2D modulation technique that transforms information carried from one communication source to another.

The researchers said this waveform is being considered in 6G technology due to how robust it is in handling high-speed velocity scenarios.

“Since NextG will be governed by industry and industry standards, it is critical for academia to work and collaborate with industry partners,” Liu said. “By collaborating with industry partners, we will know what kind of problems are relevant and are important for NextG users.

“Our hope is that the whole wireless community will benefit from this research.”

The funding comes from the National Science Foundation, an independent government agency in the US.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic