Could Cognitive Computing Eliminate Weak Wi-Fi?

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Ever Experienced a Dropped Call or Weak Wifi Signal? You're Not Alone.

It's certainly irritating when you try to make a call or send a text message only to see it stall for seconds or minutes. Often the reason is because there are too many people trying to do the same thing at the same time. Now just imagine that scenario if you’re an emergency responder or military member.

All communication transmissions depend on the radio frequency spectrum—and that spectrum only has a limited number of frequencies available for use. To prevent interference, the FCC regulates the use of these non-overlapping channels. Many of these channels are given to television, radio and other broadcasting organizations as well as police and other emergency services. Others are sold to companies that produce wireless products. Every time you purchase a wireless phone, computer, or toy, its frequency had to be either purchased by a telecommunications company or provisioned by the government.

With all of the devices looking for a channel, we’ve run out of room on the spectrum.

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Thriving in Radio Frequency Chaos

Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Laboratories has been researching radio frequency allocation for more than a decade.

"Our recent work has centered on the development of algorithms that can determine the type of messages being sent without knowing the information content of those messages,” said Sean Mason, a spectrum systems researcher. “Knowing just this basic amount of information lets us determine where there is room for additional communications.”

Using cognitive sensing techniques, ATL has created a smart device that find open areas in a network that less intelligent devices would think are completely unavailable.

“The current wave of cognitive radio research being conducted at universities today will enable systems to use open frequencies that they sense on their own. Their shortcoming is that they will declare a frequency channel unusable if there is any signal at all on that frequency. Our research takes this to the next level: it will allow a radio to look at how the frequency channel is being used, and use that information to determine whether that channel is available,” explained Sean. “This system doesn’t just look for an absence of radio frequency energy—it looks for patterns in the energy that is there, and determines whether the channel can be shared.”    

A New Breed of Cognitive Radio

The benefits of a cognitive radio span across civilian, commercial and defense applications.

Having a system smart enough to share a frequency on the spectrum will save consumers time and money. It will alleviate the need to purchase room on the spectrum dedicated to a specific device – an increasingly untenable practice as spectrum becomes scarcer, and more expensive. Providing consumers with flexibility in the RF Spectrum will maximize data flow for everyone, meaning that free Wi-Fi at the busy airport will work when you need it before your flight.

For the defense industry, having more reliable mobile wireless networks will create more robust wireless networks able to withstand jamming attacks and network infrastructure failures. This will improve the defensive capabilities of existing military wireless networks and lay a foundation for the development of future wireless networks.

“There is enormous room for innovation with regards to how the RF spectrum is allocated. We’re developing methods for using more of the RF Spectrum by more devices while still avoiding interference,” Sean said.

Wait, What?: A Future Technology Forum

Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Laboratories demonstrated cognitive radio technologies earlier this year at the Wait, What? technology forum in St. Louis. Hosted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Wait, What? was designed to be a crucible for generating ideas that can stretch current conceptual horizons and accelerate the development of novel capabilities in the years and decades ahead. 

DARPA's ‘Wait, What? A Future Technology Forum’ was designed to generate ideas and conversations with technologists across the Department of Defense and commercial innovators. Watch a video of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter kicking off the forum on Sept. 9. (Credit: DARPAtv)