NSF awards engineers $705K to improve Wi-Fi, smartphones

Smartphone in someone's hands.

The grants align with a White House plan for next-gen mobile networks

Release Date: July 19, 2016 This content is archived.

“Support from the NSF and other organizations is critical to helping us advance our mission of scholarly excellence and research that benefits society as a whole. ”
Chunming Qiao, professor and chair
Department of Computer Science and Engineering

BUFFALO, N.Y. — University at Buffalo engineers have been awarded two grants totaling $705,000 to help develop next generation wireless networks and improve the performance of smartphones.

The grants, from the National Science Foundation (NSF), will support research and educational outreach to help solve problems such as crowded bandwidth, the security of mobile devices and inefficient operating systems.

They align with the $400 million Advanced Wireless Research Initiative — announced Friday by President Barack Obama — that aims to spur innovations that lead to mobile devices that can download movies in seconds, live high-resolution video from ambulances to emergency rooms, improved self-driving vehicles and other advancements.

“NSF has a long, proud history of catalyzing fundamental research in networking and communications that has resulted in profound impacts for science and society,” said James F. Kurose, PhD, assistant director of Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) at NSF, which is leading the wireless initiative. “Fundamental research on advanced wireless will be transformative and take us beyond the current and next generation of wireless — beyond what has been envisioned thus far.”

“NSF will invest more than $400 million in support of this initiative over the next seven years. NSF is working with an industry consortium to plan and deploy Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) — four city-scale research platforms — to enable at-scale and use-inspired experimentation,” said Thyaga Nandagopal, PhD, program director for NSF’s CISE Research Infrastructure (CRI) program, which supports the development of world-class research infrastructure in computer and information science and engineering.

“The University at Buffalo has long been at the forefront of innovation and leadership in computer science and engineering. Support from the NSF and other organizations is critical to helping us advance our mission of scholarly excellence and research that benefits society as a whole,” said Chunming Qiao, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Wireless networks

The proliferation of wireless devices and bandwidth-hungry computing applications has created wireless traffic jams that slow the transmission of data.

The first award, a $630,000 grant, focuses on developing next generation Wi-Fi and cellular networks that aim to solve this problem. In particular, engineers are creating software, hardware and other tools that take advantage of unoccupied, high-frequency bands (60 gigahertz) that provide an opportunity to greatly increase the rate at which wireless data is shared.

This project, which involves creating a one-of-a-kind testbed for experimentation, will be led by principal investigator Dimitrios Koutsonikolas, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Co-principal investigators, all from UB’s Department of Electrical Engineering, include Dimitris Pados, PhD, Clifford C. Furnas Professor of Electrical Engineering; Josep Jornet, PhD, assistant professor; and Zhi Sun, PhD, assistant professor.

The research aligns with a NSF CAREER award, the agency’s most prestigious grant for young investigators, recently awarded to Koutsonikolas.


The second award supports PhoneLab, an existing smartphone platform testbed located at UB built with a $1.3 million NSF grant.

Most smartphone researchers conduct tests in the marketplace, which constrains their access to the smartphone, or create their own test group, which is costly and time-consuming. PhoneLab solves both problems by offering unparalleled access to an existing group of smartphone users.

PhoneLab offers participants discounted smartphones and service. In exchange, the participants join research studies led by scientists and engineers from around the world. Over the past four years, PhoneLab has run experiments that have led to smartphone performance and security improvements.

The $75,000 award will help PhoneLab continue to develop more powerful, secure and efficient smartphones and smartphone applications, improve wireless networking, and educate students and the public about mobile devices.

The award is led by principal investigator Geoffrey Challen, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and co-principal investigator Qiao.

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