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First responders to get mmWave 5G development assistance from NYU WIRELESS and the University of Padova, Italy.

I vividly remember the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001. To this day, I have never since gone downtown to see that area because some days after the attack I attended three funerals of a Port Authority Police Officer, A NY Firefighter, and a NYPD officer who were either members of our parish church and/or were related to friends. When you see such a tragedy on the television and in the media, you comment about how terrible it was, but when you know and see the pain of loss from friends—it stays in your heart.

I was in Boston on September 11, 2001, visiting Lucent Technologies as a TI Corporate Account manager/application engineer that morning and would be flying back to NY’s LaGuardia Airport later that day from Boston’s Logan Airport sometime after the tragic American Airlines Flight 11 left from Gate 32 and flew into the World Trade Center North Tower, Building 1 at 8:46 AM Eastern time that morning—-I was scheduled return home to Long Island Islip Airport on a flight, among so many others, that would never leave the airport.

No one will ever forget that day, but one thought that days later troubled me as an engineer, with RF communications experience, was the fact that the different First Responder teams from NYPD, FDNY, Port Authority Police and ambulances, were not easily able to communicate with each other to effectively coordinate the massive rescue effort underway amidst all of the chaos.

This is why the announcement that the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) had awarded its largest grant to of $2.3M over three years to the NYU WIRELESS research center at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, which will work with Italy’s University of Padova, Italy, the Austin Fire Department, and NYU WIRELESS industrial affiliates to create a research platform for public safety communications using frequencies above 6 gigahertz, in the mmWave spectrum to take public safety technology into the 5G era.

My mind immediately went to Massive MIMO, Beam-steering, and heterogenous networks that will be able to focus the full power of mmWave communications on any local emergency.

Leading researchers from NYU, the University of Padova, and the Austin Fire Department met in San Antonio, TX to launch this NIST-funded project that will bring the ultra-fast possibilities of 5G millimeter wave wireless technology to first responders. This meeting was meant to jump-start the technology that could enable first responders to relay video in moving ambulances, employ virtual reality in emergencies, receive high-definition images from drones in real time, or control robots in restricted indoor environments, along with the possible addition of Virtual Reality in circumstances that would be too dangerous for humans.

From left to right we have Coitt Kessler, Austin Fire Department Robotics Emergency Deployment Team Project Manager; Marco Mezzavilla, NYU WIRELESS Program Director for the NIST project; James Zottarelli, Austin Fire Department Robotics Emergency Deployment Team Grants Coordinator; and NYU Tandon Professor Sundeep Rangan, Director of NYU WIRELESS. (Image courtesy of NYU WIRELESS)

From left to right we have Coitt Kessler, Austin Fire Department Robotics Emergency Deployment Team Project Manager; Marco Mezzavilla, NYU WIRELESS Program Director for the NIST project; James Zottarelli, Austin Fire Department Robotics Emergency Deployment Team Grants Coordinator; and NYU Tandon Professor Sundeep Rangan, Director of NYU WIRELESS. (Image courtesy of NYU WIRELESS)

I spoke to Professor Sandeep Rangan who leads the project, directs NYU WIRELESS, and is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at NYU Tandon and also to Dr. Marco Mezzavilla, an NYU WIRELESS research scientist and program director for the NIST project about this exciting opportunity to get some more detailed information. The discussion centered around the fact that, still today, many fire departments use paper maps and that present communications systems to not have enough bandwidth to enable a truly effective and coordinated First Responder system. Digital high-reliability maps will be on the horizon with this effort.

5G’s higher speed, lower latency wireless communication is coming to its first public deployment, but millimeter-wave (mmWave) technology for such public safety communications is less understood and presents unique challenges.

The goal is that within three years, the teams plan to develop fundamental research on the behavior of the radio waves, channel measurements and models, and public safety–specific findings for technology such as antennae and testing equipment, as well as an end-to-end system simulation of a complex public safety scenario. This effort will enable the first free and open-source channel sounding, emulation, and simulation tools for designing and testing public safety communications equipment and to demonstrate novel use cases not possible with earlier 4G systems.

It is imperative that emergency communications cover land and air, but more difficult is the reality they face to sometimes build their own networks, for example, when a hurricane takes down cell towers. Another challenge researchers face is that communications must be robust and reliable – link failures, which to you and me affect only a dropped call, could crash an autonomous vehicle. Emergency vehicles move rapidly – this presents a severe “handoff” challenge for antennae. The researchers plan to address all these mmWave issues, plus provide the vast mmWave bandwidth needed to communicate with many first responders simultaneously.

During the first phase of their work, they plan to develop special channel soundings for these emergency systems, including peer-to-peer and aerial and vehicular links which are not required for cellular and WiFi systems, and they will also address signal blockage and mobility issues that are not yet fully understood.

Other research will develop lab trial-based software-defined radio systems to ensure ultra-reliability. SDR will also allow First Responders to have a custom radio to meet their particular needs, while enabling them to be in reliable communication with other First Responder teams. Complex channel emulation will be needed to scale to the bandwidth and for the large number of antennae required for mmWave. Based upon their experience with commercial mmWave modeling, the researchers hope to vastly simplify channel processing. National Instruments has an excellent SDR solution that will enable effective prototyping.

Fortunately, NYU WIRELESS is home to pioneering mmWave research, which includes propagation measurements, radio channel modeling, system simulation, and antenna technology that are the foundation for 5G.

National Instruments, an industrial affiliate of NYU WIRELESS, will provide much of the equipment and software, and NYU students have worked extensively at NI to develop key components. Texas-based NI has been working with NYU WIRELESS to push the envelope of mmWave research. Since the team will also include the Austin Fire Department’s Robotics Emergency Deployment Team, NI is doubly excited to work with them on research that could ultimately impact their local community in emergency situations.

The Austin Fire Department will consult on the design of test scenarios and may even test prototypes. The city’s hilly geography poses a difficult mmWave challenge. Check out some of their high tech equipment.

Leptron RDASS HD Unmanned Quadcopter (Image courtesy of Leptron)

Leptron RDASS HD Unmanned Quadcopter (Image courtesy of Leptron)

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The grant to NYU and its partners was the largest of 33 NIST grants announced this week for research and development projects aimed at advancing broadband communications technologies for first responders. The grants are part of the Public Safety Innovation Accelerator Program funded by NIST’s $300 million allocation from the 2015 auction of advanced wireless service licenses.

Of course, much of this research effort will also benefit mmWave technology for 5G.

What are your thoughts and experiences in this area?

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