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WINLAB and the Future of Wireless

I've seen big computer rooms, and grids of mesh computers, but I'd never seen 400 computers hanging from the ceiling until I visited the WINLAB facility in North Brunswick, New Jersey.

WINLAB, the Wireless Information Network Laboratory, is an industry-university cooperative research center for wireless networking, founded at Rutgers University in 1989. It's designed as an international resource for academics, industry, and government to experiment with new wireless networking technology.

This room of dangling PCs is the ORBIT Lab -- the Open-Access Research Testbed for Wireless Networks. The 80 by 70 foot room has a 20 by 20 array of PCs, spaced 1 meter apart. Each node is a stand-alone Linux PC with a 1 GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, 20 GB of local disk, two 100BaseT Ethernet ports, and two 802.11 a/b/g cards (plus some additional connections including Bluetooth).

ORBIT was founded in 2003 with funding by the NSF as a network research testbed, so researchers could perform wireless experiments that required non-trivial equipment -- and which were repeatable and comparable.

Plus, the facility is accessible over the Internet -- Researchers can log in remotely, load up the nodes with their own custom test software (down to low-level protocol drivers), conduct the experiment, and then extract the data for off-line analysis. The facility has around 95 percent usage from some 200 user groups worldwide, and is booted about 30 to 40 times a day.

(A similar collaborative networking project at Princeton University, PlanetLab, has some 866 nodes at 458 sites spread across the globe. But while PlanetLab is focused on long-running Internet-based services, ORBIT works with much shorter timescales: packet collisions on the scale of milliseconds.)

Beyond ORBIT, WINLAB has a broad research agenda for next-gen ("4G") wireless, including sensor networks of small devices, vehicular networks between moving traffic, "Ad-hoc" networks ("infrastructure-less,"), wireless security, and Smart Radios ("cognitive radio"), software-defined radio systems that can reconfigure to communicate on whatever spectrum is available, and with whatever protocol is required (already being integrated into the ORBIT testbed).

And -- It's just fascinating to be standing under 400 PCs as they suddenly power on and start booting up -- because somebody in Australia wants to run a test.

See full article: WINLAB Looks to the Wireless Future

See also: Next-Generation Wireless: LTE & WiMAX

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