PULLMAN, Wash.–Telecommunication engineers are focusing their technical lassos on radiowaves — those unpredictable scattering rogues that bounce around and through buildings, cars and other objects — that make or break your cell phone call.
Washington State University’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is working with industry to help advance such wireless communication through research and prepare graduates for careers in this rapidly growing field.
In tandem with the wireless communication industry, EECS is leading the Northwest in providing new curriculum, a state-of-the-art field-testing laboratory, and an industry-partnered consortium to advance the efforts. A newly formed Radio Communication Consortium meets in Pullman Wednesday, Oct. 1, with representatives of the school and the first five corporate members: Hewlett-Packard, Advanced Radio Telecom, Western Wireless, AirTouch Cellular, and The Boeing Company. Members will continue to meet semiannually to offer advice on curriculum and connect with students interested in wireless technologies.
Each company has committed money and/or equipment, including a complete cell site, microwave links and state-of-the-art test equipment to enable students and faculty to study how radio signals propagate, particularly in the Palouse. AT&T Wireless also has given the consortium a one-time award for program startup.
“This is an exciting new field with excellent career opportunities,” said Scott Hudson, EECS professor who leads the new educational effort with Bob Olsen and Ben Belzer. He and electrical engineering graduate student Leo Viray have developed a new laboratory course, which began this semester, specifically geared to wireless telecommunications.
“The lab will help students apply their learning to this challenging form of engineering, which involves particularly complex physical processes. Students will be measuring the strength of signals received in various places and using their theory to make sense of those measurements,” Hudson said. “Wireless engineers try to figure out the best places to put cell sites to get reliable coverage on your cell phone. Other technologies such as point-to-point microwave communication and satellite reception also are part of the course.”
On the research side, a project funded by industry and the Washington Technology Center has Belzer and graduate student Bill Young designing “diversity” antennas for cell phone applications. These “smart” antennas will adapt to the wide variety of complex signals that arise in an urban environment due to radio waves bouncing from buildings, cars, and such. The result will be significantly improved quality and reliability of cell phone calls.
“We want WSU to become the preferred place for companies seeking to hire telecommunication engineers in the Northwest,” emphasized Hudson.