Montana State University

MSU computer scientist wins prestigious award for wireless tech research

May 4, 2009 -- By Michael Becker, MSU News Service


Computer science assistant professor Jian Tang has won an NSF CAREER award for his work with wireless communication networks. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham)   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN -- A Montana State University assistant professor has won a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation for his work with wireless communications technology that could enhance emergency communications and improve broadband Internet service in rural areas.

Jian Tang was awarded the grant by the NSF's Faculty Early Career Development Program. The five-year, $400,000 grant, referred to as a CAREER award, expires in 2014 and can only be earned once in a career.

"I just feel really happy and excited about it," said Tang, an assistant professor of computer science who has been at MSU since 2006.

Tang's work focuses on a relatively new wireless technology called WiMAX, which allows engineers to build flexible and dynamic networks that transmit data at high speeds over long distances.

Tang hopes to combine his WiMAX research with smart antenna research already being done at MSU. Smart antennas minimize the interference between signals on a network and can even lock on to a desired signal.

"Networking using those technologies is still in the infancy stage," Tang said. "The problems I'm proposing to solve are very new, and I don't think they've been solved before."

The problems Tang wants to solve deal with how WiMAX and smart antennas work when they are connected together in "mesh" networks.

Mesh networks are made up of nodes that can relay information between themselves without relying on a centralized base station -- sort of like having cell phones pass signals between each other, rather than relying on big, expensive cell phone towers.

When nodes need to send each other data, the in-between nodes can help relay the signal. Tang's work involves writing computer code that allows those networks to relay information in the most efficient ways possible, under any conditions.

This kind of network would be useful in rural areas like Montana, where building low-cost relay stations would be more affordable than building big towers -- expensive devices that would only be serving a handful of customers.

Because they allow wireless communications to extend deeper into rural and remote areas, WiMAX and smart antennas could play a big role in the next generation of wireless networks in the United States, Tang said.

Tang hopes his CAREER-funded work will help the wireless communications industry set standards that could one day be used to develop WiMAX products for consumers, such as advanced cell phones or Internet connections.

The grant will also fund the development of a computer model for simulating WiMAX networks. Tang said this computer model will be available for scientists around the world to download and use.

"Our computer model will help other researchers in this community develop and validate their own approaches to WiMAX problems," Tang said. "It's going to benefit research in many ways."

Tang is also looking forward to the opportunities for student research that will accompany his CAREER award. The money will allow him to hire several student researchers who will get to work with state-of-the-art technologies, he said.

"An important goal of this project is to show the students how scientific research should be conducted so that in the future, they can identify new research topics and conduct their own research," Tang said.

Contact: Jian Tang at 406-994-4810 or tang@cs.montana.edu.