Rice University to Create World’s First Programmable Wireless Network

Rice University researchers will use their own technologies as well as those developed at other universities in an effort to create the world’s first fully observable and programmable wireless network in Salt Lake City.

Programmable Wireless Network

Rice’s Reconfigurable Ecosystem for Next-gen End-to-end Wireless (RENEW) technology will underlie a city-scale wireless test platform for telecom providers, tech companies and research institutions announced recently by the University of Utah. The Platform for Open Wireless Data-driven Experimental Research (POWDER) is designed to allow wireless researchers, equipment makers and application developers to conduct tests with up to 40,000 users over a 5-square-mile area that includes much of the University of Utah campus and downtown Salt Lake City.

POWDER and a complementary test bed in New York City were announced last week as the United States’ first wireless test networks large enough to cover a small U.S. city. They are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and industry consortium partners in NSF’s Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) effort.

“The biggest challenge for the future of wireless communications is not data speeds but scalability, in every sense,” said RENEW project leader Ashutosh Sabharwal, Rice professor of electrical and computer engineering, in a prepared statement. “There will be order-of-magnitude increases in network nodes, number of users and types of applications. And these networks will have to be everything to everybody. They’ll be the backbone connection not just for our smartphones, but for self-driving cars; the lights, water mains and buildings of smart cities; and every imaginable sensor and gadget.”

Market intelligence firm IDC expects that more than 152,000 internet-enabled devices will go online each minute by the year 2025. Many of those devices will connect wirelessly, and the exponential growth in demand for wireless data contrasts with the finite availability of radio spectrum. Rice researchers on the RENEW team have spent years studying ways to serve more data to more devices with available spectrum.


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