NSF Funds Radio Spectrum Research

October 13, 2016

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is making 11 awards, totaling $12 million, to support activities aimed at enhancing the public's access to the radio frequency spectrum -- the part of the electromagnetic spectrum used to facilitate telecommunications and modern information systems essential for public safety, transportation and national defense.

"The radio frequency spectrum is a finite but exceedingly valuable natural resource that facilitates a variety of applications and services," said Jim Kurose, head of NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate, which supported the awards together with NSF's Engineering and Math and Physical Sciences Directorates. "The research activities supported by these awards represent bold new approaches with the potential to contribute to improvements in the efficiency of radio spectrum utilization while protecting passive sensing services, and allowing traditionally underserved Americans to benefit from current and future wireless-enabled goods and services."

In recent years, smartphone use and demand for wireless broadband access have intensified, increasing use of the radio frequency spectrum. At the same time, traditional methods of assigning frequencies, coupled with the rise of new wireless technologies for radar and unmanned aerial vehicles, have contributed to shortages in available radio frequencies.

Expanding access to the spectrum while protecting certain radio wavelengths, such as those allocated to radio astronomy or passive remote sensors that monitor the Earth's environment, were identified as several "grand challenges" faced by wireless communications experts in facilitating better use of the radio spectrum.

"Research that enables solutions to these grand challenges is helping realize the vision of enhanced radio spectrum utilization, thus enabling fast, reliable and low-cost wireless access for all Americans, including those in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, while maintaining critical functions performed by government and scientific users," said Grace Wang, acting NSF assistant director for Engineering.

These three-year awards continue NSF's ongoing investment in radio spectrum research, which over the past five years has supported more than 140 awards through an investment of over $60 million. The investments respond directly to the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan and align with the recently announced Advanced Wireless Research Initiative, which seeks to sustain U.S. leadership in wireless communications and technology.

Increasing spectrum efficiency and access requires careful consideration of the interplay of the physical sciences, engineering, computer and information sciences, mathematics, economics and public policy.

"Combining methods from multiple fields in new, surprising ways allows us to solve problems that require a comprehensive, integrative approach," said Fleming Crim, NSF assistant director for Math and Physical Sciences. "One of the great strengths of the Foundation is that it supports fundamental research across all of science and engineering and, thus, can bring disparate areas together to work on compelling problems and seize unique opportunities."

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