Santa Clara University


Professors Work to Improve Communication for All

Professors JoAnne Holliday and Sarah Kate Wilson
Professors Wilson (left) and Holliday test the wireless network.

Talking with professors JoAnne Holliday (computer engineering) and Sarah Kate Wilson (electrical engineering) about their research in the field of wireless network communication is an enlivening experience. Their enthusiasm for their work is contagious, which is fitting because they are working on making communication contagious on a number of different levels.

According to these two, computer and electrical engineers have not had much of a history of communicating with each other. With a well-defined interface between the two disciplines, there wasn’t always much need for talk. But when they discovered that their individual research was taking them further into the middle ground, they began working together on determining the feasibility of using small, turn-key base stations for cellular networks that would inexpensively increase the digital capacity on high-traffic networks, and also extend the reach of existing cellular networks in third-world or developing countries.

“Technology can benefit people in surprising ways,” Wilson said. “We envision agile base-stations (ABS) that will not only improve network connectivity near the 49ers’ stadium on game day, but will also help fishermen in Bangladesh determine which market will bring the best price for their catch.”

The cost of installing a wireless base-station can be prohibitive for poorer communities, leading to a digital divide. “We’re looking for an inexpensive, flexible, and efficient way of increasing cellular network productivity for everyone” said Holliday, “and we think the ABS is a step in the right direction.”

Using algorithms for frequency and code assignment and for routing decisions, their study will help determine how ABS can affect the overall throughput of the system and the throughputs of individual users. With the help of funding from SCU’s Center for Science, Technology and Society, the professors are concentrating their research on increasing the number of low-cost, low-rate service channels (such as pagers or voice), making communication contagious around the world, and allowing many to benefit from the information age.