New software to solve municipal broadband issues

Scientists at the National University of Ireland (NUI) Maynooth have devised a solution to what is a major challenge for cities worldwide − the provision of widespread, free, effective broadband.

For more than 10 years this has been a goal of cities in their drive to support the ’smart economy’, but it had remained elusive due to technological limitations.

’It’s a very complex problem and a decade of research internationally had failed to provide any real progress. The key was to stop looking for complex solutions, think differently about the issues and come up with simple answers,’ said Prof Doug Leith, director of the Hamilton Institute at NUI Maynooth.

Prof Leith said that, while free broadband has always been a logical and desired goal for society, it had proven unexpectedly difficult to provide. He pointed out that London has a new commitment to having free municipal broadband available time for the 2012 Olympics, while Dublin has had it as an objective in recent years.

The two main barriers to creating successful municipal wireless networks are interference and fairness. In order to effectively cover a city, it is necessary to provide many WiFi transmitters in close proximity to each other. However, as all are constantly broadcasting and receiving, these transmissions interfere and collide with each other, resulting in poor-quality connections for most users.

It has also been very difficult to allocate bandwidth evenly between users, meaning a small number of lucky users monopolise most of the resource available, depending on their location, type of computer and other factors.

Prof Leith and colleagues Ken Duffy and David Malone developed a new mathematical framework to analyse the functioning and behaviour of radio signals in these situations, and from this new perspective have developed software programs that circumvent the interference and fairness issues, meaning the WiFi transmitters operate effectively.

The software has been proven in trials and the NUI Maynooth team is currently preparing for large-scale demonstrations in early 2011, in association with industry partners. They plan to bring the software to market during the year.

’We took this on as a challenge and have worked intensively on it over the past two years. Our hope is that it will be an enabler for civic society and for commerce. At the end of the day, broadband is for everyone and we all should be able to share in it as cheaply and freely as possible,’ said Prof Leith.

The Hamilton Institute, based at NUI Maynooth, is a multi-disciplinary research centre focused on the bridge between mathematics and other disciplines, including information technology and biology.