$3M Award to Improve the Performance of 5G and 6G Wireless Networks
ECE Associate Professor Dimitrios Koutsonikolas, Professor Stefano Basagni, Professor Kaushik Chowdhury, Associate Professor Josep Jornet, and William Lincoln Smith Professor Tommaso Melodia were awarded $3M to create “An Open, Programmable Platform to Conquer the 5G and 6G Wireless Spectrum.” The NSF awarded $2M and Northeastern contributed $1M. The project will build X-Mili, a one-of-its-kind open, programmable platform that will enable experimental 5G and 6G research at all layers of the protocol stack and will be available to the broader research community.
Led by Associate Professor Dimitrios Koutsonikolas, a team from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) was recently awarded $2 million in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and an additional $1M contribution from Northeastern University. The award will support research aimed at increasing communication speed and improving communication robustness in millimeter-wave (mmWave) frequency bands—making 5G and 6G wireless networks feasible for consumer bandwidth-intensive applications such as virtual reality and autonomous vehicles.
The three-year grant will support the team’s development of an open, programmable research platform called X-Mili that will serve as a testbed for millimeter-wave transmitters and receivers. By optimizing the performance of these critical elements, Koutsonikolas and his co-investigators from ECE will accelerate the commercialization of advanced wireless networks that address growing consumer demand.
The innovative platform is the first to enable modeling and testing of both the hardware and software components of future wireless networks, which will drive system-level innovation. Not only can hardware such as router and antenna technologies be tested, but the open and programmable architecture also supports software enhancements, such as novel AI-driven designs, that will result in leapfrog performance improvements for next-generation wireless networks.
“5G and 6G networks hold incredible promise for enabling faster data transfers, up to 20 times faster than the previous generation of 4G/LTE,” explains Koutsonikolas. “However, that requires robust communication in the 28 GHz and 38 GHz spectrum bands, as well as at even higher frequencies. Current-generation transmitters and receivers lack the capability to support uninterrupted, reliable communication at these frequencies, which are short-range and easily blocked by human bodies and other obstacles; this represents a significant challenge to the broad adoption of 5G and 6G.”
Not only will the Northeastern team leverage X-Mili for its own research and development, but this unique experimental platform will enable other wireless research teams to test their ideas for improving mmWave communications, networking, and sensing. All measurement data generated during the Northeastern team’s development phase, as well as data contributed by research groups using the platform, will be made publicly available, leading to the rapid commercialization of 5G- and 6G-compatible solutions.
“There are few challenges in electrical engineering more pressing than bringing reliable 5G and 6G solutions to market,” notes Koutsonikolas. “This research will significantly improve the quality of life for billions of people, so we’re excited to develop this platform for innovation that can be shared by other research and development teams. We’re grateful to the NSF for recognizing the value of this research and supporting it.”
Co-investigators on the project include Professor Stefano Basagni, Professor Kaushik Chowdhury, Associate Professor Josep Jornet and William Lincoln Smith Professor Tommaso Melodia, all from Northeastern’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things.
Northeastern: A Global Leader in Wireless Innovation
Koutsonikolas is relatively new to Northeastern, having joined the ECE faculty in January 2021. But he had already established himself as a leading wireless researcher at the University at Buffalo, where he received additional NSF funding and was recognized with the prestigious NSF CAREER Award for his groundbreaking work in millimeter wave networking.
What led Koutsonikolas to join the faculty in Northeastern’s College of Engineering? According to Koutsonikolas, the decision was an easy one.
“Northeastern is a big player and a global leader in academic wireless research,” he says, “with amazing resources like the Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things that are setting the standard for collaborative, interdisciplinary development. When I had the opportunity to join this team and work with my co-investigators on projects like this — as well as world-class experts in other disciplines ― I knew I belonged here.”
“Northeastern has invested in creating this outstanding infrastructure and it has ambitious plans for wireless networking development,” Koutsonikolas points out. “It’s an ideal environment where I can really maximize my contributions and work at the forefront of next-generation wireless network advancement.”
See related news: One of a Kind Cellular Platform Could Usher in 6G Technology, News@Northeastern
Communication in the millimeter wave (mmWave) frequency bands has emerged as a potential solution to the bandwidth crunch problem by realizing multi-Gbps rates. Communication in the 28 GHz and 38 GHz spectrum bands is a major building block of the 5G cellular architecture, and communication at even higher frequencies is expected to play a major role in the upcoming 6G architecture. The proposed project will acquire the necessary hardware and software components to build X-Mili, an 8-node mmWave experimental testbed, which would combine the following features: (i) dual-band operation at both 60 GHz and 28 GHz, enabling both WLAN and5G cellular research, and extensibility towards higher (6G) frequency bands, (ii) practical phased antenna arrays, (iii) bidirectional SISO, 2×2 SU-MIMO, and MU-MIMO operations in both bands, (iv) full programmability at all layers of the protocol stack, and (vi) O-RAN compliance.
Example projects enabled by the proposed infrastructure include characterization of ultra-wideband MIMO (Multiple-Input & Multiple-Output) and OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing) channels and new PHY layer design for 5G and 6G bands, cross-layer design of novel algorithms for single-user and multi-user MIMO and link adaptation, machine learning-driven link and network adaptation, resource allocation, and network management, software defined networking, security in 5G networks, joint sensing and communications, enabling high-bandwidth, low-latency applications over mmWave networks, spectrum sensing, and vital sign monitoring. The proposed development activity would provide the mmWave research community with a unique experimental platform that may be instrumental in advancing research activities in the fields of mmWave communications, networking, and sensing. All measurement data generated during the development phase as well as datasets contributed by research groups using the instrument would become publicly available.
This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.