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What cell towers? Qualcomm awards scholarship for novel use of TV whitespace

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By April Dahlquist, Coordinated Science Lab
January 24, 2011

  • ECE grad student Sreeram Kannan received the Qualcomm Roberto Padovani Scholarship for work he did during an internship at Qualcomm.
  • His project was to develop an algorithm for the technology FlashLinQ, which allows cell phones to communicate using TV whitespace.
  • The technology could be used to create a localized Internet.

Sreeram  Kannan
Sreeram Kannan

Qualcomm is nuts about ECE graduate student Sreeram Kannan’s Coconut research.

Kannan, a Coordinated Science Lab research assistant, was awarded the $12,000 Qualcomm Roberto Padovani Scholarship for outstanding work on Coconut, which stands for Cognitive Communication Network for Unlicensed Transmission.

He worked on the project during his summer internship at the Qualcomm headquarters in San Diego.

"[Kannan’s] learning curve for new topics is fast and his ability to formulate difficult problems correctly and develop creative solutions makes him a very valuable member of the team," said Qualcomm mentor Ahmed Sadek.

Kannan’s project was to develop an algorithm for the technology FlashLinQ, which allows cell phones to communicate using TV whitespace. The advantage of using TV whitespace is that each channel utilizes a wide bandwidth of 6 MHz, so free TV channels can provide a lot of additional spectrum to operate this technology. Also TV channels operate at a frequency range where radio waves propagate much farther than in other unlicensed bands.

This technology is comparable to a radio transmitter or iTrip, when users can find a free radio frequency and then use it to play their music. It can be used by people that are within a one mile radius of each other.

FlashLinQ allows people to use any cell phone function, without having to buy an expensive phone plan. Kannan’s task was to come up with an algorithm to find out how two people could figure out which empty frequency to tune into.

“I was definitely surprised to get the award,” said Kannan. “There were lots of very good interns that I met over the summer.”

FlashLinQ also allows the Internet to be localized, Kannan said. The applications are extensive. For example, mall vendors could send out coupons to shoppers once they enter the mall. Or parents could place the technology on their kids so they could monitor them at a playground. It could even be hooked up to nonhuman devices, such as an air conditioner, which would turn on when an owner was one mile away.

Kannan started working with this technology this past spring semester when he won the Qualcomm Cognitive Radio contest with other Illinois ECE graduate students, including Sreekanth Annapureddy, who received this scholarship last year.

Kannan is pursuing his PhD under ECE Associate Professor Pramod Viswanath.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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