5G Technology to Enable Ultra-Fast Wireless Connectivity for First Responders

Lead researchers from NYU, the University of Padova, and the Austin Fire Department met in San Antonio to launch their NIST-funded project to bring the ultra-fast possibilities of 5G millimeter wave wireless technology to first responders. This technology could enable first responders to relay video in moving ambulances, employ virtual reality in emergencies, receive high-definition images from drones in real time, or control robots in restricted indoor environments too dangerous for humans.

Although 5G wireless communication technology is nearing its first public deployment, millimeter-wave (mmWave) technology for such public safety communications is less understood and presents unique challenges.

The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) awarded $2.3 million over three years to the NYU Wireless Research Center at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, which will work with Italy’s University of Padova, the Austin Fire Department, and NYU WIRELESS industrial affiliates to create a research platform for public safety communications using frequencies above 6 gigahertz, in the mmWave spectrum.

The researchers have now started executing their plans to greatly reduce the time to bring mmWave technology to public safety communications. Within three years, the NYU WIRELESS led group aims to develop fundamental research on the behavior of the radio waves, channel measurements and models, and public safety–specific findings for technology such as antenna and testing equipment, as well as an end-to-end system simulation of a complex public safety scenario. They plan to develop the first free and open-source channel sounding, emulation, and simulation tools for designing and testing public safety communications equipment.

Not only must emergency communications cover land and air, they must also occasionally build their own networks, for example, when a hurricane takes down cell towers. Another challenge: Communication must be robust and reliable – link failures that mean nothing more than a dropped call for mobile phone users could crash an autonomous vehicle, for example. And emergency vehicles move rapidly – presenting a severe “handoff” challenge for antennae. The researchers plan to address all these mmWave issues, plus provide the vast mmWave bandwidth needed to communicate with many first responders simultaneously.

In the first phase of their work, the researchers will develop special channel soundings for these emergency systems, including peer-to-peer and aerial and vehicular links not required for cellular and WiFi systems, as well as signal blockage and mobility issues that are not yet fully understood.

Other research will develop software-defined radio systems to deliver ultra-reliability. Complex channel emulation will be needed to scale to the bandwidth and for the large number of antennae required for mmWave. Based upon their experience with commercial mmWave modeling, the researchers hope to vastly simplify channel processing.

National Instruments, an industrial affiliate of NYU WIRELESS, will provide much of the equipment and software, and NYU students have worked extensively at NI to develop key components. Theodore (Ted) S. Rappaport, the founding director of NYU WIRELESS and NYU Tandon’s David Lee/Ernst Weber, will be the co-principal investigator, along with the noted wireless researchers Michele Zorzi and Andrea Zanella of the University of Padova.  Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Aditya Dhananjay will supervise much of the hardware development.

The Austin Fire Department's Robotics Emergency Deployment Team which has been at the forefront of use of robotics in emergency incident management will consult on the design of test scenarios and may even test prototypes.  AFD was the first metropolitan fire department in the country to receive a Certificate of Authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to use drone technology in real-time, public safety capacities. The team is already testing air, ground, and maritime robotic platforms to establish an industry standard for the first rescue-specific robots.

The grant to NYU and its partners was the largest of 33 NIST grants announced this week for research and development projects aimed at advancing broadband communications technologies for first responders. The grants are part of the Public Safety Innovation Accelerator Program funded by NIST’s $300 million allocation from the 2015 auction of advanced wireless service licenses.