A Virginia Tech College of Engineering researcher has won a five-year, $450,000 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award to spearhead the sorting of cross-layer incompatibility issues that slow wireless networking delivery on the Internet.

Yaling Yang, an assistant professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering who focuses her research on computer networks, says the grant will help her to categorize and analyze over-burdened wireless networks. The CAREER grant is the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award, given to creative junior faculty likely considered to become academic leaders of the future.

Yang likens the design of networks to the popular computer game Tetris, with the enormously complex functions of a network as stand-ins for the moving, endless layers of building blocks that are to fit together like a puzzle. When all of the building blocks fit together, the network traffic – huge collections of combined data known as packets –would be able to travel through the network for eventual delivery.  

Yet, in recent years, because of the drive to boost wireless network performance, many network designs strayed from the traditional straight one layer building blocks to the more complex multilayer designs. Thus, ensuring all these pieces properly fit together has become a challenge.

Yang will analyze the network design as if it were a Tetris puzzle, not only analyzing which network designs are incompatible, thus slowing networks, but also finding the best design practice to enhance the compatibility of building blocks.

“The objective of this project is to systematically and rigorously categorize and analyze coexistence restrictions of cross-layer designs in wireless networks,” Yang writes in her abstract of the study. “In this project, coexistence restrictions of various cross-layer designs are theoretically modeled and analyzed. Different kinds of coexistence restrictions are defined, the conditions for their occurrences and their impact on network operations are revealed, and methods to check coexistence issues are developed.”

The study also seeks to create restriction-compliant protocol designs, or making sure all cross-layers are uniform and networks carrying the packets of data can pass unencumbered. “Ultimately, this will greatly enhance the flexibility and robustness of current and future wireless network systems.”

Helping solve cross layer network incompatibility issues will speed Internet access, and open room for more wireless traffic, without a lull in service, Yang said. Computers all will be wireless one day, with Ethernet-dependent desktops a memory of the past. This, she said, will open the door to the ability of more people to work from home, rather than traveling to an office to work at a desk or kiosk, thus alleviating commuter traffic and thereby help the environment.

This CAREER grant ties in directly with another National Science Foundation grant, worth $350,000, that Yang recently won to establish a theoretical foundation for the design of compatible Internet protocol routing systems. Yang is working with Thomas Hou, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech, on this project.

Yang earned a bachelor of science in telecommunication from University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in 1999, and a doctoral degree in computer science from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2006. Her research focuses on network modeling, analysis and simulation, security and resource management, and media access control, and routing and transport layer issues in wireless networks.

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