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HPWREN Team Creates Wireless Broadband Network for Research and Education Applications


sing solar-powered wireless technology, researchers at UCSD continue to expand the reach of the NSF-funded High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN). Led by Hans-Werner Braun of SDSC and Frank Vernon of the Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the HPWREN team is creating, demonstrating, and evaluating a noncommercial, prototype, high-performance, wide-area, wireless network. The network includes backbone nodes on the UCSD campus and in a number of hard-to-reach areas in San Diego County. The HPWREN provides high-speed Internet access to field researchers from disciplines including geophysics, astronomy, and ecology, as well as providing educational opportunities through connections to learning centers in several remote communities.

Installing an Antenna Relay

Bud Hale (left) and Todd Hansen install an antenna in preparing to connect the La Jolla Native American reservation's learning center to the HPWREN backbone.

"As the project name suggests, our primary aim here is to utilize the network for both research and education applications," said Braun, HPWREN principal investigator. "From a networking researcher's perspective, we are excited about conducting measurement, performance and analysis tests on this network-but before we can do that, we must create something of real value to remote users."

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Today's seismologists can view activity from the Earth's interior as it occurs-enabling scientists from around the world to gain extensive insight into the often elusive patterns of seismic waves. However, current seismic research techniques only allow researchers to look at rather broad data sets, which does not always provide enough information to determine the exact cause and effect of an earthquake.

Vernon, a seismologist and HPWREN co-principal investigator, is taking real-time data collection and distribution one step farther with the use of the network. That is, HPWREN will allow Vernon and other field scientists to send and receive continuous real-time data from remote field sites not accessible by current real-time monitoring networks.

The HPWREN Backbone

Initial HPWREN implementation and topology to connect science and education communities in rural areas.

"HPWREN enables researchers like myself and others to collect and distribute data sets that we would not have access to otherwise," Vernon said. "For example, current monitoring systems do not have enough station coverage for understanding the detailed three-dimensional fault structure of the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults. HPWREN's availability in hard-to-reach areas provides us with the ability to do more detailed studies of fault zone structure and seismic wave activity, which in turn will provide seismologists around the world with more accurate data."

Though Vernon's seismic sensors are relatively low in data volume and require minimum bandwidth, other researchers have enormous data needs. For instance, astronomers can generate a few hundred images on a long winter night, and in order for them to transfer data from their observatories to campus facilities or to other collaborators worldwide, digital audio tapes are normally used. However, the Mount Laguna Observatory (MLO) will soon be transmitting data over the 45-Mbps HPWREN backbone.

Moreover, remote observing via the Internet has the potential to increase efficiency, broaden the user base, and open significant research and educational opportunities, as astronomy becomes a global enterprise. "By providing high-speed Internet access with this wireless network, we'll not only enable much more efficient operation of our active astronomy program, we'll also provide a real-world testbed for this prototype network," said MLO Director Paul Etzel.

Another research application involves ecological field stations, such as San Diego State University's 4,344-acre Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve and 1,600-acre Sky Oaks Field Station. The primary benefit from the wireless connectivity for ecologists includes the ability for researchers to employ high-bandwidth instruments such as imaging systems used to measure and monitor ecological and environmental systems as well as to extend the number and range of conventional remote sensing devices in the terrestrial and aquatic domains.

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A Field Connection

UCSD graduate student Pavana Yalamanchili uses HPWREN to upload field data collected to her laboratory. Her laptop requires no external power or equipment other than a PCMCIA card and a tripod-mounted antenna

Rural communities in the United States often have access to the Internet via dial-up modems. However, there are many areas, including San Diego County, that do not have stable, affordable, high-performance Internet services available for their education facilities. While providing multiple rural learning centers with high-speed Internet connectivity, the HPWREN project team supports initiatives toward the integration of research and education.

The HPWREN team recently connected two Native American reservations' learning centers to the network and is currently working on connection for a third. Both the Pala and La Jolla Native American reservations are already using their connections for education and outreach programs for both adults and children. And the Rincon Reservation will soon be connected to HPWREN.

Connecting the Pala Learning Center

The Pala Learning Center serves more than 1,000 students, both children and adults.

"By providing the Pala Learning Center with high-speed Internet access, UCSD has opened up an incredible amount of opportunities for our tribe and its future generations," said Robert Smith, Pala Tribal Chairman. "We will begin classes to teach both the older and younger generations of our tribe, so that they can become more familiar with the many opportunities available to them through the Internet."

Jack Musick, La Jolla Tribal Chairman, agreed with Smith. "The UCSD collaboration with La Jolla provides an opportunity for our learning center to receive access to technology and capabilities that we otherwise would not have in our remote county area," Musick said. "We look forward to building educational programs that allow both our children and adults to take advantage of the connectivity and learn more about how they can use computers and the Internet."

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La Jolla Native American Reservation

The La Jolla Native American Reservation's learning center (above) serves both young and old-with a rather extensive book selection and a computer lab that now has high-speed Internet access via HPWREN. Because of the reservation's remote location, located just below Palomar Mountain at 2,400 feet (below), extending HPWREN to the site was quite a challenge.

One of HPWREN's primary objectives is an understanding of network performance issues, as they pertain to researchers in various disciplines and wireless environments. Measurement and analysis will be crucial as the HPWREN team continues to build the network. "It is also useful to know what improvements are made in the network as we upgrade various hardware components," Braun said. "We are conducting Mping results weekly that determine network limits and are using another tool to discover when and where problems develop."

Current research focuses on the HPWREN connection to the Pala Learning Center. The team is doing throughput measurements eight times a day at three TCP window sizes, and correlating performance degradation with weather and window size.

"The project is interesting because we are doing specific performance-related network research in a wide-area wireless networking environment that enables broadband 'last mile access'," Braun said. "But at the same time, we are providing real connectivity services for the day-to-day activities of scientific researchers in disciplines across astronomy, earthquake monitoring, and ecology-as well as to remote educational users such as those at the Native American reservations." -KMB

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Project Leaders
Hans-Werner Braun

Frank Vernon
Scripps Institution of Oceanography