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(Last updated 2/8/06)


Dong Xuan (left) and Prasun Sinha (right).


By Pam Frost Gorder

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is investing $800,000 in Ohio State University research to make the Internet safer, more efficient, and more reliable.

Prasun Sinha and Dong Xuan, both assistant professors of computer science and engineering, have received the foundation's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, which recognizes a young researcher's dual commitment to scholarship and education.

Each will receive approximately $400,000 over five years.

Sinha's project, "On-the-fly Protocols for Data Dissemination in Wireless Mesh Networks," aims to develop an agile Internet -- one that can correct for signal interference as it happens and re-allocate resources to boost high-demand services, such as peer-to-peer (P2P) applications and TV streaming.

Xuan, meanwhile, will investigate "Algorithm Design for Optimization Problems in Network Over-Provisioning." He will try to uncover fundamental rules that Internet service providers (ISPs) can use to allocate their resources efficiently for real-time communication without sacrificing security and reliability.

The point, both engineers said, is that the Internet is growing up.

"Originally, people focused on conserving basic resources for Internet service -- for example, minimizing network bandwidth," Xuan said. "But now we have plenty of bandwidth to go around. We need to efficiently manage what we have to achieve better services."

To guarantee service during peak times, ISPs typically maintain more bandwidth and computing resources than they need. The technique is called over-provisioning, and it's like making every road in town a four-lane highway so that nobody has to wait during rush hour. Most of the roads are wasted most of the time.

"If you plan based solely on the worst case scenario, you can lose money, but then again, you have to be able to handle that worse case scenario if it happens," Xuan said.

He wants to give ISPs the tools they need to selectively place resources and ease Internet congestion. It's a complex problem, and he'll employ graph theory -- the mathematics of networks -- to get the answers. His goals include defining where network hubs should be placed and how they should be connected, as well as determining how much bandwidth should be allocated and optimizing connections to enhance security.

Sinha said that the Internet is moving away from its traditional form, where people communicate with each other by sending messages through an ISP. In that scheme, messages travel over a single wired or wireless hop -- from a user, over an ISP, to another user. But with an evolving technology called mesh networking, traffic can route through multiple wireless nodes before reaching an Internet gateway or the other user.

The nature of Internet traffic is also changing. Traditional protocols can't handle the demands of multimedia traffic on wireless mesh networks, Sinha said. Yet mesh applications such as P2P are now popular ways to access multimedia entertainment. Another example is the TV streaming offered by the cell phone industry.

Anyone who's tried to use a cell phone or a laptop computer knows that signal quality varies already. Trees and buildings block the radio waves that these devices use to communicate. If a nearby microwave oven happens to operate on a similar frequency, a download won't finish until the popcorn is done. An influx of new multimedia-rich applications places a further drain on the system.

"We want to design protocols that can observe network quality as it varies and act on it," Sinha said. "We can in effect alter the routes taken by packets of data and their transmission schedules to compensate for increased load and interference."

He got his idea from a project in 2004, where he and other Ohio State engineers built a wireless intruder detection network for the Department of Defense. They successfully demonstrated the world's largest such network, with 1,000 sensors monitoring a mile-wide stretch of Avon Park Air Force Base in Florida. Sinha began to think of ways to make communication between wireless nodes faster.

"Ultimately, we want to design an agile system that provides large-scale wireless Internet coverage, like a campus-wide network, or even city wide," he said.

The CAREER award honors teachers and scholars who are likely to become academic leaders in the future. Since 1996, NSF has given the award to faculty who effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their institution.

With the addition of Sinha and Xuan, Ohio State now boasts 42 CAREER winners.


Contact: Prasun Sinha, (614) 292-1531; Sinha.43@osu.edu

Dong Xuan, (614) 292-2958; Xuan.3@osu.edu

Written by Pam Frost Gorder, (614) 292-9475; Gorder.1@osu.edu