Wayne State’s Abusayeed Saifullah earns NSF CAREER award to advance low-power, wide-area wireless networks

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a key element of smart city infrastructure, as it holds the pathways to connect sensors and devices for exchanging data. With the notion that IoT connectivity should extend beyond urban zones, challenges regarding range limits and scalability in traditional wireless networks must be met.

Abusayeed Saifullah, assistant professor of computer science at Wayne State University, is working on a unique solution. His research was recently backed by a $550,000, five-year National Science Foundation CAREER award, the most prestigious honor bestowed by the organization to rising researchers.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, nearly 40 percent of the rural U.S. lacks access to advanced broadband. Connected Nation Michigan says that there are 381,000 households in the state that lack access to fixed broadband internet, 97% of which are in rural areas. To support IoT applications in smart farming, oil field management and other rural area-based industries, a new category of wireless communication has emerged in the last few years known as low-power, wide-area networks (LPWANs).

LPWANs are popular due to their energy efficiency, low cost and long range operability, but have limitations when it comes to transferring data frequently or in large volumes. They rely on a wired infrastructure, which presents logistical challenges for wide-area applications, and are not designed to support real-time communication due to low bandwidth.

Saifullah’s project will further the development of a technology proposed by his research team called SNOW, an acronym for sensor network over white spaces, a term used to define unused television broadcasting frequencies.

“SNOW is the first highly-scalable LPWAN over TV white spaces that enables asynchronous, bidirectional and massively concurrent communication between numerous sensors and a base station,” said Saifullah.

White spaces offer a greater number of less crowded channels compared to conventional ISM radio bands. Their lower frequencies — as low as 54 MHz in the U.S. — present better characteristics for long-distance broadcasting and for transmitting through obstacles.

“This project will design and implement an LPWAN architecture and complete protocol stack based on SNOW to support scalable integration, coexistence, mobility and real-time communication,” said Saifullah. “The protocols will be evaluated through experiments in two different radio environments: an urban test-bed and an agricultural field piloting smart farming.”

There are approximately 47,000 farms in Michigan, and the agriculture industry accounts for more than $104 billion of the state’s economy. Harnessing this technology could be a critical step to unlocking the full potential of agricultural IoT, including advanced data analytics, process control and cost management.

Saifullah came to Wayne State in 2017 after a two-year assignment as an assistant professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology. He has authored more than 50 published papers and is actively researching such domains as cyber-physical systems, embedded and real-time systems, wireless sensor networks, and distributed and parallel computing. He holds a Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis.

The grant number for this NSF CAREER award is 1846126.


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