Grand Challenge: Spectrum Environment Awareness

Spectrum crunch

With the explosion in demand for wireless services, many experts predict that we will face a spectrum crunch in the next 5 to 10 years. A vital first step in finding solutions to the dwindling amount of available spectrum is to understand our current spectrum usage: What spectrum is being used? When is it being used? Where is it being used? And are the networks running efficiently?

SEA prototype

But to answer these seemingly simple questions requires an extremely complex system, one capable of monitoring, then analyzing, billions of signals, sent over multiple frequencies in a geographic area the size of Canada. On top of that, to be truly useful the system must deliver the information to the user quickly, tracking the changing usage minute by minute, and provide answers to the user in a form that is easy to interpret.

CRC's Spectrum Environment Awareness (SEA) Grand Challenge project is developing the first-ever system designed to deliver near real-time information on spectrum use to spectrum researchers and managers. The initial goal is to develop a prototype that will provide detailed information on spectrum use in the National Capital Region. The team will then expand the coverage to other Canadian urban areas such as Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. With a viable proof-of-concept in hand, SEA can then act as a model for the development of large-scale spectrum monitoring systems by governments or industry.

A SEA of sensors

On one end of the SEA system is a network of sensors—some mobile and some fixed—that collect information on spectrum use. These include special apps located on cellphones, existing fixed communications towers and mobile sensors located on moving vehicles like cars, buses, or trucks.

On the other end of the system is the user—for example a spectrum manager—who needs timely information on spectrum usage in a specific area. Between the two is a cluster of software tools that manage the interaction between the user and the sensors, first interpreting the user's query, translating it into instructions for the sensor network, then collecting the sensor data, analyzing it and delivering it to the user in a format they can understand.

How SEA works

If, for example, a spectrum manager receives complaints of interference in GPS reception in Vancouver's downtown core between 9 am and 10 am, they would send a query to SEA. SEA translates the user query into simple instructions for the sensor network, telling it to turn on all sensors in that area, that record in the proper frequency range, between 9 am and 10 am. The sensors then stream their data to SEA software tools that compile and analyse the information. Finally, SEA converts the data into visual representations that the user can quickly interpret.

Once completed, the prototype SEA system will be a worldwide first in spectrum monitoring and place Canada at the forefront of spectrum monitoring technology.

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