Spectrum Environment Awareness (SEA)
The demand for wireless services is exploding. Consider our ever-growing use of mobile phones as just one example of how wireless telecommunications have become part of our daily lives. Satellite radio and TV programs, GPS tracking systems in our cars, instantly available data on the Internet, and downloading feature-length movies to our handheld devices in mere minutes are some of the other wireless niceties we now take for granted.
Wireless services are delivered to us via spectrum. Spectrum is the "highway" in the air around us that wireless signals travel on. But many experts are cautioning that the spectrum highway is getting too crowded. In fact, we could have a spectrum crunch – a wireless telecommunications traffic jam of epic proportions – in the next five to ten years. Since spectrum is a limited resource, we can't create more of it. However, we can use what we've got more efficiently.
The Government of Canada, as the spectrum regulator, manages the spectrum to achieve effective, efficient and uninterrupted use of wireless services for all Canadians. However to do this, we first need some essential, evidence-based information: what parts of the spectrum are being used and when; where is it being used and whether the wireless networks are running efficiently.
To gather this data, researchers at the Communications Research Centre (CRC) are developing a world-leading Spectrum Environment Awareness (SEA) prototype system. This is a complex network of highly sensitive sensors capable of collecting, monitoring, and then analyzing billions of signals sent over multiple frequencies across Canada. These sensors can be special crowdsourcing apps on cellphones, fixed communications towers, or mobile sensors on cars, buses, or trucks. SEA can track spectrum usage minute by minute then rapidly deliver the information in a format that is easy to interpret. The system uses cloud computing for analyzing, handling and storing big data – those large, complex data sets generated by the sensors – and can display it on user-defined platforms, from a state-of-the art visualization laboratory to a smartphone.
Here is how it could work proactively to ensure uninterrupted wireless service: the SEA system will alert a spectrum manager that there is some interference in a specific area That manager sends a query to SEA telling it to turn on all the sensors in that area. The sensors then stream their data to SEA software that compiles and analyzes the information. SEA converts the data into a format that the manager can easily understand, and identifies the source of the wireless interference to be able to take action.
This information will be particularly important as we see the fifth generation – 5G – of wireless communications come on stream, which will require even more spectrum for advances in wireless telecommunications. A SEA like system will enable spectrum regulators to more proactively and effectively manage spectrum so that users experience interference free wireless connectivity.
The SEA prototype system was demonstrated in July 2016 showing real-time spectrum usage and related analytics with data collected from about 80 sensors in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, a world first. Once development is complete, the SEA system will place Canada at the forefront of spectrum monitoring technology.
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