Undergrad Research Project - Policy Implications of Scaling Low-Power Wide-Area Networks

Spring 2017

Devin Gund
Anthony Rowe
Project description

With the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), connecting devices to collect and exchange data is a priority. Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWAN), which implement long-range communication at a low data rate, provide a low-power and cost-effective solution.

This past year, a team in the ECE department has developed OpenChirp, a prototype LPWAN architecture with the goal of simplifying the development and deployment of IoT devices across large distances. As OpenChirp is expanded, it is important to analyze the best policy recommendations that allow the project to scale.

For short-term recommendations, I will determine the best channel allocation strategy for OpenChirp's LPWAN implementation in terms of legality and efficacy of communication. This will involve examining current policies of the Federal Communications Commission and associated laws. In particular, I will examine the ISM bands and frequency white spaces that allow for free broadcast use. I will combine my findings with technical data on the best frequencies for LPWAN broadcast in order to determine the best frequency recommendation.

For long-term considerations, I will determine the best policy route for OpenChirp to scale across the country. While the initial focus has been on the CMU campus and Pittsburgh, it is easy to imagine an expansion to other campuses and a growth across the United States. Specifically, I will examine the different methods of scaling: a grassroots movement of individuals installing transmitters, a joint effort with the private sector (eg. existing telecommunications companies), or cooperation with governments. Each method has various benefits and drawbacks, namely the amount of regulation, cost, and distribution of control. For example, a grassroots effort would require policies that incentivize participation by placing installing transmitters across the country, but not an over-participation that would lead to signal collisions from transmitters. To this end, I will analyze the incentive structures of other grassroots digital efforts, such as BitTorrent. Additionally, I will examine existing attempts to implement communication networks, including LPWAN, worldwide.

In all, my research will result in policy recommendations that are rooted in the technical aspects of LPWAN, allowing OpenChirp to expand and benefit the IoT ecosystem.

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