Restoring wireless communications to Puerto Rico and remote, disaster-struck areas

The best answer is to fundamentally change the way our wireless systems operate.  Theoretically, we can trade communications range for data rate. For example, a cat video requires a data rate that is at least 10,000 times larger than a text message. But in an emergency, all you might need is a text message. 

If our communications systems and equipment were sufficiently flexible to switch to a lower data rate with a longer communications range, a sparse subset of operating base stations could support a region during a disaster.

These ideas motivate our efforts at ASU’s WISCA ( We investigate fluid wireless systems to address our dynamic needs, including emergencies scenarios.  Our efforts include the development of theory, algorithms, computational architectures and actual integrated circuits required to efficiently and cost effectively implement these systems.  

AN: Are there overall advantages to similar wireless infrastructures that extend beyond remote areas that aren’t connected to a major communications or power grid?
If we provide the capabilities and tools to implement fluid communications systems, we could also address the needs of a much wider range of users. Currently, less affluent and lower density users are often ignored. The cost of the infrastructure, and even the handsets, are prohibitive.

But if we stop setting the communications requirement to be multiple, simultaneous, high-definition cat videos, we can provide service to communities that are currently ignored, potentially providing much wider access to information for poorer communities. 

AN: Where do you see wireless technology headed in the next three-to-five years?
We are seeing the commercial development of computational architectures that live in our phones and base stations that could support more flexible communications.  However, the standards and employment of these capabilities is driven by profitability. 

One reason for optimism is that current interest in the internet of things (IoT) is motivating more flexible communications. While I do not think that I need my toaster to be connected to the internet, the increased flexibility could have broader impact.  

If we tweak the goals, the next generation of communications could be more robust in the case of emergencies and, as a side benefit, provide more access to a wider range of users, including those who are currently underserved.  

For this to happen, we need to push for changes in both technical and regulatory fields.  It will not happen otherwise.