TTU's Ghani awarded NSF Career Award for telecom research

Nasir Ghani understands the growing importance of telecommunications in the everyday lives of people who want to stay connected and share information. His broad research is leading the way to increase the reliability, efficiency and performance of networks. For his efforts, the National Science Foundation has awarded Ghani its Faculty Early Career Development Award.

The NSF recognized Ghani, a Tennessee Tech University assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering, as one of the nation’s most promising academic leaders, granting him more than $400,000 in research funding over the next five years. He has brought extensive industry experience to higher education, following his long-term desire to focus on research. At TTU he has found what he said is an ideal environment to pursue both theoretical and applied research in telecommunications.

“My research looks at the heart of the network,” said Ghani. “In order to meet the demands and challenges facing today’s telecom industry, we have to create very agile networks that combine electronics and optics to broaden capabilities. In addition, our backbone communication systems must also stay secure and uninterrupted.”

Increasingly, end-users, those individuals or companies requesting service, are demanding such broader capabilities. For instance, former users of dial-up computer connections now favor DSL, but they are still looking to further increase the speed of information transfer. Moreover, many government and industry organizations need to move larger amounts of information faster and more reliably across trans-national distances. Most likely, future communications will further add a significant visual data component, thereby increasing demands on core networks.

Imagine picking up the phone in New York and calling Los Angeles. Now imagine moving a high definition TV image over this same distance as quickly as the voice transmission. In order to accomplish such data-intensive information transfers, bandwidth capabilities much be created that carry an exponentially larger amount of information—well beyond those of current networks. The answer lies in effectively integrating key pieces of optical and electronics transmission technologies.

“Today, many large telecommunications carriers already make extensive use of optical and electronic communications technologies. However, many of these systems are used in an isolated manner, preventing broader ‘end-to-end’ synergies,” said Ghani.

“In fact, currently most networking companies don’t have the ability to blend the two. This is very niche area of research, yet one that that can have very broad implications.”
Additionally, Ghani’s research is also looking at crucial network survivability issues. The goal here is to design networks with very high “up-times” and apply rigorous evaluation tests to prevent against disruptions in service continuity.

“It is increasingly evident that networking infrastructures are now crucial for national security and broader economic growth,” he said. “Clearly, reliable communication is vital in the event of a security crisis; interruptions cannot be tolerated.

“For example, the global financial community heavily depends upon communication networks to conduct its daily business transactions,” he continued. “If a network goes down, providers can easily be charged hundreds of thousands of dollars for each hour of downtime because time is money in the financial markets.”

Ghani said that ultimately the industry will demand more and more out of core backbone networks in order to support all the gadgets and devices we will be using to communicate. His work has the potential to develop networks that will provide services that will truly keep people fully connected.

“In the end, ubiquity is the key to communications,” explained Ghani. “We’re moving toward a world of ‘always on’ communications. In other words, we will be connected in a seamless manner no matter where we are.”

“For instance, when I walk out of my office today, I’m only connected through a voice connection on my cell phone,” he said. “In the future, however, wireless devices will provide many more features, and it will become necessary to further integrate wireless and optical backbone technologies to properly coordinate information delivery. Therefore, no matter when we go, we will always be connected. Inevitably, we want to make sure that future network designs can handle these emerging requirements.”

Ghani joined the TTU faculty in Fall 2003. His previous industry experience includes positions as a systems analyst at IBM, senior design engineer at Motorola, senior research engineer at Nokia and a senior architect at Sorrento Networks, a hi-tech West Coast startup. He earned his doctorate at the University of Waterloo, one of Canada’s largest engineering institutions, and his master’s degree at McMaster University in Canada.

The NSF Career Award criteria also emphasize an educational component to the candidate’s work. Along these lines Ghani and colleagues will launch a separate three-year NSF-funded project this summer titled “Research Experience for Undergraduates in Network Communication Systems.” This program will recruit gifted students from TTU and across the nation to participate in cutting-edge telecommunications research activities.