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Where the Action Is

Contributing to the convergence of wireless and the Internet

In the rapidly expanding field of electronic communication, wireless is where it's at, and with the appointment of Norm Beaulieu as the head of its new iCQRE Wireless Communications Laboratory, the University of Alberta is positioning itself where the action is.

U of A engineering dean David Lynch, '82 PhD, is unstinting in his praise of Beaulieu, calling him "one of the top engineering researchers in the world." The editor of the most prestigious journal in the electronic Voice communications field, Beaulieu turned down offer from several other institutions in Canada and the U.S. when he accepted the U of A appointment last fall.

Since moving , froin Queen's University in Kingston. Ontario, to Alberta, he likes what he's seen of his new academic home. "Alberta is a university in the passing lane," he says. "The reality is even better than the perception."

He was drawn to Alberta, he says, by the positive attitude in the province and the "opportunity to interact with the young, thriving wireless industry here." He was also impressed by the strong University commitment to "electrical engineering and wireless."

Along with electrical and computer engineering professors Witold Kryzmien and Ivan Fair, '85 BSc(Eng), '89 MSc, and a team of graduate students, Beaulieu will conduct research in the new iCORE lab, which will reside in the new Electrical and Computing Engineering Research Facility, scheduled for completion this summer. Initial funding for the lab is $1.2 million, with annual funding of $700,000 coming from the provincial government's iCORE (Informatics Circle of Research Excellence) initiative.

Beaulieu and his colleagues in the iCORE lab are squarely in the middle of the hottest area in electrical engineering: the convergence of the Internet and wireless technology. According to an article in the 24 October 2000 Economist, collectively wireless telecommunications companies in Europe will invest US $300 billion in bringing together the two hottest technologies of the moment: the mobile phone and the Internet.

"Multimedia is the big thing," says Beaulieu, who points out that "everyone" wants a hand-held—or better yet, wearable—device that does it all: works as a phone, fax, video-messaging device, and more. And that's definitely where things are going, he says. "In Finland, for example, you can already buy things from vending machines using your cell phone.

The challenge now facing the wireless communications industry is the problem of signal interference. "More and more people want wireless capabilities, but we can't provide the existing service without it getting worse," says Beaulieu, who hopes to expand and apply wireless communications theory to devise transmission techniques for interference management.

Aside from its academic pursuits, the greatest challenge facing the iCORE lab is maintaining momentum, says Beaulieu. "Our team has to grow. To do that, we want to strengthen our ties to major communications industries. We're working on that."

Published Spring 2001.

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