Hands-on learning of wireless communication principles using software-defined radio experiments and LabVIEW Conference

Guvenc, I, Paul, N, Bowley, R et al. (2016). Hands-on learning of wireless communication principles using software-defined radio experiments and LabVIEW . 2016-June

cited authors

  • Guvenc, I; Paul, N; Bowley, R; Fernandez, ML


  • With the rapid proliferation of millions of smartphones, the adoption of the latest 4G LTE technology worldwide, and the emergence 5G broadband wireless technologies, wireless communications have become an integral part of every person's daily life and will continue to be as such in the foreseeable future. Due to this remarkable surge in wireless technologies, a strong need for developing a flexible, hands-on laboratory platform to teach a wide variety of wireless techniques has emerged. Indeed, current educational systems worldwide and in the United States teach wireless communications by mostly (and sometimes exclusively) focusing on the theory. This approach is perceived as dry by the students who often find it hard to connect the rather complex theoretical abstractions to their everyday "fun" interaction with smartphones. Recently, software-defined radio (SDR)1 and cognitive radio (CR)2 concepts that allow the developing of programmable and affordable wireless systems have gained significant interest in the wireless community. The introduction of new highly reconfigurable and affordable SDR-based hardware modules, such as the popular Universal Software Radio Peripheral (USRP) platform, is seen as a promising approach to building a hands-on wireless laboratory. To this end, faculty at the University of Texas at Austin and National Instruments (NI) have recently introduced a series of lab experiments for teaching wireless communication principles using the USRP SDR platforms3,4. First, fundamental theory of wireless communications such as digital modulation formats, synchronization, and equalization are introduced in the class. Later, students implement these theoretical concepts in the lab using the National Instrument's USRP SDR platforms. At Florida International University, this same curriculum was used to teach wireless communications to undergraduate and graduate students. The goal of this paper will be to summarize the experiences and lessons learned from teaching this course during the years 2014 and 2015 to approximately 15 undergraduate and 20 graduate students. To collect data, pre-class and post-class surveys were conducted with the students at the beginning and end of each semester. Moreover, post-lab online surveys were made to collect data explicitly for the hands-on lab experiments. Frequently, students have commented on the lack of background for using LabVIEW Communications software. For example, one student indicated that "Since LabVIEW is new to many of us, it would be greatly helpful if the lab process were taken step-by-step". Some other students suggested that the lab manual should include more detailed instructions. In general, survey results highlighted the importance of using hands-on components in the course: "USRP Lab experiments greatly help by showing visually how the concepts we learn in class are applicable" and "[USRP labs were] extremely useful, they were a big help in grasping the concepts". The rest of this paper is organized as follows. In the following section, we provide an overview of the existing literature on hands-on education for wireless communications. Next, motivations for using hands-on education to teach wireless communication concepts, in particular using SDR platforms, is presented. Then, an overview of how the USRP course is taught at the Florida International University is described. After, an introduction to the data that has been collected while teaching the course at the same university and the lessons learned are detailed. Finally, the last section provides concluding remarks.

publication date

  • June 26, 2016


  • 2016-June