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Feng Ye
September 20, 2023

Focus on new faculty: Feng Ye is helping communications networks work smarter

Written By: Jason Daley

Doing an afternoon of errands while listening to a favorite podcast on your phone may feel like a simple task for you, but for the communications networks around you, it’s actually a pretty complicated feat. When you leave your house, the audio stream is passed from your home WiFi to a 5G cellular network. Hop in your vehicle, and Bluetooth also transfers that stream to your car’s stereo system. If you drive far enough, the stream will need to switch cell towers. And if you stop for a walk, your earbuds might enter the scene. Things grow increasingly complicated if you decide to play a mobile game, make a call, or download a video.

As the world becomes even more connected and devices require increased network resources, this behind-the-scenes network juggling will get even more complex. That’s why Feng Ye, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is working on various projects to seamlessly connect communications technologies and optimize the allocation of network resources. His research interests include wireless communications, network traffic analytics, information and network security and Internet of Things, or IoT, technologies.

“Nobody really cares that much how these networks operate. They just need them to be there,” says Ye, who joined the ECE faculty in summer 2023. “But there are a lot of things going on behind the scenes. We’re making the networks smarter and making the quality of experience better. It’s not just about bandwidth: Are you experiencing good service? Are your videos streaming smoothly? Are you having a low-latency gaming experience? And, in the future, we need to know if the network is ready for applications like autonomous vehicles or remote surgery.”

Ye earned his bachelor’s degree from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and completed his PhD at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In 2016, he joined the electrical and computer engineering department at the University of Dayton. He is an associate editor for several networking and communications journals and has served as co-chair for numerous IEEE conferences.

Ye says that while many people think bandwidth, or the amount of data that can be transferred over a network, is the most important factor in communications, he points out that bandwidth is a finite resource. Properly analyzing and allocating network resources and bridging the gaps between networks is just as impactful on the quality and speed of communications.

“Wireless communication technologies are like different languages,” he says. “The problem is that this can cause delays in communications; it can cause misunderstandings, and there might be security issues.”

His recent NSF-funded project involves low-latency wireless communications. Using data analytics and communications-focused artificial intelligence, Ye creates tools to improve communications between these networks and reduce latency, or the lag between the time information is sent and when it is received. While 200 milliseconds of latency is tolerable for a video chat, a video game might only tolerate a five millisecond delay. And something like a controller for a smart electric grid might need latency of one millisecond or less.

By measuring and studying network performance, Ye is able to develop software tools that can allocate and optimize the available network resources, so critical applications receive the bandwidth they need.

Ye is also using his expertise in algorithms to work on a variety of other projects, including secure communications for distributed energy resources, new methods for advanced manufacturing, and tools that will help test the safety of new types of solid-state batteries.

UW-Madison, he says, is an ideal place for his work, since there are colleagues working in all these areas and with a deep expertise in networking. “When I applied for this position, they told me, ‘Whatever you need you can find it here’,” he says. “And it’s true. That’s a dream come true for a researcher.”

Top photo by Joel Hallberg