The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Communications Technology Laboratory (NIST CTL) was established in 2014 to unite NIST’s many wireless communications efforts into a unified research and development organization. Through metrology and research in physical phenomena, materials capabilities and complex high-speed communications systems, we are establishing the technological basis upon which the ongoing wireless revolution depends.
NIST CTL may be a young lab, but our track record in wireless research harks back more than a century: researchers from NIST-predecessor the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) were doing radiofrequency measurements as early as 1911. Our radio science was critical to the U.S. aircraft, communications and missiles during World War II. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated what’s now known as NIST Boulder Laboratories as NBS’s Central Radio Propagation Laboratory, a national research center for radio physics and radio engineering measurements, metrology and standards development.
Our work today
With expertise honed over decades of theoretical and experimental work in antennas and wireless propagation, materials science and electronics testing, CTL serves as an independent, unbiased arbiter of trusted measurements and standards to government and industry. We focus on developing precision instrumentation and creating test protocols, models and simulation tools to enable a range of emerging wireless technologies. Driving much of our work is a spectrum crunch in historically coveted wireless bandwidths. Without a new generation of extremely high-speed, sophisticated wireless systems whose capabilities and limits we’re only beginning to understand, the spectrum crunch threatens to dampen the potential of wireless data applications as diverse as mobile video, wearable devices, and smart vehicles.
CTL is also a central player in the nation’s efforts to modernize the U.S. public safety communications infrastructure. As the R&D lead for FirstNet, we’re providing research, development, standards, testing, and evaluation to fostering robust, interoperable, nationwide first-responder communications.
In addition, CTL is the NIST partner for the joint NIST/National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Center for Advanced Communications, which enables collaborative R&D among industry, academia and government while providing broader access to wireless test-bed resources.
Most of our work happens in three major programs:
These programs are multidisciplinary, involving collaboration among specialists working on custom-developed research assets in areas including high speed measurements, channel modeling, wireless spectrum sensing, antenna characterization, wireless coexistence, measurement traceability, and many more. From a strictly org-chart perspective, NIST CTL researchers work in in groups under the auspices of three divisions:
Individually, our scientists characterize as well as develop highly specialized technologies to overcome a particular set of wireless communication challenges facing government and industry. Together, they’re building the foundations for the wireless networks of the future.