Telecom student takes wireless communication to remote areas of Peru

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David Espinoza is one of the first three students in ITP's new PhD program.

David Espinoza started collaborating with CU-Boulder remotely in 2007, long before he first enrolled. He had a job at a communications research group in Peru designing wireless networks, when CU-Boulder student Marco Kuhlmann contacted his company about a project to extend wireless coverage into the rain forest.

At first they worked together over the Internet, then they traveled together in remote areas of Peru. Kuhlmann was studying for his master’s degree in the Interdisciplinary Telecom Program (ITP), and Espinoza recalls, “It was interesting that he was taking classes in economics, finance, law—I was surprised—why would he want to do that?” Kuhlmann explained how interconnected technology is with public policy and business and how critical it is in the workplace to understand all three.

“So I looked at CU-Boulder’s telecom program and I found a different point of view from what I had ever thought before,” Espinoza says. “I kept asking questions, and I realized that I really wanted to join ITP.”

Espinoza traveled to Boulder for the master’s program and graduated in May 2011 with dual degrees in telecom and engineering management. ITP had just launched its PhD program, and he applied.

“I want to conduct research in wireless technologies that can work for people in the rain forest, and which could also be used in other isolated rural areas around the world,” he says. This requires an understanding of the design and integration of business, regulatory, and economic models that local governments and private organizations use to bring development to remote areas.

The main project that Espinoza studies began in 2007 when the United Nations funded development of a communications network to try to prevent malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis from spreading around the border region between Peru, Columbia, and Ecuador. The UN funds paid for communications towers connecting villages to health posts and hospitals using wireless signals.

With improved ability to communicate with one another, the remote communities could coordinate to prevent outbreaks of malaria and other diseases, set quarantines in some villages, coordinate evacuations of patients to hospitals, and call for physicians with medication.

To get to the villages, Espinoza flies from Denver to Lima, then from Lima to the region, “then we take a boat one hour on the Amazon, then cross overland to another river, then one more boat five hours up the river, then reach the main town, then from there travel to the other villages, seven hours more.” There are no roads. In all, it takes two days—and Espinoza and his colleagues can travel only during the day because floating hazards are too hard to see at night.

Espinoza is one of the first three students in ITP’s PhD program, and the program is helping him fulfill his passion. He talks with pride about the communication towers, which stretch from 60 to 90 meters high along 450 kilometers of river basin. With this project as one of the first PhD research areas, the ITP doctoral program is poised to achieve many important communication network breakthroughs as it grows."

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CUE: Academic Program: 
Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program

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