WINLAB has a multidisciplinary, systems-oriented approach to research that reflects the broad scope and technical challenges of the Mobile Internet.

WINLAB's core research is organized into four broad areas:

In combination, these broad areas cover the full range of issues that emerge in creating the Mobile Internet, from propagation and radio design, to protocols and networking, to the applications that will drive widespread use and economic growth. By working together and with sponsors, WINLAB researchers are able to identify those key problems that will most influence the future of the Wireless Internet, and to shape a "common systems view" of potential solutions. Emerging wireless systems under consideration include concepts for the future mobile Internet, hybrid 4G/WiFi networks, ad hoc and mesh networks, RFID/sensor applications, pervasive/cloud mobile services and vehicular networks.

This common systems view leads to research activities that may fall into any, or all, of the four research areas. These activities may be carried out by individual professors and students or organized into larger Focus Projects, which represent major goal-oriented activities carried out over a specific period. Research methodology includes a combination of system architecture/design work, analytical modeling, simulation and experimental proof-of-concept prototyping. This process can be illustrated through the example of the FIA MobilityFirst architecture project which integrates contributions of several research threads at WINLAB including dynamic spectrum access, network MIMO, ad hoc and mesh network protocols, wireless network security & privacy, mobile content delivery, location-aware computing and pervasive context-aware applications. The project also draws on prototype systems built at WINLAB over the years including the Infostations prototype (1999), the ORBIT radio grid (2005), the CNF (cache-and-forward) network architecture (2008), and the GENI open campus network (2010).