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National Science Foundation bringing four “city-scale” wireless test beds to life

The National Science Foundation is nearly done deploying four city-scale wireless testbeds at locations across the country, giving researchers a chance to test ...

The National Science Foundation is nearly done deploying four “city-scale” wireless test beds at locations across the country, giving researchers a chance to study radio-frequency challenges relevant to many federal agencies

The PAWR program has already completed deployment of the “Cloud Enhanced Open Software-Defined Mobile Wireless Testbed,” or COSMOS, in New York City. COSMOS covers one square mile in West Harlem, where the technical focus is on “ultra-high-bandwidth and low-latency wireless communications, with tightly coupled edge computing, a type of cloud computing enabling data processing at the edge of the network.”

In Salt Lake City, Utah, the NSF has deployed the aptly named “POWDER” test bed, which stands for “Platform for Open Wireless Data-driven Experimental Research.” The technical focus in Salt Lake City is broad, covering areas like 5G wireless networking, Radio Access Network (RAN) architectures, network orchestration models and massive multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) networking.

More recently, the NSF and its partners finished setting up the “Aerial Experimentation and Research Platform for Advanced Wireless” platform, or AERPAW, just outside Raleigh, North Carolina. NSF says AERPAW is a “first-of-its-kind” experimentation platform aimed at speeding up the integration of unmanned aerial systems into the national air-space.

Researchers there are also looking to test out the potential of using UAS for wireless connectivity, such as flying base stations that can provide an aerial hot spot.

Meanwhile, in Ames, Iowa, the PAWR program is in the process of deploying the ARA platform. The aim at ARA will be to test out wireless connectivity in a rural setting, especially with use cases like precision agriculture.

Murat Turlock, a program director in the NSF’s Computer and Network Systems division, says researchers are using the flexibility of the test beds to research new concepts using existing systems. He said the test beds are fully programmable and can be reconfigured according to researcher need.

“When you look at the problems in wireless, it’s almost similar to designing a next generation of a computer chip using the computers built with existing chips,” Turlock said.

At the COSMOS platform in New York City, for instance, researchers are testing out the best way to deploy a millimeter-wave network in a dense, urban environment.

“They have to understand how the signal propagates through air or buildings,” Turlock said. “That understanding will allow the designers to come up with better design and provide services that may not be available before: very high speed internet access, availability of the connection in different locations inside the buildings or outside of the buildings. So there’s lots of scenarios that the researcher sort of have to understand and feed into the design process.”

The PAWR program is backed by approximately $100 million in funding, with contributions from both the NSF and an industry consortium of about 30 companies. The test beds are collocated near local universities. And Turlock said other agencies have gotten involved in research at the test beds as well, including the Defense Department.

In North Carolina, the AERPAW platform is giving researchers the chance to test out a “National Radio Dynamic Zone” concept where different users of the electromagnetic spectrum can “peacefully coexist,” according to Turlock. The issue of spectrum management is becoming increasingly important as more users seek to access similar or the same radio frequencies.

“The spectrum is a natural resource,” Turlock said. “So we have to, the entire community as a nation, we have to probably learn how to best leverage this resource.”

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