The National Science Foundation (NSF) is investing $100 million over the next seven years to test next-generation network technology using millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum, software-defined radios, edge cloud, and advanced optical networking.
The NSF Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) testing will begin in parts of New York City and Salt Lake City. The testing will involve research institutions and government entities as part of a plan to bolster current 4G LTE and upcoming 5G network technologies.
The New York City trial will involve various educational and city government entities tapping into $22.5 million worth of funding. The group will use the funds and technology to cover one square mile in West Harlem. The initial testing will target the “bandwidth and latency limits of 4G,” with 5G tacked on as also set to benefit from the push.
Operationally, the New York City trial will use a program license for mmWave spectrum recently unleashed by the FCC. That band includes a lot of unused capacity to support high speeds but has poor coverage characteristics. This will require the test to rely on a dense deployment of small cells and new radio antennas positioned on rooftops and light poles. It will also use software-defined radios using algorithms dedicated to dynamically support different mmWave bands.
Carriers have spent billions of dollars on mmWave spectrum licenses that they hope to use to bolster 5G deployments. However, those spectrum bands do not have the same reach or ability to penetrate obstacles as traditional cellular spectrum and thus limit the amount of coverage an operator can achieve from an antenna.
Data processing for the PAWR trial will be handled onsite using edge cloud servers. This is becoming a bigger focus for operators and vendors looking to support 5G services that require low latency like the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, and virtual reality. As an example, Microsoft last week said it plans to invest $5 billion over the next four years into IoT and edge computing.
Finally, the PAWR trial will use advanced optical networking technology to link the edge cloud infrastructure in support of lower latency and higher network speeds. The platform will use wavelength division multiplexed optical technology.
Devices using the trial network will include mobile and fixed units that can access the 4G LTE and 5G networks.
Shivendra Panwar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at NYU Tandon and director of the Center for Advanced Technology in Communications at NYU, said the PAWR trial will provide availability to the research community through remote access. Details on the Salt Lake City trial are expected to be released soon.
Industry support is coming from trade group US Ignite. Vendors and carriers supporting the effort include Juniper Networks, Interdigital, Nokia, Samsung, Qualcomm, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint.
NYU, which is part of the PAWR trial, has been active in recent 5G network testing. The organization last year partnered with the Center for Advanced Technology in Telecommunications (CATT) to build a wireless emulator for 5G systems. The emulator recreates both the wireless channel and the phased-array antennas. It can be used for transmitter and receiver devices so researchers can understand how 5G will perform in different environments and weather conditions.
Carrier 5G Push
Wireless carriers are also in the midst of aggressive 5G network testing ahead of planned commercial roll outs set for later this year.
Verizon has been testing various 5G components since early last year and said it plans to have 5G services running in up to five markets by the end of this year. Company CTO Hans Vestberg has said the carrier will be the first with a commercial 5G network.
Photo copyright: agafapaperiapunta / 123RF Stock Photo