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The National Science Foundation, US Ignite and other partners announced the launch of a wireless communications testbed in rural central Iowa to explore expanding broadband access to rural America and other innovations.

A new broadband testbed in Iowa will explore not only how to improve access and reduce costs for Internet connectivity in rural America, but will also help to develop innovations for digitally connected farms.

The Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research project, a public-private partnership supporting wireless research through large, outdoor wireless testbeds across the U.S., announced its fourth testbed in rural Iowa, with Iowa State University taking the lead. The project is funded largely by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The effort is co-led by Northeastern University and US Ignite, a nonprofit charged with growing smart city projects and technologies.

The ARA: Wireless Living Lab for Smart and Connected Rural Communities will create a blanket of broadband coverage across nearly 600 square miles stretching across a three-county region in central Iowa. The lab includes a number of school districts and six rural communities. Other project partners include Iowa State University, the ISU Research Park, the city of Ames, Boone Community School District, the Iowa Communications Network, the Iowa Regional Utilities Association, U.S. Cellular and others.

“We’ve all seen firsthand the challenges of unconnected communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rural communities across our nation have struggled with access to education, telehealth services, telework opportunities, just to name a few,” said Margaret Martonosi, NSF assistant director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). “These challenges have disproportionately impacted rural communities.”

“The digital divide between rural and urban communities persists across all states and among many different demographic groups,” she added, in comments during a press briefing Tuesday to announce the program, hosted by US Ignite.

The research will explore the different delivery models for rural broadband to lower its deployment cost and expand coverage.

“Broadband isn’t just about Internet access on its own. Rather, it’s the key factor in developing and deploying innovative solutions, like precision agriculture, education, health, cleaner energy, self-driving vehicles and much more,” said Martonosi.

However, the ARA Lab will have reaches far beyond the delivery of Internet connectivity to rural households and will explore innovation using Internet of Things (IoT) edge and cloud computing and other 5G technologies for tasks like crop identification, livestock tracking, or using drones for precision agriculture in areas like crop-spraying and weed identification.

“A drone has a camera. It identifies a weed in a field. It can apply pesticides,” remarked Paul Challoner, vice president of network product solutions for Ericsson North America, in his comments at the briefing. Ericsson will supply network infrastructure equipment and services into the research environment, providing commercial-grade equipment.

The technology will explore how to bring wide-area connectivity to a field or a farm.

“So IoT use cases can be used across the whole farm environment to better automate that farm experience,” said Challoner. “It allows us to better automate farm management.”

Other PAWR testbeds include the Aerial Experimentation Research Platform for Advanced Wireless, known as “AERPAW,” in Raleigh, N.C.; as well as communications testbeds in Salt Lake City and New York City.

The NSF and US Ignite also recently announced the launch of OpenAirX-Labs (OAX), a partnership among private industry and the NSF to develop open source 5G communication software. OAX is part of the PAWR project.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Skip Descant

Quelle/Source: Government Technology - Network, 23.06.2021

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