White House Puts $400M Into Advanced Wireless Test Beds

The White House Friday unveiled a $400 million Advanced Wireless Research Initiative spearheaded by the National Science Foundation.

That came a day after the FCC voted on a framework for opening up high-band spectrum for 5G mobile and fixed wireless services.

The timing was no accident. In announcing the effort, the White House pointed out the FCC has just voted to approve the Spectrum Frontiers order the day before.

President Obama committed early on to free up 500 MHz of spectrum by 2020 for mobile and fixed wireless broadband.

"That [FCC] vote made the United States the first country in the world to make vast quantities of high-frequency millimeter wave spectrum available for both licensed and unlicensed use," the White House said, echoing FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's public statements about the item.

The centerpiece of the initiative is a four-city test platform. NSF is committing $50 million over five years as part of a total $85 million investment with private sector entities, who are making their own collective contributions to the effort.

In each of the four cities, the project "will deploy a network of software-defined radio antennas city-wide, essentially mimicking the existing cellular network, allowing academic researchers, entrepreneurs, and wireless companies to test, prove, and refine their technologies and software algorithms in a real-world setting," they said. "These platforms will allow researchers to conduct at-scale experiments of laboratory-or-campus-based proofs-of-concept, and will also allow four American cities, chosen based on open competition, to establish themselves as global destinations for wireless research and development."

The other $350 million will be spent over the next seven years on research into uses of those platforms.

Among companies participating in/contributing to the test bed (a total of more than 20 technology companies and associations) are AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, Samsung, Intel, CommScope, Qualcomm and Juniper Networks.

The Telecommunications Industry Association has committed to provide technical support. “TIA will work closely with its members to provide private sector technology expertise and to raise industry awareness of the initiative," said TIA CEO Scott Belcher. "With the support of TIA and other great partners, the effort will help move cutting-edge technologies out of the laboratory and into the global marketplace, while also easing the path for entrepreneurs and small businesses with concepts for new technologies.”

CTIA is also participating. “Enabled by the FCC’s order to make high band spectrum available for next generation wireless, today’s rollout by the White House and National Science Foundation will be key to America remaining the world’s wireless leader as we move to 5G and beyond," said CTIA senior VP and CTO Tom Sawanobori. "CTIA and its members are pleased to contribute engineering and technical guidance to develop next-generation wireless networks, devices and applications so that Americans benefit and continue to enjoy their mobile-first lifestyles.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.