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Connectivity

PAWR 5G Testbeds Will Put Connected Cars in the Spotlight

by Stephen Lawson
Autonomous vehicles will roam West Harlem and downtown Salt Lake City in testbeds for networks using 5G and beyond, a public-private partnership claims.

The two cities' testbeds were chosen on Monday, April 9, as the first two sites in a national $100 million program to foster "blue sky" development of future wireless networks for smart cities. Two more cities will be chosen later. The Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) program is funded partly by the US National Science Foundation and partly by a consortium of 28 companies, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Intel, Qualcomm and Ericsson.

Researchers will be able to use the New York and Salt Lake City platforms to test many potential uses for future networks. Connected and autononomous cars are among the most important smart-city applications, said Joe Kochan, principal investigator and project director for the PAWR Project Office at the nonprofit organization US Ignite.

Self-driving cars will play an important role in future cities and will require more advanced networks to run safely and reliably, Kochan told The Connected Car. Among the things future cellular networks will need in order to support AVs will be higher reliability and lower latency.

While it's possible to develop wireless networks to meet the parameters required for AVs or other applications, it's impossible to fully predict how those networks will behave in the real world. Hills and buildings block or reflect signals, the concentration of people or cars affects traffic on the network, and people use cellular for different things at different times.

"The only way to solve that problem is to test them outdoors, at scale, in the wild," Kochan said.

That's where the two testbeds come into play. Each will be larger and more diverse than test environments that researchers have been able to work with up to now, Kochan said.

For example, the Salt Lake City platform, called Powder-Renew, will stretch across the University of Utah campus, the heart of downtown, and a residential neighborhood in between. It will encompass skyscrapers and homes, hilly and flat terrain, and areas with different traffic patterns throughout the day. Most test environments for open-ended cellular testing until now have been limited to college campuses, he said.

The New York platform, Cosmos, will cover one square mile of West Harlem, including the Columbia University campus, City College, the Apollo Theater and the Hudson River.

Both testbeds are designed to let researchers from universities and companies try out new ideas for 4G, 5G and even more advanced networks.

Developers of connected and self-driving vehicles expect 5G to improve performance and safety in several ways. Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) systems would feed data into a car from the vehicles in front of it, nearby traffic signs and cloud-based reporting systems. That could mean a driverless car is almost immediately alerted to ice, slow traffic or a stalled car on the road ahead.

5G could also provide sufficient bandwidth for cars equipped with cameras and other sensors to constantly update cloud-based maps that are then fed back into other cars.

Researchers and others in both cities were already working on their testbeds and will now get access to more resources to roll them out. Powder-Renew, the Salt Lake City project, plans to start construction in the university area in September and in the residential and downtown areas in the next two years.

Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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