Wireless Technology Takes a 5G Leap

BY RADONNA FIORINI
PHOTOS PROVIDED

The fifth and most advanced generation of wireless internet technology is coming to a West Lafayette laboratory where innovators, researchers and entrepreneurs will put it to the test.

The 5G Innovation Lab opens this summer in the Convergence Center for Innovation and Collaboration near Purdue University. Owned and managed by the nonprofit Purdue Research Foundation, the Convergence Center provides space and resources to bring new innovations and products out of the lab and into the marketplace.

The 3,000-square-foot lab is part of the Indiana 5G Zone, a public/private partnership launched in 2020 in Indianapolis, says Managing Director Sean Hendrix. The 5G Zone was created in response to a push from industry, economic development groups and government to invest in technological research and infrastructure, positioning the state to attract and support innovative, high-tech companies.

The first 5G demonstration lab opened in Indianapolis last year, so the West Lafayette site is the second in the state. These labs allow companies and innovators to research new technologies without having to invest in their own 5G infrastructure and networks, says Hendrix.

When completed, physical work spaces in the West Lafayette lab will be connected to 5G through technology similar to an on-site, dedicated cell tower. Businesses, university researchers and private innovators can lease space there and full-time staff will be on-site to help new clients learn how to use the technology. The staff also can provide help in any testing process, or act as an independent, third-party team with assessment capability.

“5G is not just the next generation of wireless technology. It provides a fundamentally different way to do computing over networks,” Hendrix says. “There are tons of opportunity because this is not an established technology. The lab can help government, industry and academia test practical applications for 5G technology.”

If you’ve heard of 5G, it’s probably in relation to the next level of cellular phone speed and capability, but so much more is possible, says Troy Hege, PRF vice president for innovation and technology. The benefits of 5G include:
• Faster speed – up to 20 times faster than current wireless technology.
• Larger bandwidth – meaning more information can be processed at one time.
• Less latency – the lag between requests and responses in data transfer is reduced.

This technology is critical in the Internet of Things (IoT) and its ability to wirelessly connect different devices so they interact remotely, in real time, such as thermostats and video door bells that can be controlled from a cell phone. But much more complex applications are being studied.

One possibility is using encrypted video in a smart street system that collects data from cameras and sensors at road intersections so traffic lights can be controlled in real time, allowing for better traffic management, Hege says. While some of that technology currently exists, 5G has the capability to link all the hardware to a central facility so data coming in from across the system can quickly be analyzed.

This technology may be invaluable for manufacturing, machine learning, factories using robotics, and even agriculture systems, health care, and cybersecurity providers.

To create new uses for wireless technology, Hege says three basic things are needed: a device or sensor; software that actively processes data generated by the sensor; and a network that connects to the software and transmits or analyzes the data.

“This living lab is the center of bringing those things together,” he says. “Companies can bring new devices to the lab for testing and collaborate with researchers and professors who are the best in the world. Data analysis and machine learning are shaping industry all over the world, and this lab is the front door for research and application deployment.”

The 5G lab falls under the umbrella of NineTwelve Convergence, a nonprofit innovation institute designed to promote collaboration between business, academia and governmental entities in deploying 5G technology.

Two private companies are building out the necessary infrastructure in the Convergence Center: SBA Communications is the cellular network provider; and Tilson is the fiber optic backhaul network provider, Hendrix says.

He adds that the fiber optic network is owned and managed by SBA Communications, and PRF has signed a long-term service agreement with the company. PRF will operate the “testbed” portion of the lab’s network.

This means the network is not owned or operated by a specific internet service provider and so is considered a neutral platform. Another advantage to working with the West Lafayette lab is that the private wireless network will eventually be linked throughout the Discovery Park District, a 400-acre planned development that will include businesses, manufacturing, housing, retail and entertainment venues. That connectivity will provide a living laboratory where researchers can pilot applications in the lab and test and refine them in a controlled, real-life environment, says Hege.

“Elements of 5G are already out there, but we are at the very beginning of learning about this technology,” he says. “This will be a decade-long process and it will take all of us working together. We are thinking about all the ways data and connectivity impact our lives across the spectrum of where we work, where we learn and where we live.” ★

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

NineTwelve Convergence —ninetwelveconvergence.us

Indiana 5G Zone — indiana5gzone.com

Discovery Park District: Building a Connected Innovation Community — youtube.com

2021 indiana community of the year!

The Indiana Chamber of  Commerce selected Greater Lafayette as the winner of its 2021 Community of the Year Award