AT&T turns up mmWave 5G testbed at UT campus

AT&T is installing a 5G testbed using millimeter wave spectrum at the University of Tennessee to explore 5G use cases for rural areas, digital learning experiences, and military applications.

Completion of the 5G private network on the University’s Knoxville campus is expected in fall 2021. It will also use multi-access edge compute (MEC) technology.

One aspect of the 5G partnership is to expand learning and training experiences for students, including augmented and virtual reality. AT&T cited examples like exploring nuclear power plants, deep ocean exploration, or rocket launches – focused on scenarios that students can’t usually get access to because of expense, risk or feasibility. Another learning use case is focused on data from the students themselves – using biometric information “to evaluate student performance the amount of time they’re engaged in course material to personalize learning experiences.”

For rural areas, a 5G focus is on access to telehealth, education, local economies and job creation, including the support of precision agriculture.

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High-band millimeter wave frequencies will come into play with the military to explore, test and refine experiments like using mmWave radars to show images through walls or other physical barriers. According to AT&T, it would involve a portable communications system that captures and shares visual images through walls so that soldiers with connected devices could share and be aware in near-real time against potential threats.

“We are excited to bring the expertise and talent of our faculty together with the capabilities of an industry leader like AT&T to solve real world problems,” said Donde Plowman, Chancellor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in a statement. “Our collaboration will not only provide a better network on our campus for students, faculty, and staff, but it will also create opportunities for innovation and collaboration that could change the lives of Tennesseans.”

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Aly Fathy, professor at the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UT Knoxville, pointed to massive machine-type communications enabled by the private network, as well as security, reliability and lower latency of mmWave to support UT’s ongoing defense research.

“The new 5G+ testbed will lead to a smarter campus and enable massive machine-type communications that place UT research in the forefront of the automation and digitization implementation,” Fathy said in a statement. “The new resources will also complement the newly established NSF Industry University Collaborative Research Center for High Frequency Electronics and Circuits for Communication Systems.”

UT is the latest of a number of 5G testbed and research collaborations with university partners. This year the carrier already announced collaborations with Texas A&M University, University of Connecticut, and the University of Missouri.