Verizon turns up 5G lab at Arizona State University

Verizon has launched a 5G Innovation Hub at Arizona State University (ASU), where students, faculty and others can pair entrepreneurial aims with next-gen technology to develop solutions aimed at real-world problems.

The 5G hub is part of ASU’s Learnings Futures Collaboratory, Studios and Emporium within the university’s Creativity Commons. It was announced Thursday as part of the Arizona State Smart Region Summit.

It’s a private network setup that initially has Verizon’s millimeter wave spectrum deployed with a non-standalone 5G core, according to Maggie Hallbach, Verizon VP Public Sector Business Development and Strategic Sales. Verizon and ASU partner AWS also has mobile edge compute installed.

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One of the key focuses is educational experiences and digital equity, where Verizon has invested heavily in ASU for almost five years now, specifically with a focus on the school’s entrepreneurial programs and technology to address issues around access and developing skills for young entrepreneurs, according to ASU CIO Lev Gonick.

Digital Equity Jam

The 5G hub is kicking off its first event with a Digital Equity Jam in February, sponsored by Verizon, AWS and Inseego.

Hallbach likened it to a hackathon where competing teams develop use cases that showcase how 5G Ultra Wideband alongside mobile edge compute (MEC) can help bridge the digital divide. It will focus on use cases in healthcare, climate change, addressing poverty, human rights and education.

Winners will get seed funding for their project, access to a summer training program with the Clinton Global Initiative and a chance to pitch to the Clinton Global Initiative in fall 2022.  

Students actually came up with the idea for the jam after seeing Verizon engineers install 5G radios at the site. Gonick said that sparked all kinds of questions from students curious from the get-go, with questions like: “How can we get our hands on this?” Currently, more than 150 students are working with ASU in the Learnings Futures space.

“And there was no cookbook for how to do that,” Gonick said, thus spurring the idea for the Digital Equity Jam that brings both industry and education partners together.

He noted that 5G has already been deployed by carriers across the campus but the innovation hub is an indoor 5G Ultra Wideband instance which isn’t yet widely deployed anywhere else. In addition to connectivity, the lab will be outfitted with devices, immersive goggles and projection screens.

RELATED:Immersive learning aims to untether at ASU with Verizon 5G

When it comes to benefits of 5G, speed is clearly part of the picture, according to Gonick, who also called out latency.

“There is now very terrific [latency] performance on the network that we did not have before,” alongside MEC from AWS.

And while he thinks all carriers are looking for compelling 5G use cases, Gonick believes education stands out.  

“Whether it’s biology or healthcare education or deeply rich opportunities to explore astronomy or oceanography or other areas where big bandwidth requirements have heretofore not been available and so we’ve typically faked it when it comes to simulations and immersive experiences,” he commented. “Now our great content combined with super-fast and very low latency plus the edge compute really means that we seek to replicate the 5G Verizon experience in a pervasive way, in a ubiquitous way across the campus over time.”

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The 5G lab announced today “is really just the first of what we hope will be many such environments” and the next part of the experience that all students over the next 5-10 years should expect to have, he said.

Untethered immersive 5G experiences are a main aim for ASU, more on that here.

Separately, Hallbach told Fierce that it’s not a set-it-and-forget it deployment. She said that Verizon’s not only deployed the technology but also dedicated full time resources to the facility.

For Verizon the goal is to understand how the carrier can partner with enterprises, startups, national labs and the government (ASU has a strong relationship with NASA, for example) to explore how 5G can transform many aspects of life – as it’s done in other labs that focus on healthcare or public safety.

And the set-up at ASU mirrors Verizon’s other 5G labs deployed across the country and in London.

“It’s really important for Verizon to be able to touch and feel, and work shoulder to shoulder with our innovation partners to make sure that we’re co-innovating and creating the best experience for the end customers when they use these networks and these applications that run on them,” Hallbach said.

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Labs are built based on the business case for each one.

“It’s important for us to make sure that when we’re developing 5G networks that they’re fit for purpose across these industries,” she said. Transportation, for example, is going to have dramatically different use cases than 5G used in a clinical setting where connectivity is inherently fixed.

“We’re really pursuing these university partnerships anchored on a set of problems,” Hallbach noted. “This is not a technology of ‘if you build it they will come’ – it’s really we’ve got to start rethinking things of how we deliver high-capacity bandwidth with ultra low latency really ubiquitously.”

Hallbach anticipates we’ll see a handful more of very selective and specifically chosen use cases for additional labs down the line.