Multinational telecommunications company Ericsson has announced an agreement with the National Science Foundation-funded Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research program to contribute equipment and services to the Agriculture and Rural Communities, or ARA, test bed based on Iowa State University’s campus.

In 2021, the PAWR program added its fourth test bed at Iowa State to research and test solutions for rural broadband connectivity.

Also known as ARA: Wireless Living Lab for Smart and Connected Rural Communities, the test bed based at Iowa State is similar to its counterpart PAWR test beds across the country but with added focuses on technologies for rural broadband connectivity and precision agriculture in crop and livestock farms.

According to a news release, Ericsson is contributing its Massive MIMO radios, a distributed 5G core network and a local user plane function to support research around precision agriculture, rural broadband, renewable energy and public safety.

“Ericsson has been a valuable partner since the beginning of the PAWR program and continues to enable some of the most advanced wireless research in 5G and beyond,” said Mari Silbey, program director for the PAWR Project Office. “The company’s contributions to the ARA platform will bring 5G SA capabilities to farm sites in Central Iowa and create a living lab for developing new applications and network optimization technologies in a rural environment.”

Hongwei Zhang, Iowa State professor of electrical and computer engineering and principal investigator of the ARA test bed, said in an email that the planned contributions from Ericsson will increase efficiency and capacity of networks, expand the cell coverage range and help reduce costs.

For example, the distributed 5G core network will allow small organizations like farms and rural communities to operate private 5G networks without paying for a localized core network, Zhang said.

An Ericsson spokesperson wrote in an email that the company is a partner in the NSF and PAWR partnership and also provides equipment and services to the AERPAW test bed based at North Carolina State University.

The Iowa State test bed is active across a three-county region in Central Iowa from Iowa State University’s campus and Ames to surrounding communities in Boone and Marshall counties.

A video with more information about the ARA Wireless Living Lab is available at this link.