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Breaking Wireless Boundaries: What a City-Wide 5G Testbed Means to NYU

The National Science Foundation today announced a $22.5 million grant including private partner contributions to New York City and a team of researchers including faculty from the NYU Tandon Department of Electrical Engineering and NYU Wireless, along with Rutgers and Columbia, to design and build COSMOS: an experimental testbed for developing 5G wireless networking technologies. 5G promises to transform the wireless landscape, utilizing millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum to enable unimaginably fast data transmission — one gigabit per second— and usher in a host of new capabilities in smart cities and infrastructure, augmented reality, media, and healthcare.

Sundeep Rangan, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at NYU Tandon and director of NYU WIRELESS, leads the project for NYU. He joined Thanasis Korakis and Shivendra Panwar, professors in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Tandon, discuss the importance of a testbed like COSMOS, and why there’s no better place to plan the 5G revolution than New York City.

What's the significance of having a testbed like COSMOS in NYC? 

SR: Dense, urban areas are where engineers have to be the most creative. Big cities are the best locations for deployment of the latest wireless technologies, because that’s where network capacity is most vital. Additionally, cities can demonstrate unique applications for wireless systems such as connected cars and buses to mitigate traffic congestion.  But at the same time, the city landscape presents formidable challenges — tightly packed, tall buildings can interfere with and block signal transmission, and it’s both expensive and difficult to find and acquire sites for cellular base stations. 

For these reasons and others, NYC will be an important testing ground for 5G. New York and New Jersey have been home to many significant names in the wireless industry — Nokia Bell Labs, InterDigital, Verizon, and AT&T — and massive investments have been made in recent years to help develop 5G.
The fact that NYC was chosen as part of NSF’s Platform for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) is a testament to the fact that the city itself and New York area universities — Rutgers, NYU, and Columbia — along with our industrial partners — have been leaders in advancing wireless systems. We hope the COSMOS platform will help cement New York’s foothold as a central point for wireless engineering.

Tandon and NYU Wireless bring some unique expertise to this project. Would you describe the previous research that's been conducted by these teams on millimeter waves (mmWave) as well as the prior 4G wireless testbed?

SR: NYU WIRELESS has been a leader in 5G communications, particularly in mmWave communications. Five years ago, the Founding Director of the center, Ted Rappaport, and his students conducted the first measurements that demonstrated the feasibility of mmWave bands for wide-area cellular coverage.  It was these measurements that inspired the huge interest in mmWave. NYU WIRELESS remains one of the leaders in mmWave, with over 15 faculty researching various aspects from devices, measurements, system design and applications. We have one of the largest industrial affiliates programs with over 15 industrial affiliates including several carriers, as well as leaders in network, handset, and test equipment. 

We also developed and operated the first 4G testbed in NYC in 2011. Since then, hundreds of researchers from around the country — as well as our own students and faculty — have run experiments on it.

What areas of experimentation will the NYU team be working on with COSMOS?

SR: The COSMOS platform can be a vehicle for developing and demonstrating several interesting applications. We’re particularly interested in connected vehicles, which will be increasingly relevant with autonomous driving. High-speed wireless links can be combined with fast access to the cloud computing resources in the COSMOS platform for fusing signals between cars and cloud-based processing.  The high bandwidths of the COSMOS platform can also enable virtual reality/augmented reality and immersive video, which can in turn be used for gaming and telepresence. To realize these applications, COSMOS researchers will develop the fundamental hardware and software for these systems as well as testing and evaluating them in realistic scenarios.

The NSF will bring important industrial affiliates into COSMOS. How will NYU faculty and students work with them?

SP: The industry affiliates will provide the equipment and expertise to build the COSMOS testbed. They will provide the advanced base stations, end devices and management software that will allow researchers to test, evaluate, collect data, and give feedback to them on improving the equipment and service, in addition to conducting basic research. The students are vital to this testbed; this will stretch them as they use all the skills they have learned to bear in the development and use of this platform. This research is critical to retain U.S. competitiveness in 5G and related technologies, and will help train a new generation of researchers in this area.

Educational opportunities are a big component of this project, both for NYU students as well as K-12 students throughout New York City. How will students benefit from having access to COSMOS?

TK: COSMOS will be an innovative learning platform for students — from those pursuing their doctoral degrees at Tandon all the way down to elementary school students participating in K12 STEM programs through Tandon. The COSMOS academic partners — and especially the NYU Tandon team — have extensive experience in this area and will work closely with the Tandon Center for K12 STEM education to enable remote access to the testbed for a large number of students. This kind of outreach is especially significant for New York City public schools that lack the technology and resources to prepare students for a future in the digital world, and have a high percentage of minority students who are underrepresented in STEM. We believe COSMOS can be a powerful asset to positively impact this trend. We’ll also continue to work closely with teachers throughout NYC to enhance their own STEM knowledge and skills, and to collaboratively create materials to advance STEM learning in NYC classrooms.

For details on COSMOS, including the roles of other partners read the press release.