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Purdue to Make Discovery Park a Testing Ground for 6G Tech

Researchers hope to turn the 400-acre Discovery Park District into a research incubator for 6G smart city technology of tomorrow, in collaboration with university and industry partners creating next-generation networks.

While most of today’s smart cities are built upon municipalities established and planned years before the advent of the Internet, researchers at Purdue University are working to design a new community with next-generation network technology, 6G, already in mind.

According to a recent announcement on the university's website, the Purdue Research Foundation (PRF) intends to turn Purdue’s 400-acre Discovery Park District into “one of the most connected innovation communities in the nation through the evolution from 5G to 6G,” via a newly launched initiative dubbed Lab to Life, or L2L.

The foundation's Chief Innovation and Collaboration Officer David Broecker said the initiative will serve as an incubator for 6G research with other universities and tech companies. The plan, he said, is to bring the tech industry and university researchers together to turn the district into the country’s first at-scale 6G deployment zone and as a model for future smart cities.

“The lab is really the 400 acres,” he said, likening L2L to an experiment in 6G adoption. “It’s going to be a neat opportunity to sort of build something from scratch.”

Broecker said the idea was put into motion about three years ago when university leaders discussed their vision to design a community with universal connectivity in mind. He said the goal is to establish a community that can “stand the test of time" — complete with laboratories, advanced manufacturing facilities, offices, retail shops, restaurants, housing and an airport that can accommodate over 20,000 workers and residents.

According to research from the database company Statista, total connected devices worldwide are projected to amount to 30.9 billion units by 2025, a sharp jump from the 13.8 billion units expected in 2021. Broecker believes the smart cities of tomorrow must anticipate this exponential growth in demand for data and new technologies.

“People are using more data, and we’re becoming more and more connected to different devices,” he said. “In terms of the number of devices, data use and the need for capacity, 6G is going to be an order of magnitude above 5G when it comes to shared capacity to handle [increasing demand and use of] data.”

"As we become more connected, require more data and want our devices to do more things for us, everything is pointing to [a future need for] 6G, and probably 10 years beyond that, we’ll need 7G or 8G.”

According to the university, L2L will leverage partnerships with major tech companies such as Dell, Intel, SBA Communications, AT&T, Cisco and Tilson. The foundation partnered with Tilson earlier this year to deploy more than 15 miles of high-capacity fiber, emanating from an edge data center, and SBA Communications for the deployment of private CBRS networks throughout the area.

“We’ve got the platform to where other companies want to come in and start to experiment on top, and they can do it at scale,” Broecker said. “We’re still at the early stages, but we want to get that base technology established, work with companies to bring innovation to the district, and then with faculty and students to figure out 6G and interoperability challenges and situations across different kinds of networks that are going to be developed.”

Unlike other large metropolises, Broecker said Discovery Park is governed mainly by the foundation and comes with less red tape than one would find in a labyrinth of municipal government and corporate entities.

“We studied [existing smart cities] and saw that there are certain challenges that exist in those places when it comes to forming these connected communities,” he said of the daunting logistics of creating smart cities such as Toronto or San Francisco.

"Most of the time, you’re dealing with legacy infrastructure, so you’ve got all of the competing interests of different wireless carriers, cable companies, Internet service providers — you name it, they’re all there,” he later added. “In this case, it was a [fresh] development. There was really no technology infrastructure across the 400 acres.”

The university will invite other institutions and companies to the district this fall to suggest infrastructure ideas and other potential applications of 5G and 6G, for which the district will be a testing ground.

“The combination of being adjacent to the campus of Purdue and advancing innovation leveraging the district’s infrastructure platform provides the perfect environment for testing and evaluating next-generation technology solutions,” Troy Hege, PRF vice president for technology and innovation, said in a public statement.

Though much remains to be seen of the initiative and of Discovery Park, Broecker said the district and its research could propel the adoption of 6G over the next few years.

“You can either wait for it to happen or you can make it happen, and we want to make it happen,” he said.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.