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Next-Gen Cities Wanted: Wireless Research Program Opens RFP Process

The Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) project is looking for proposals for advanced communication technology on a citywide scale.

Cities hoping to serve as testbeds for new wireless technologies are asked to submit proposals for a round of funding and support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and private industry.

The Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) project has issued an RFP for proposals that spell out “use-cases” for advanced communication technology on a citywide scale. Up to two cities will each be awarded approximately $24 million in cash and in-kind services. The Project Office for the PAWR program is being co-led by Northeastern University and US Ignite, a non-profit charged with growing smart city projects and technologies. An industry consortium of 28 companies is contributing to the proram and will have access to the platforms down the line to be used in their own research. 

The RFP follows a previous round of NSF supplied funding for PAWR projects in New York City and Salt Lake City in April 2018.

“This version of the RFP — round two — we’re asking proposers to start with use cases, in areas like smart farming or public safety, or autonomous vehicles,” said Bill Wallace, executive director of US Ignite, offering a few examples of study areas. “And say, what fundamental breakthroughs in wireless technology are needed to enable that use case, and what cannot be done on today’s technology?”

The project proposals should be structured as joint efforts by a city and university partner that specializes in wireless research, along with industry.

A key factor in a city getting selected is, will it truly partner in a comprehensive way, such as providing resources in the form of communications infrastructure, back-of-house support services, helping with the permitting process, or other in-kind contributions, according to Wallace. 

“And then also, thinking through with the cities, what is a real burning need in the city?” he added. 
“We can imagine a city coming in and saying, ‘you know, we have a lot of agri-business, and we’re surrounded by a lot of farms. What can we do with advanced technologies to improve and enhance farming through [maybe] moisture monitoring or drones that cover a field and help identify yield across a whole field?’ That sort of thing.”

Winning teams need to explore creative, technology-driven solutions in partnership with a university — which does not have to be located in the city — to find some sort of wireless communication breakthrough that did not already exist. 

“The winners are not going to be the ones that come in and say, here’s a great use case, but we want to use Wi-Fi, for example,” Wallace remarked. 

The research in Salt Lake City is exploring Massive MIMO, multi-input, multi-output, an essential component of both 5G and beyond 5G wireless networks, while the research in New York City is diving into millimeter-wave radio communications, which has the potential to open up more bandwidth to support, say, higher-quality media and video content. The idea is that all four testbed cities will be  connected, allowing researchers to run remote experiments.

Wireless providers like AT&T and Verizon are actively rolling out 5G communications technology in a number of cities, such as Atlanta; Dallas; Houston; Sacramento, Calif.; Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina; Oklahoma City, Okla. and others.

Though just because a city’s communication infrastructure has received the 5G upgrade, that in itself is not enough to earn a spot on the PAWR project, say organizers.

“What makes them a great candidate would be the willingness to make that 5G network available, and then contribute other in-kind resources,” said Wallace.

Preliminary proposals are due by Sept. 28, and final proposals must be submitted by Dec. 11, 2018. Finalists will be announced by the end of March 2019. The proposals will be evaluated by an independent panel made up of university, industry and city officials.

PAWR is US Ignite’s biggest project and one that is representative of several of the public-private partnership programs the organization operates. 

“We are really, across all of our programs, trying to facilitate how communities grow and figure out how these initiatives for better economic development, better quality of living, etc., how the private sector figures out a growth path for moving forward in a space that’s relatively new for them,” said Mari Silbey, US Ignite's director of communications. “And then also, how to advance the technology to be able to support all of these things that are coming, or we want to see enabled in the future.”


Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.