$100 million wireless program from NSF to fund city, university research hubs

In a few weeks, the federal agency will release an RFP giving crosss-sector cohorts a chance to research and deploy next-generation wireless technologies.

With nearly $100 million in pledged funding and resources, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a new program Wednesday to build wireless-technology research hubs across the country. 

The initiative, called the Platform for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) and led by the NSF’s US Ignite initiative and Northeastern University, will bridge relationships between cities, tech companies and academia so they can develop technologies like 5G wireless networks, fiber backhaul, advanced networking systems and Internet of Things applications. NSF envisions the research and development activity will assist cities in discovering solutions for next generation wireless and improved Internet connectivity.

US Ignite Chief Operating Officer Joe Kochan said PAWR will release the program’s first RFP in a few weeks. The request will solicit proposals from city and university partnerships that submit plans for wireless innovation hubs. From there, PAWR and its more than 25 partner companies will select two winners that will receive funding for five years. This RFP is the first of four now planned, with subsequent RFPs coming every two years.

“Our goal is that these platforms be city-scale, so it’s a platform that would work across a wide area and the test platform involves new wireless technologies that have yet to proven in the market place,” Kochan said.


How and where each test hub operates will be dependent on proposals. While cities may benefit from new services and partnerships that arise from research, wireless companies could also benefit. The program already has already recruited more than 25 wireless companies that, in exchange for funding and resources, will have influence over the RFP selection process, the direction of the wireless test hubs, and will also be able to test their own technologies at the sites. Sprint and Juniper Networks are among these company partners.

“Mobile connectivity is fundamental to our country’s economic and civic progress,” said Ron Marquardt, Sprint vice president of technology, in a release. “PAWR represents an important national investment in the wireless platforms of the future and we look forward to new advances in entertainment, communication and collaboration across our cities, workplaces and our homes.”

The program will provide smaller companies and tech startups access to real-world environments where they can construct prototypes to show investors, and provide contact to city administrators for collaboration and feedback. Jim Kurose, assistant director for NSF’s computer, information science and engineering directorate, said that on this point, the initiative will unlock a host of possibilities. 

“The planned research platforms will provide an unprecedented opportunity to enable research in faster, smarter, more responsive, and more robust wireless communication, and to move experimental research beyond the lab with profound implications for science and society,” Kurose said. 

Those expectations aside, much of the hard work will be centered on solutions to reshape aging wireless infrastructure and to expand and build modern networks and wireless tools. Kochan said much of today’s wireless networks are incapable of meeting the demand for smart cities and IoT devices, and as such, finding innovative ways to rework current systems is critical.


“It is my firm belief that in order to achieve the smart city vision that many have put out there, we’re going to need new wireless and sensor networks …,” Kochan said. “My hope is that these platforms become centers of innovation for wireless networking and the smart city applications that will ride on top of tomorrow’s wireless networks.”

Latest Podcasts