Texas A&M, AT&T to open 5G test site on former airplane runway

(Texas A&M RELLIS Campus)

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A former airplane runway at Texas A&M’s RELLIS Campus will be outfitted with 5G technology to serve as an outdoor test bed for running autonomous vehicles and figuring out cybersecurity approaches, AT&T and Texas A&M announced Monday.

Phase one of installing the test bed will involve wiring a mile of the former runway — located on the university’s 2,300-acre RELLIS campus, a former military site near Bryan, Texas — for continuous 5G coverage, while another half mile is planned to be equipped in the second phase of the project. Companies were already able to reserve the space to test technologies, but adding 5G capabilities will hopefully expand partnerships and educational opportunities on campus, said Bradley Hoover, chief information officer of the RELLIS Campus Partnership.

“As far as we know, this is probably the only university-based 5G test bed that is at that scale,” Hoover told EdScoop. “Most of them are in a lab somewhere. … They’re not outdoors in a facility where you can really get a physical vehicle running up and down a runway.”

Experimentation will include running autonomous vehicles on 5G instead of the current protocol, dedicated short-range communications radio. The outdoor 5G field is designed for the coverage needed to run autonomous vehicles and replicate the challenges the technology needs to face, like wind or rain. That can include both ground and air vehicles and explore the infrastructure needed to run autonomous vehicles, like sensors at intersections.

The design of the network will also allow for research into augmented and virtual reality devices run on 5G networks. That would include applications for the military and manufacturing, according to a press release. Other planned projects include augmented and virtual reality technologies, robotics and cybersecurity research.

As 5G expands, the site could be used to examine cyberattacks on mobile phones on 5G networks, as well as devices linked via 5G.

“Everything’s got to be validated, everything’s got to be authenticated from the user to the device within the 5G test bed,” Hoover said. “You can test and make sure that those communications are secure and you’re not going to end up with the next ransomware or something getting in and turning something on or off.”

Because the RELLIS campus, launched in 2016, is building its research networks from scratch, it won’t have to integrate with existing network architecture, Hoover said.  The network, which consists of four or five 5G towers, he said, is slated to go live in late September.

Companies can use the facility for their own testing, but also can partner with Texas A&M on research projects. Texas A&M’s state government agencies, like the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, are expected to use the site, as well as private companies. The RELLIS Campus isn’t a university, but students enrolled at other campuses can participate at specific programs offered through the campus.

AT&T is working with numerous universities across the country on 5G projects. A University of Connecticut lab will focus on data science and entrepreneurship. An AT&T test bed in Indianapolis is designed for infrastructural applications, and AT&T and Purdue University will open a lab in the university’s research park that’s planned to explore advanced manufacturing.

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