Private Networks

Purdue University group signs up for Celona's private 5G network

A research foundation at Purdue University is betting big on private wireless networking by teaming up with a technology vendor to install a network inside its new business-focused development center.

The Purdue Research Foundation (PRF) is working with cell tower giant SBA Communications and startup Celona to install a private 5G network working on 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum. The network will be inside one of the PRF's main buildings in its new Discovery Park District, a 400-acre, $1 billion smart city development that's adjacent to the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. The development is still in its early stages, but in ten years developers envision the district housing up to 15,000 students, residents and executives.

District officials hope to grow their nascent 5G private network to provide connections to residents and business executives across the development. For now, though, PRF's private 5G network spans just six access points inside its Convergence Center building, a massive, 143,000-square-feet office complex designed to link Purdue University to the wider business world.

"It's showcase space," explained David Broecker, PRF's chief innovation and collaboration officer. He said the private network inside the Convergence Center building supports LTE speeds up to 100 Mbit/s and will be available to tenants in the building as a "playground" for innovation.

"We believe this is going to enable companies to come in and really see what's possible," he said, adding that the network's coverage and speed metrics have "opened people's eyes to the performance of these private networks."

The network features radio equipment from Celona, spectrum-management services from SBA and fiber and data center services from Tilson. Broecker said PRF is working with Watch Communications, which owns CBRS licenses in the area, for access to its licensed CBRS spectrum. Broecker added that SBA funded the university's initial deployment, but he declined to provide the financial details.

But that's just the start, according to Broecker. PRF's ultimate goal is to figure out a way to expand the reach of the private wireless network to eventually cover the entire 400-acre district when it's completed.

"We're looking at this almost as a utility in the district," he said, explaining that broadband may eventually be sold alongside gas and electricity. "We really wanted to make this a destination for companies and innovators."

However, the business model that will fund that network expansion has not yet been determined. Broecker said he's envisioning a subscription model whereby district residents and tenants would pay for access to the network, thus financing its expansion. "We're just starting to turn everything on," he said. "So we're trying to figure out what is the best way to do it."

"This is not just a single-use case that we're trying to create here," he added. "The vision is really to create this notion of a connected community."

PRF isn't the only organization that's investing in the allure of private wireless networking. For example, Celona on Tuesday announced agreements with several other companies for other private wireless networking deployments around the country. Meantime, Motorola Solutions announced it would build a private LTE network for Harris County, Texas, using CBRS spectrum. And those are just a few examples of the gathering battle around private wireless networking.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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