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US Ignite Sets Stage for Smart Cities

It's sometimes hard to see the method in the madness of local government, but a renaissance in city planning is creating shape around strategies that municipal governments are using to revive their regional economies and stimulate innovation. Digital infrastructure is a key component of those strategies and there are a growing number of commonalities in the way that different cities are boosting that infrastructure and using it to drive investment and improved quality of life.

Enter US Ignite.

US Ignite is a non-profit with close ties to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation (NSF) . It's also the organization behind the Smart Gigabit Communities project, which is geared toward creating new gigabit-powered applications, and now the Advanced Wireless Consortium that was announced in July. US Ignite is both taking advantage of the technology trends that are proliferating through cities and helping to lead them. (See White House Funding Seeds Smart Cities and US Ignite Launches New Advanced Wireless Consortium.)

A very important part of how US Ignite operates is by forming and supporting public/private partnerships for technology development. Yes, governments and local community organizations are critical, but so too are the telecom service providers that Light Reading covers on a daily basis. And US Ignite is part of the connective tissue bringing those two groups together.

Among the strategies that are working in US Ignite communities are entrepreneurial challenges that bring in private sector partners, and the formation of networks (physical and otherwise) between communities that allow public and private entities to test solutions on a broad scale and in varied environments. US Ignite has helped lead a multi-city gigabit hackathon, an application summit for competing developers and the Global City Teams Challenge, which entered its second phase in June and is tackling problems like how to improve local emergency response systems, how to create a common platform for city services across multiple domains (transit, sanitation, public safety, etc.), how to improve the efficiency of power delivery from renewable sources and more. Corporate partners include companies like AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), among many others.

As part of its Smart Gigabit Communities initiative, US Ignite is also facilitating the connection of partner cities to the high-speed Internet2 network designed for research and education. The goal is to share the applications developed in different gigabit cities with other participating communities around the country. Applications like using 4K video to enable cross-country microbiology lessons and the creation of a new traffic incident detection system based on connected vehicle technologies.

For more gigabit coverage and insights, check out our dedicated Gigabit/Broadband content channel here on Light Reading.

Part of the reason all this background on US Ignite is so important is because it sets the stage for where the organization is headed next with the Advanced Wireless Consortium.

The Advanced Wireless Consortium (AWC) will help develop the technologies that will make next-generation smart cities viable. Its goal is to support the creation of four "city-scale wireless research platforms." Each platform, or PAWR (Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research), should ultimately cover 15 to 20 physical sites with built-in network backhaul, software-defined radios working across multiple frequency bands and the ability to plug in new wireless technologies as research demands.

At launch, AWC partners include 18 companies and three associations. All of the major US wireless carriers are involved, as well as important vendors like Juniper Group Inc. , Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM), and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and the CTIA . Partners are committing $35 million in cash and kind to the AWC mission, with the NSF dropping in roughly $50 million in additional funding. Plus, the NSF regularly contributes about $50 million annually for US wireless research, much of which would likely go toward AWC projects in the future. (See Gigabites: US Ignites Gig+ Wireless Consortium.)

The game plan for the consortium bears many similarities to the approach that US Ignite has taken with its Smart Gigabit Communities. It relies on public/private partnerships (with the inclusion of academic institutions); will use competition to select the best ideas for testing; and will undoubtedly include cross-collaboration between different platform projects.

"This is a uniquely US approach to innovation," says US Ignite Executive Director Bill Wallace, noting that it's "really designed to create bottoms-up innovation."

In the short term, the AWC has a number of concrete goals to accomplish. It has to create a PAWR Board, or steering group, made up of AWC members, NSF and other federal agency representatives.

Then the Board has to develop a request for proposals seeking project plans from teams with joint public and private sector participants. And then it has to evaluate submitted proposals and provide further input before deciding which platform projects to choose.

The consortium has a long-range view of its research topics. For example, regarding millimeter wave technology, Wallace says the AWC wants to look "beyond the commercialization that occurs within the next three years... really looking three to six years out."

Wallace adds, "I think the whole area of end-to-end integration across WiFi networks and 3G, 4G, 5G networks is important. Testing and monitoring in this new world will be important. The whole architecture of a heterogeneous network that makes a seamless transition across these different wireless technologies will be important."

In later years, the AWC wants to move its network research back into the realm of applications and services. The platforms developed will be the foundation for smart, connected cities and will support developments in areas like connected health, robotics and cyber-physical systems.

The AWC's aims are lofty, but its strategies are also well shaped by earlier successes in community-driven technology innovation. And those strategies could very well be the key to unlocking the potential of smart cities in the future.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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