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The Edge

Carnegie Mellon built a plug-and-play private LTE network

When Mahadev Satyanarayanan, group professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and an expert in edge computing, needed a network to test his edge computing applications, he knew he wanted something that was low in latency, reliable and not susceptible to any performance degradation.

Satyanarayanan turned to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Federated Wireless for help, and the university decided to deploy an LTE private wireless network using Citizens Broadband Radio Services General Authorized Access (GAA) 3.5GHz spectrum.

Although Carnegie Mellon has a Wi-Fi network, Satyanarayanan said it was important for his lab to use a reliable network that could handle a heavy traffic load without slowing down, something that Wi-Fi doesn't do very well. And he wanted a network that could be managed from end-to-end. "We were very interested in exploring edge-native use cases on the campus and we wanted to create a test bed so we could do head-to-head comparisons of real use cases," he said.

Satyanarayanan runs the Living Edge Lab at Carnegie Mellon, where his research on edge computing takes place. The lab is considered one of the leading research centers on edge computing in the world. It focuses on the intersection of edge native applications, edge computing networks and the tools and infrastructure required to make edge computing a reality.

One particularly timely project that Satyanarayanan is working on involves using live video streams to determine whether people are following social distancing guidelines, and also using those video streams later to help with contract tracing should there be an outbreak of COVID-19 within a certain area. "If someone tests positive, with the right authorization we could identify and do contact tracing," he said.

Plug-and-play CBRS network

Satyanarayanan said that when the CBRS GAA spectrum became available for unlicensed use, he knew it would be an attractive spectrum band for Carnegie Mellon's network. He started working with AWS, which had a relationship with Federated Wireless.

Last February, Federated partnered with AWS and Microsoft Azure and started offering connectivity-as-a-service to enterprises. This arrangement allows companies and universities like Carnegie Mellon to buy and deploy private 4G and 5G networks through the cloud providers' marketplaces.

Satyanarayanan said that Carnegie Mellon was working with AWS and was familiar with its cloud marketplace, so it was a simple transition to work with Federated on the private network.

Carnegie's network uses AWS Snowcone – a portable, secure edge computing and data transfer device – to run the 4G packet core. The network has a couple of radios that cover the university's Living Edge Lab.

"For us, AWS is very interesting," Satyanarayanan said. "It provides hardware at the edge, but equally and perhaps more importantly, it is a seamless way to use services in the cloud and the edge."

Carnegie Mellon's IT team was able to install the CBRS network by consulting with Federated on a remote basis. The university has deployed an LTE private network but will move to a 5G private network as soon as that equipment is available.

Satyanarayanan said that by using CBRS GAA spectrum combined with Federated's spectrum controller and radio gear and AWS' Snowcone portable edge device, the university was able to deploy a 4G private network quickly and easily, and perhaps most importantly, affordably. "4G and telco networks usually require a lot of installation complexity and that's why so many use Wi-Fi instead, because it is easier to install," he said. "The fact that we got this working remotely, I think, is a testimonial."

According to Deepak Das, vice president of solutions with Federated Wireless, there are already some small 5G private wireless trials over CBRS occurring today, but he expects to see larger trials of 5G private networks in 2021 with commercial 5G private wireless networks happening in 2022.

And he added that by creating a private network, Carnegie Mellon doesn't have to worry about interference or others creating a heavy load on the network. "Wi-Fi is powerful, but 4G and 5G will allow us to test use cases on private networks. It is simple and cost effective."

— Sue Marek, special to Light Reading. Follow her @suemarek.

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