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Cal Poly, Federated Wireless, AWS and T-Mobile launch 5G Innovation Lab – Chua


In collaboration with Federated Wireless, AWS and T-Mobile, the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) has launched the 5G Innovation Lab. This joint venture aims to enhance campus operations, improve core IT services and foster interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty, staff, students, the community and industry.


At the ribbon-cutting event held at the Justin and J. Lohr Center for Wine and Viticulture, the director of the Digital Transformation Hub at Cal Poly, Paul Jurasin, emceed the event. Speakers included Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong, who highlighted the pivotal role played by the 5G Innovation Lab in enhancing Cal Poly's "Learn by Doing" philosophy. The lab utilizes Cal Poly's private CBRS wireless network, built and managed by Federated Wireless and leveraging AWS cloud, to provide superior operations and increased bandwidth for efficient processing, transfer, and storage of data.


Kurt Schaubach, CTO of Federated Wireless, outlined the upcoming implementation of improvements in remote outdoor areas such as Poly Canyon and the state-of-the-art William and Linda Frost Center for Research and Innovation. These enhancements, coupled with the Frost Center's collaborative environment, facilitate wireless capabilities and support cutting-edge research projects.


Mike Bonewitz, Principal Solutions Architect of AWS, discussed the potential of 5G in bridging public and private wireless connectivity, enabling cloud services like high-performance computing, analytics, and machine learning technologies.


A crucial aspect of this partnership is the neutral host capability, explained by Mark McDiarmid, SVP of Technology Innovation and Industry Partnerships at T-Mobile. This feature allows T-Mobile and other mobile carrier customers to connect via the private wireless network. Implementing this capability improves campus connectivity and safety, with access to emergency 911 services on the network.


During the event, faculty and students shared insights into the potential impact of private 5G on academic research and innovation in the construction, agriculture, and energy sectors. Dr. Jeong Woo, Construction Management Department Head at Cal Poly, emphasized the lab's transformative potential in construction management through advanced 5G use cases. Innovative applications such as 3D image capture and augmented reality for construction projects can be supported by the lab's high-speed, ultra-low-latency 5G connectivity.


Miyu Nishii, a fourth-year Cal Poly student, expressed enthusiasm about the lab's benefits to the student body. Thanks to initiatives like unmetered broadband streaming for data-intensive applications, students can securely stream class videos and other content over the private network. Nishii emphasized the importance of 5G proficiency in preparing students for the modern job market.


The speakers commended William (Bill) Britton, Cal Poly's Vice President for IT Services and CIO, for his visionary leadership in establishing the 5G Innovation Lab. By leveraging the power of 5G technology and promoting interoperability between public and private networks, Britton and Cal Poly aim to transform interactions, learning experiences, and innovation for students, faculty and community members.

AvidThink's take

Private 5G (and 4G LTE) continues to be a focus for CSPs to improve revenue streams, but its adoption has been slower than anticipated. Various factors, including component availability, supply chain issues, solution complexity, and limited shared or unlicensed spectrum schemes, have contributed to this. Moreover, enterprises' lack of familiarity and knowledge regarding use cases has also posed challenges.


The successful collaboration between Cal Poly, industry giants and innovators sets an example for other leading educational institutions interested in private 5G. Cal Poly's neutral arrangement, which sidesteps complicated IP ownership issues that have tripped up other universities, allows the teams to focus on deployment and utilization. Witnessing students gaining hands-on experience with cutting-edge technology and exploring new use cases was particularly encouraging. Cal Poly undergrads showcased IoT asset tracking and AR use cases on the private 5G network.


The Private 5G blueprint, developed and operated by Federated Wireless (which also runs the spectrum access system or SAS), includes a flexible converged 4G/5G core and a multi-operator core network (MOCN) gateway provided by software vendor Druid. The infrastructure runs on AWS Snowball Edge and AWS Snowcone devices. Meanwhile, Airspan indoor and outdoor CBRS 4G/5G radios, including those installed on the nearby and aptly named “Radio Hill,” support the network.


Another notable advancement from this partnership is the neutral host capability, which enables major mobile network operators like T-Mobile to access Cal Poly's CBRS network with a zero-dollar-exchanged financial arrangement. This facilitates fast rollout for on-campus coverage without bidding, negotiations, permitting, or significant capital expenditures on the part of MNOs. It also ensures improved indoor MNO coverage in buildings that are challenging to penetrate due to fenestration and architectural design and contributes to enhanced public safety in remote outdoor areas. Furthermore, Federated Wireless can replicate the pre-negotiated SLAs/SLOs/KPI visibility arrangement with T-Mobile (and other MNOs) for further neutral host deployments, allaying MNO concerns about the security and quality of experience on a network MNOs don't own or operate.

The neutral host infrastructure model has historically seen limited popularity in the U.S. compared to Europe and Asia. However, with increasing density needed for additional 5G coverage and capacity expansion in congested urban areas, limited new spectrum availability, and a need to mitigate capex, the model established by Federated Wireless and its partners at Cal Poly holds considerable interest not just for other educational institutions but for the broader market.

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