For more information contact:
Hongwei Zhang, ISU College of Engineering,
Mike Krapfl, ISU news services,

AMES, IA – The Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) program, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a consortium of 35 leading wireless companies and associations, has announced that a research project led by Iowa State University and its partners is one of two finalists in a national competition for a large-scale wireless research testbed aimed at studying novel ways to reduce the cost of broadband delivery to rural communities. The ISU-led project is titled “ARA: Wireless Living Lab for Smart and Connected Rural Communities.”

The project is in response to the latest request for proposals from the PAWR program. If awarded, it will be the fourth city-scale testbed in the United States. The PAWR Project Office manages a $100 million public-private partnership and oversees these research platforms.

Leading the ARA project for Iowa State is Hongwei Zhang, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “ARA has been planned to contribute to the U.S. leadership in advanced wireless research and innovation and to address the long-standing challenges in rural broadband,” Zhang said.

The ARA team is focused on integrating multiple wireless technologies and supporting a range of configurations for last-mile and backhaul network architectures. These heterogenous network testbeds will create new possibilities for expanding affordable broadband service, and specifically for experimenting with delivery models designed to lower deployment costs and extend coverage in rural America.

“Iowa State and our partners are excited about this project developing better technologies to connect rural communities and accelerating broadband availability,” said W. Samuel Easterling, James L. and Katherine S. Melsa Dean of Engineering. “This will have a big impact and make available more opportunities to connect families, schools, farms, municipalities and others across rural America.”

As part of the final round of competition, the NSF is providing each finalist $300,000 in funding for further platform development work. This funding is designed to boost the opportunities for success across multiple research paths and to ensure that the team ultimately selected for the next platform in the PAWR program is positioned for an accelerated deployment process at the start of 2021.

“Given the stiff national competition, the selection of ARA as one of the two finalists reflects the unique strengths of the wireless communication and networking research program in our department,” said Ashfaq Khokhar, chair of electrical and computer engineering. “It also ideally serves the land grant mission of Iowa State by leading the nation in the design and development of next generation affordable wireless networks for rural communities.”