News | September 6, 2023

PAWR Program Unveils ARA Testbed For Rural Wireless And Applications Research


The Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) Project Office announces the unveiling of ARA, a new testbed in Central Iowa dedicated to research on rural wireless systems and applications. As the fourth and final platform in the PAWR program, ARA combines both commercial and programmable network systems. The multi-modal platform is based on the Iowa State University (ISU) campus with coverage extending to local crop and livestock farms and parts of the city of Ames. ISU is marking ARA’s introduction this week with an event including participants from across industry, government, academia, and the local community.

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Wireless equipment at local ARA farm site. (Photo: Business Wire)

Wireless equipment at local ARA farm site. (Photo: Business Wire)

The U.S. National Science Foundation created and initially funded the PAWR program in partnership with an industry consortium of leading wireless companies and organizations. The ARA platform joins three existing large-scale PAWR testbeds: POWDER in Salt Lake City, Utah; COSMOS in New York City; and AERPAW in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. The PAWR program also includes Colosseum, the world’s largest radiofrequency emulator, located in Boston.

“ARA offers a publicly available wireless living lab supporting rural-focused research, education, and innovation,” said Dr. Hongwei Zhang, professor in the ISU Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Department of Computer Science, and Director of the ARA platform. “We are delighted to open ARA up to the research community and look forward to supporting work that will not only help narrow the gap between rural and urban connectivity, but also advance the frontiers of 5G and 6G communications.”

The ARA platform uniquely combines several types of technologies in both the backhaul and radio access portions of the network from Aviat (NASDAQ: AVNW), Skylark Wireless, NI (Nasdaq: NATI), and Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC). For backhaul connectivity, ARA uses Aviat radios operating in the 11 Gigahertz and 80 Gigahertz bands. The testbed also maintains fiber connections as backup. In the radio access network, the ARA team has partnered with Skylark Wireless in developing and deploying production-grade, many-antenna MIMO systems with research APIs for communications using TV White Space (TVWS) spectrum, and it has deployed software defined radios from NI using mid-band connectivity.

ARA has also partnered with Ericsson, which generously contributed equipment and services to enable the deployment of a commercial-grade 5G standalone network on site. The commercial network includes an Ericsson 5G SA core and multiple massive MIMO 5G base stations in the mid-band and mmWave band operating with commercial user equipment across the platform. The Ericsson connectivity will support the development of precision agriculture applications, among other research initiatives, and is connecting farm sites that previously had little to no broadband access.

“The goal of the PAWR program is to offer opportunities for wireless research at scale across a mix of geographic and technologically diverse environments,” said Ellen Zegura, division director for NSF’s Division of Computer and Network Systems. “Located in the heart of Central Iowa, ARA rounds out the program by offering advanced wireless infrastructure in a uniquely rural setting. Researchers will now be able to apply their skills to increasing the performance and cost-effectiveness of rural wireless deployments and to developing new applications that improve critical agricultural operations. We are excited by what the ARA team has accomplished and the broader, use-inspired research work that can now begin.”

ARA has started to explore a wide range of academic and industry research opportunities, from weather impact studies, to experiments with connected farm machinery, to testing of new Open RAN components and systems. ARA was recently named an Open Testing and Integration Center (OTIC) by the O-RAN ALLIANCE. The ARA team will continue to release new capabilities and features for the testbed in the coming months and years and is actively seeking researchers who are interested in pursuing their own experimentation and development activities on the platform. Interested parties should contact

For more information on the PAWR program, visit

About the PAWR Project Office (PPO)

The Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research Project Office (PPO) manages the $100 million public-private partnership and oversees the research platforms. The PPO is co-led by US Ignite and Northeastern University, and funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and PAWR industry consortium. The PPO collaborates closely with the wireless research community, local communities, and industry, in part through the industry consortium, in the design, development, deployment, and initial operations of the research platforms.

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