ISU Center for Wireless, Communities and Innovation Request

At its February meeting, the Board of Regents will consider approval of a new center at Iowa State University. The Center for Wireless, Communities and Innovation (WiCl) is motivated by the need for rural broadband services and will drive research, education and innovation in advanced wireless broadband and its applications.

The WiCI builds on the work of Dr. Hongwei Zhang’s Agriculture and Rural (ARA) Communities broadband project. Funded by more than $16 million in grants from the National Science Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture, the ARA Wireless Living Lab and the WiCI will help deliver wireless broadband access to rural areas.

Nearly 40 percent of the rural United States lacks broadband access and many agricultural farms are not connected at all. Additionally, broadband innovation typically happens in urban regions that lack first-hand insight into rural needs and don’t prioritize rural broadband needs. WiCI will develop optimal, rural-focused broadband technologies that focus on the unique needs of rural communities and industries. 

“Long-distance, high-capacity wireless backhaul is important for rural regions but not as important for urban center,” said Zhang. “Similarly, millimeter wave wireless communications are important for achieving 5G coverage in urban centers, but are not as important in rural settings where long distances present unique challenges.”

Iowa is already a leader in agriculture, manufacturing and renewable energy – three rural industries that represent high-priority applications for advanced wireless systems, including 5G connectivity and beyond. Further high-priority wireless applications, including automated ground and aerial vehicles, are best tried first in rural regions where there is space for experimentation. This combination of existing and potential high-priority wireless applications makes Iowa an ideal location for wireless broadband research. 

“Iowa State is uniquely positioned to lead the WiCI Center,” Zhang said. “ISU is a world leader in the application of advanced wireless such as digital and precision agriculture. The ISU Research Park is home to a thriving start-up and innovation community and the ISU campus is at the center of rural communities who have become key partners of the ARA wireless living lab.”