Iowa State University Research Group receives $8 million grant for Wireless Rural Communications Project


This rural broadband project is designed to bring wireless technologies and broadband capabilities to rural farm areas in order to provide precision agriculture in crop farming and livestock. 

Jack Nichols

An Iowa State research group and its partners have been awarded an $8 million grant from the National Science Foundation along with the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. 

The project is designed to bring wireless technologies and broadband capabilities to rural farm areas to provide precision agriculture in crop farming and livestock. The network testbeds will create new possibilities to expand efficient and affordable broadband capabilities to rural areas.

“This is what Iowa State University’s land-grant mission is all about – bringing to bear our research and innovation to meet the needs of Iowans,” Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen said. “Rural broadband has become an essential need. Iowa State is very excited to work with our partners to develop affordable wireless technologies that will help connect and create opportunities for families, schools, farms, and communities across the state.” 

The program is part of a larger research effort called the Platform for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR). According to PAWR’s website “The Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research program is enabling experimental exploration of new wireless devices, communication techniques, networks, systems, and services that will revolutionize the nation’s wireless ecosystem while sustaining U.S. leadership and economic competitiveness for decades to come.”

Iowa State’s project for the PAWR platform is called “Agricultural and Rural Areas: Wireless Living Lab for Smart and Connected Rural Communities”. The ARA project at Iowa State is being led by Hongwei Zhang, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“ARA enables research in end-to-end broadband infrastructures for rural and remote areas, and it features high-performance, programmable platforms in wireless access, wireless backhaul, and edge and cloud,” Hongwei said. “By supporting fundamental communication services such as ultra-reliable, low-latency communications, ARA enables field research studies such as tele-operations of vehicles or drones, that are of interest to rural and urban regions but are difficult to conduct in urban settings in early stages of the exploration.”

The ARA testbed “will produce a heterogeneous network environment featuring a wide range of wireless technologies” and a high capacity wireless mesh network that includes low Earth orbit satellite links and long-distance millimeter wave communications.

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