The National Science Foundation has a research center in Salt Lake City, Utah, called the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR). And it recently announced new 5G research capabilities at PAWR with a focus on open-source software.

Apparently, the government didn’t get the memo that unnecessary acronyms are annoying. It’s calling the new 5G research POWDER, which stands for Platform for Open Wireless Data-driven Experimental Research. 

The folks working on POWDER have implemented open-source software on top of an outdoor 5G radio network to conduct experiments on wireless technology. Those experiments include open radio access network (open RAN) technologies and other innovations in virtualized networking.

The infrastructure is built with common-off-the-shelf hardware. Open-source software that includes the Open Air Interface (OAI) 5G software stack runs on the radios. The OAI-based 5G network is available as a click-to-install software profile.

POWDER is using Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum, but other spectrum bands could also be used in the future.

“The POWDER 5G capabilities come layered on top of a sophisticated resource management platform and include access to backhaul connectivity,” stated the NSF announcement.

“We expect researchers and scientists not just from Utah, but across the country, to engage with the POWDER platform in the pursuit of a common open platform that will truly enable the adoption of 5G wireless and edge technologies for our nation and beyond,” said Margaret Martonosi, assistant director at the U.S. National Science Foundation.

POWDER is being used by researchers at the University of Utah, among others, and is also remotely accessible to researchers across the academic, government and private sectors.

Mari Silbey, PAWR program director, said, “The POWDER team has worked at the frontiers of both programmable hardware and open-source software development to create an advanced research environment. As a result, they have launched one of the only testbeds in the country with an outdoor, over-the-air, fully programmable 5G network.

The POWDER testbed has been fully programmable since its launch in 2019. Since that time, researchers have steadily contributed to a catalog of software profiles that enable a range of network environments.

NSF said that creating an open-source mobile broadband network has been the most difficult setup to achieve.

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