Source: University of Tennessee-Knoxville News | Release | August 17, 2021

UT graduate student Chandler Bauder examining a wideband antenna for testing in an anechoic chamber that will be used extensively in the proposed 5G antennas evaluation.

UT graduate student Chandler Bauder examining a wideband antenna for testing in an anechoic chamber that will be used extensively in the proposed 5G antennas evaluation.

In the world of technology, there have been few things that have driven conversation more in the past few years than 5G technology and what it could mean for users.

Now the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is poised to play a role in how 5G and its successors are utilized, helping to address some of the main concerns about the technology in the process thanks to an agreement with communications giant AT&T that will establish a 5G+ presence on campus, including a test bed.

“We are excited to bring the expertise and talent of our faculty together with the capabilities of an industry leader like AT&T to solve real-world problems,” said Chancellor Donde Plowman. “Our relationship will not only provide a better network on our campus for students, faculty, and staff, but it will also create opportunities for innovation and collaboration that could change the lives of Tennesseans.”

One of the oft-repeated concerns about 5G technology is the fear that it may increase the urban–rural divide since the towers are fundamentally different than those used by 4G, requiring more towers in an area to provide coverage for the same space.

A key point of interest for UT is providing 5G to rural areas, and doing so in ways that improve opportunities and outcomes for those areas.

For example, diminishing health care and education opportunities could be offset by telehealth and remote learning initiatives, while industries like nuclear energy production that have areas off-limits to human interaction due to the nature of their operation could be explored and controlled virtually.

Even agriculture—a field important enough to Tennessee to be featured on the state seal—could benefit from real-time analysis and monitoring of things like crop health and soil fertility and hydration.

“Access to ultra-fast 5G technology is critical to Tennessee’s economic future and for business and Tennesseans alike,” said Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally. “This work with AT&T and the University of Tennessee is another step in setting the groundwork for future capabilities that will help unlock new economic development opportunities for Tennessee.”

Ozlem-Kilic
Kilic

Tickle College of Engineering Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Ozlem Kilic, a lead on the project, elaborated further on the impact of 5G and what it can mean for the state and its flagship campus alike.

“Customized and smart systems will be at our fingertips, connecting all devices surrounding us and instantly processing and optimizing information touching everything we do as an individual, community, society, and more,” said Kilic. “This collaboration with AT&T provides our research and education community at UT a platform to collaborate across disciplines to address societal needs and improve quality of life at all fronts.”

Professor Aly Fathy, who, like Kilic, serves on the faculty of the college’s Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is also pursuing uses of 5G that go far beyond communications.

The ability to use 5G technology to “see” through walls and other barriers holds obvious promise for things like defense and security forces where knowing the location of others is critical to your own safety, but it can also be used to help improve the safety of others.

Aly Fathy poses for a headshot against a beige background. He is a white male wearing a beige suit and dress shirt with a tie.
Fathy

“It could be a very critical technology in fields related to securing lives,” said Fathy. “That could be everything from finding survivors after earthquakes or building collapses to monitoring the safety of prisoners.”

Taken together, these considerations position UT as a key player in everything from health care to national security while strengthening research opportunities for students and faculty in the process.

Jason Porter, President of AT&T Public Sector and FirstNet, said bringing AT&T 5G to UT’s already robust research community opens the door to explore new possibilities, develop innovative solutions to real-world problems, and further ambitions to make a positive and productive impact on society.

“The possibilities are wide open with 5G, and we look forward to delivering the capabilities that will power the innovative solutions and applications that the students, faculty, and other researchers develop,” he said.

Joelle Phillips, President of AT&T Tennessee, said, “The men and women of AT&T Tennessee are turning billions of dollars of investments into high-speed connections for businesses and residents across the state, and with this announcement the staff and students at UT will have access to technology capable of unforeseen innovation. This investment is possible thanks to the positive pro-investment policies pursued by Tennessee’s legislative leadership, who created a regulatory environment welcoming of next-generation networks.”