RALEIGH – The Federal Communications Commission officially awarded and designated innovation zone status to an existing site in and nearby North Carolina State University on Thursday.

Innovation zones are created so that qualified licensees — such as North Carolina State University, which operates the existing site that was a part of the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a consortium of 35 wireless companies — can test advanced technologies beyond the boundaries of a college or university campus or laboratory facility, the FCC said.

The confirmatio followed up on a proposal announced last month.

“These Innovation Zones will support cutting-edge research and development that is crucial for advancing our wireless leadership,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in July.

Innovation zones may also allow for the testing of prototype networks, the FCC statement noted, “including Open RAN [radio access network] as well as those that can support 5G technologies.”

Raleigh’s innovation zone will focus on new use cases for drones, and wireless communications, according to the FCC, and the innovation zone will include Aerial Experimentation and Research Platform for Advanced Wireless (AERPAW).

“Access to spectrum is critical for conducting meaningful wireless research and ensuring that we can continue to advance our capabilities in 5G networks and beyond,” said Mari Silbey, Program Director, PAWR Project Office, in a statement shared with WRAL TechWire.  “Whether it’s investigating new ways to automate functions in the network, understanding how to maximize link performance, or testing new Open RAN interfaces and orchestration software, the availability of spectrum propels research forward and makes it possible for innovators to move beyond the lab and out into the real world.”


FCC designates Raleigh as ‘Innovation Zone’ in boost for data, drone efforts


Here is what the FCC said about the Raleigh innovation zone in July:

“AERPAW will focus on how cellular networks and advanced wireless technologies can enable beyond visual line-of-sight unmanned aerial systems to accelerate development, verification, and testing of transformative advances and breakthroughs in telecommunications, transportation, infrastructure monitoring, agriculture, and public safety.  The AERPAW testbed will be the first platform to allow testing at scale of open 5G-and-beyond solutions in unmanned aerial system verticals.”

A site in Boston was also named an innovation zone by the FCC.  Salt Lake City and New York City also have innovation zone sites.

Tom Snyder, executive director of RIoT, told WRAL TechWire in July that if approved, the designation of an innovation zone “makes it even easier for industry and academic collaborators to run pilot projects and studies in our area.”

“This FCC designation is yet another proof point our region is a global center of excellence for data collection, wireless communication and data analytics, which are the primary components of the Data Economy,” Snyder said.  “It provides early access ability to test not only new technologies, but also new use cases across all industry sectors.  This helps draw collaborators from across the globe to work here in Raleigh and the surrounding communities.”

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