Northeastern University was designated as a Spectrum Innovation Zone by the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday, a status that will afford researchers at the university new opportunities to build and test the next generation of wireless technology.
Members of the FCC voted 4-0 to create Innovation Zones at Northeastern’s campuses in Boston and Burlington, Massachusetts, establishing the university as the fourth such hub in the United States.
“This designation consolidates Northeastern University’s role as a leader and innovator of wireless research,” said Tommaso Melodia, who is the William
Lincoln Smith Chair Professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern, as well as director of the Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things.
The university joins Raleigh, North Carolina; New York City; and Salt Lake City in conducting groundbreaking research of 5G, 6G, and other wireless modalities. The work is supported by the National Science Foundation through its Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research.
“This is a big deal,” FCC acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel said at Thursday’s meeting to approve the zone. “History tells us when you give innovators in the United States sandboxes to test new ideas, good things follow.”
The Northeastern University Innovation Zone is the first to enable experimentation for wireless communications and sensing technologies above 100 gigahertz, including a frequency band that “is crucial for the development of 6G technologies,” Melodia said.
Such designation by the FCC streamlines the experimentation process so that researchers can quickly test a broader range of wireless capabilities.
Northeastern is a leader in wireless research because it houses a massive data center known as Colosseum. It’s the world’s most powerful emulator of wireless systems and can process more information in one second than is estimated to be held in the entire print collection of the Library of Congress.
Originally designed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Colosseum is capable of creating virtual environments that have hundreds of wireless signals hurtling through them. Those conduits will enable researchers to understand how the signals interact, develop artificial intelligence algorithms that allow more devices to share the wireless space, and design ways to protect the system from attackers.
Researchers at the Northeastern University Innovation Zone will support the transition of the Colosseum network emulator to a shared platform, where it will be usable by researchers everywhere, according to the FCC.