The White House released its $400 million Advanced Wireless Research Initiative, led by the National Science Foundation (NSF), to enable the use of four city-scale testing platforms for advanced wireless research.

“This effort will help spur innovation in many ways, from pushing the frontiers of telemedicine through robot-assisted remote surgeries, to testing of autonomous vehicles that talk to each other to keep us safe, to the rollout of smart manufacturing equipment in factories, to providing more connectivity for more people,” Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Affairs (CEA), and R. David Edelman, special assistant to the president for economic and technology policy, wrote in a blog post.

The initiative, announced Friday, builds on the Federal Communications Commission’s Spectrum Frontiers vote Thursday, which made the United States the first country to make large amounts of high-frequency millimeter wave spectrum available for both licensed and unlicensed use. This combined with the spectrum already available will ensure faster speeds, quicker response times, and increased capacity in future wireless networks.

“I have no doubt that what 5G becomes will go beyond what we can imagine today and it will be affected by the very kinds of activities that the Advanced Wireless Research Initiative makes possible,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “Yesterday’s vote at the commission, I said at the time, is probably the most important vote that the commission will take this year.”

These initiatives could bring advancements in technology including cellphones that can download movies in less than five seconds, emergency room doctors who can access live data from ambulances, vehicles that can communicate with the outside world to improve traffic, factories with equipment that can diagnose and repair itself before it breaks, gigabit-speed wireless broadband that can be available in public places, and virtual reality training simulators that can allow workers to demonstrate skills in high-demand fields such as solar energy installation from any setting.

Internet access provides significant economic benefits such as improving labor market outcomes for Internet users and providing access to better health care. Unemployed people can achieve faster re-employment by searching online for jobs, according to a CEA report.

“Innovation is a key driver of productivity growth, and productivity growth will help to raise living standards and wages,” wrote Furman and Edelman. “These policies are designed to enable Americans of all backgrounds to participate—and innovate—in our increasingly digital economy, both driving productivity growth and sharing in its benefits.”

The initiative expects there to be 50 billion connected devices globally by 2020, which will consume greater amounts of data. The Federal government hopes to aid this progression by opening up more spectrum.

Along with these efforts, the government is coordinating its goals with other agencies. The NSF is announcing one prize challenge focused on providing wireless Internet access to areas after a disaster and another prize challenge focused on providing low-cost seamless connectivity in urban areas. The NSF and the Academy of Finland is participating in a jointly funded research project that will provide tools for the design and analysis of wireless communication systems and networks. Intel Labs is developing the ability to process large amounts of information with response times of less than one millisecond. The agencies will also begin workshops on topics including international expertise in wireless research testing and ultra-low latency networks.

More than 20 private corporations including AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon have pledged $35 million to support the wireless testing platforms. These companies will also provide design support, technical networking expertise, networking hardware, and wireless network testing and measurement equipment.

“So we’ve set sail,” Wheeler said. “The future is within our grasp. The Advanced Wireless Research Initiative is going to help define what that future looks like.”

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Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.