What do the 2002 Olympics, University of Utah, and commercial off the shelf hardware (COTS) testing have to do with 5G in Salt Lake City? Well, it’s quite a story. Give us a few minutes and you will see how Utah’s capital city is positioned to be a leader, and how your company HQ can benefit. As always, we welcome your comments and feedback.

Recently we had the opportunity to interview Andrew Buffmire, Research Corporate Ambassador working with advanced technologies in the College of Engineering at the University of Utah. Mr. Buffmire helped develop industry support for the U of U’s $25m grant program awarded by the National Science Foundation, a highly competitive race among our country’s top research universities that we share with Houston’s Rice University. The win helped build a Platform for Advanced Wireless Research covering the U of U, residential areas of Salt Lake City and the downtown business district.  

We’re grateful for the University of Utah’s leadership with POWDER (Platform for Open Wireless Data-driven Experimental Research) and the university’s  vision to see the technology develop in a way that establishes our City as a worldwide 5G leader.  

The program is deploying experimental, next-generation 5G wireless networking from the university to the downtown core of the city, bringing future opportunity – as witnessed with 4G, that will enable a new generation of innovative products, services, and promising new markets.

Pretty impressive, right?

So how did Salt Lake City win this grant? And what can we do to help our businesses secure first mover advantage?

To qualify, you had to be a major research university paired with a city.  In this instance, the U of U and Salt Lake City.  The proposal had to be for an outside-the-laboratory testbed to support the research required for U.S. leadership in 5G development. Commencing with its legacy as one of the four original universities on the Arpanet, the predecessor to the internet, the U of U has a multi-decade history in advanced telecommunication testbeds and research.  Salt Lake City also has a unique role as a leader in technology and in global movements such as the Olympics.  Adding industry supporters like Intel, Dell, Atos and others seeking an advanced university 5G platform to test new technologies, security protocols, spectrum management, augmented and virtual reality and network edge intelligence, the approach won.

Atos? Doesn’t ring a bell?

Atos, headquartered in Paris France with a hundred thousand employees, is a major global player and the primary supporter of the back-office infrastructure for the Olympics. They built the system for the management of the 2002 Olympics in Utah. When the university team approached them saying that the University of Utah along with Salt Lake City would like to build a platform that could be the test bed for the Olympics of the future, they were in.

About that Test Bed

5G is a massive change from 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution). 5G will be 100X the data rates of our current wireless networks. It will be much faster and more importantly, provide significantly lower latency or delay in the data and information being delivered on the 5G Network. Where 4G created companies like Uber or Lyft, 5G will support new businesses and models like autonomous vehicles, autonomous robots, drones, drone deliveries, and more.

You can do things at distances that you could never do before. For example, having the ability to do remote surgery where you’re not just seeing the picture of what the surgeon is doing. You are feeling the surface.  What’s more, 5G intelligence is going to move to the edge of the network. If something goes awry with an autonomous vehicle or operation – let’s say you’re driving along at 70 mph and a deer jumps in front of the car, you’re not going to the cloud and back. There is no time. With 5G, the technology now moves onboard with overall management handled by a comprehensive 5G platform.

Salt Lake City is now the leading location for the development of new wireless data compression algorithms, new waveforms, new transmission protocols and enhanced 5G network applications. With an initial 8 cell sites at the university campus and 10 fixed end points to be followed by more cell sites in the city and an advanced MIMO (Multi-in, Multi-out) overlay network, if you’re a researcher, you can come to Salt Lake City and use POWDER to research new advanced wireless technologies, capabilities and approaches.

One of the key elements making the Salt Lake City testbed a unique model for commercial off the shelf hardware (COTS) testing is its use of standard computer equipment with a software defined architecture.

Contrast that with the direction of China’s Huawei or Europe’s Ericsson or Nokia, where you have embedded software with 5G capabilities, the software upgrades are tied to their platforms over the course of time. Buffmire says, “Once you have made that leap, you’re stuck.” He calls POWDER the ‘Huawei killer’. He continues, “Not only does it open up the platform, but we decrease the cost because you’re now using standard hardware.”

What about the applications that would ride on top of a 5G commercial network?

Buffmire agrees, the real value to startup growth is going to be the apps on top of the network. Now that Salt Lake City is in a leadership position in in the basic technology and research, we have the opportunity to develop the new network applications that will establish global leadership in the integrated wireless economies of the future. 

With Salt Lake City’s terrain types, building sizes, and densities, it makes for a dynamic environment in which to perform real experiments. Within the area, there will be dozens of fixed stations and a hundred couriers, such as buses and utility vehicles, carrying mobile devices around the city. The result is that Salt Lake City will be transformed into a “living lab” for research in mobile wireless networking. For that reason alone ‘smart city’ development is an immediate area with potential. With over 1,400 municipalities looking to simplify vendor overload, Salt Lake City will provide a test bed for potential category leaders.  


With projections as high as 200 billion dollars for infill infrastructure of 5G, completion is far out on the horizon. What opportunities exist now?

A form of 5G being developed right now, which Buffmire recommends as a focus for Utah, both as an equity and economic development engine, is called private LTE or ‘Private 5G’ (Which has the support of half a billion in Silicon Valley venture capital research at the moment). It provides real world solutions for companies and industries that are really wanting to integrate their systems and processes and machines wirelessly. With WI-FI being overcrowded as it is today, a private 5G with the same enterprise system would provide advanced wireless infrastructure without the latency drag. It is the future for Supply Chain management – an area Buffmire advises as a top consideration with the inland port.

5G networks offer manufacturers and telecom ‘smart factory’ realization – from automation to artificial intelligence. Buffmire explained the benefit of remote manufacturing as a service – where parts manufacturing could now be maintained on site physically while software on a private 5G network provided access to the vendor.

Salt Lake City is at the forefront of the development of 5G. It is a generational opportunity for the University of Utah and our community. We are ready to help support the growth. If you are looking for more information on 5G research and development for your business, we’re happy to help connect you with the resources to make it happen. Reach out to Technology and Innovation Advisor Clark Cahoon at clark.cahoon@slcgov.com or visit slc.gov/ed.