Purdue's smart city microcosm includes CBRS, neutral host fiber network 

By Martha DeGrasse

Municipal leaders worldwide are educating themselves about the potential of wireless connectivity, sensors and artificial intelligence to make their cities safer, cleaner, richer and easier to navigate. But when it comes to actually implementing new technology, many are challenged by integration with existing systems, networks and processes. 

This was not a problem for David Broecker, chief innovation and commercial officer at Purdue Research Foundation (PRF). He was able to start with a clean slate when developing connectivity solutions for Discovery Park, a greenfield smart city microcosm conceived by Purdue University president Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr.

Discovery Park is a 400-acre parcel of the campus managed by PRF, which is investing in cutting edge technology with the goals of attracting corporate partners and academic researchers, and of building the economy of West Lafayette, Indiana. 

“We will have advanced manufacturing, retail, residential, professional offices and a micro-hospital,” said Broecker, “The airport is also coming onto our platform. Essentially it is a miniature version of what you’d see in any metropolitan area.”

Tilson is the neutral host fiber provider for Discovery Park. Before most of the buildings were constructed, the company built an edge data center and ran 15 miles of underground fiber, Broecker said. Now three ISPs (Haywire, Wintek and Metronet) lease fiber from Tilson and provide internet connectivity to the growing community. 

For dedicated wireless connectivity, Discovery Park is building a private CBRS network. Celona has installed a CBRS radio atop a building called the Convergence Center, and Broecker says it propagates roughly 1.25 miles in all directions. There are 15 access points distributed throughout the building. “With Wi-Fi, we’d need five times as many APs,” Broecker estimated. 

The network is “5G fast,” Broecker said, adding that his team is currently working with Celona on network slicing so that different companies could potentially use 5G for specific use cases with guaranteed SLAs. Rolls Royce and Schweitzer Engineering Labs have already opened facilities in Discovery Park, and Saab Aviation is on the way. In addition, St. Vincent’s/Ascension Health has opened a micro-hospital at PRF, and SkyWater is launching a small semiconductor fab there. 

PRF uses the Federated Wireless Spectrum Access System through a partnership with SBA Communications. Currently PRF accesses the shared spectrum under General Authorized Access (GAA), but is in negotiations with Priority Access License (PAL) license holders in the area. 

SBAC also helped Purdue set up a private network to connect students in a nearby school district during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using CBRS spectrum owned by Watch Communications, along with government and private donor funding, PRF’s team installed an Ericsson radio atop an SBA tower. Broecker said the coverage area was approximately five square miles. Students were given home gateways to convert the CBRS signal to Wi-Fi.


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Currently, about 500 people live in Discovery Park. Many of them were recruited through a program called “Work from Purdue” which invited remote workers to relocate to Indiana. Broecker projects 5,000 – 7,000 people will ultimately move to the district, and he wonders about the role CBRS will play in their lives.

“Some phones have CBRS in them but how do you prioritize it?” he said. “You don’t want to have to swap a SIM.” Broecker would like to see public carriers or other service providers move smartphones onto the PRF private network automatically.

Students at Purdue University could also be big beneficiaries of the private network, Broecker predicted. The university is welcoming a record incoming class of 50,000 this year, and Broecker knows they will have an insatiable appetite for high-speed data. 5G can also support augmented reality and virtual reality in classroom settings. “Purdue is looking at ways to create a virtual world,” he said.

In the real world, Purdue Research Foundation is already developing a futuristic community built on high-speed connectivity. “Startups and large companies are coming,” said Broecker. “What we are excited about is starting to create something that becomes like a magnet for companies trying to advance technology.”