Wisconsin Wireless and NetworkinG Systems (WiNGS) Laboratory
What is WiNEST?
This project proposes to develop, deploy, operate and manage a 1,236 sq. mile county-scale 5G-focused infrastructure, called WiNEST, in Oneida county. WiNEST stands for a Wireless infrastructure to support Novel Experimentation that Sustains and Transforms rural communities. The efforts are supported via an academia-government-industry collaboration that includes researchers/technology leaders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University. of Washington Seattle, and University of California San Diego; city and county partners across Oneida County; a farming community and ecology focused departments.
The rural divide and Oneida county
The technological gap between rural and urban population centers has been increasing for several years now. The difference in internet access speeds available to a rural communities is becoming orders of magnitudes slower than what urban population centers are gaining access to. Rolling out high capacity networks in rural areas in a cost effective manner is always a challenge owing to the sparse population across a spread out region. Solutions common in dense urban areas, e.g., deployment of fiber infrastructure to curbside, are not practical in such rural settings. Often service providers rely on use of wireless-based backhauls to accomplish connectivity and backhaul goals. However, technologies common for wireless backhauls today still cannot accomplish the desired level of coverage or capacity.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) revised the definition of broadband in 2016 as connections with at least a 25 Mbps downlink and a 3 Mbps uplink. In its 2016 report, the FCC concluded that while only 4% of urban areas lacked access to broadband services as per the above definition, about 39% of the rural areas lacked the same. The statistic is even worse for rural populations living in tribal lands of the US, where 68% of the population lacks suitable broadband access.
The goal of this PAWR project is to create a platform that allows experimentation around 5G-based connectivity technologies, applications, and services that serves the broad needs of rural communities prevalent across the US today. To meet this goal, this project has established a close partnership with Oneida county, Wisconsin, which has many challenges — social, economic, and technological — that mirror many other rural counties and communities across the US.
Oneida County, located roughly 200 miles north of Madison, Wisconsin, is known for its vast boreal forests, part of the Northwoods of the US, wilderness rivers, and thousands of glacial lakes. The county spreads across 1,236 square miles, including 123 square miles of water bodies that attracts a large number of recreational tourists, mostly during the summer months. Oneida’s sparse population of about 36,000 (as per the 2010 US census), is older than the US national average. Persons aged 65 of older make up 3.5% of the population, while 9.7% of the population below 65 have a disability, as per 2010 US Census. In particular, there is a significantly lower population of millenials (those aged between 20 and 35) in the county. The county is also home to number Indian tribes that are federally recognized, one of which (Mole Lake tribe) is a partner to the WiNEST project.
The wild landscape, dense coniferous vegetation, and population sparsity makes it challenging to achieve quality broadband performance across the county. The local communities believe that the lack of uniform broadband availability contributes to limited job opportunities in the county, that in turns drives away millenials and other younger working professionals, creating a negative economic cycle. We believe that Oneida can is partner with this county as this challenge provides us as a unique opportunity to explore how technology can potentially turn the tide in such communities.
There is a lot of research in natural resources that have to be conducted with a lot of overhead to just collect the data. Many researchers we’ve spoken to have sensors deployed connected to data loggers that require physically going out to each location to gather the data from a removable storage device. This can be quite time consuming and even require the use of volunteers to help in the data collection. The necessity of this is due to the lack of connectivity in the rural areas where they do their research.