AT&T and University of Connecticut to launch private 5G network

The University of Connecticut says it hopes to develop immersive classrooms after its private 5G network goes live. (University of Connecticut)

AT&T is adding the University of Connecticut to its list of 5G partners and customers in the higher education space. The carrier is building a private 5G network using mmWave spectrum at the University of Connecticut's Stamford campus. Along with multi-access edge compute (MEC) servers installed on campus, the network will support new programs for students studying data science and entrepreneurship. 

"If we want to train the best and the brightest, now and into the future, we have to have the strongest assets at our fingertips, and 5G is a big part of that," said Terrence Cheng, technology director at UConn-Stamford, in a webcast. "5G is going to allow us to evolve and to grow the curriculum that we offer."

Among the first academic focus areas enabled by the private network will be a data science technology incubator, and an entrepreneurship program that helps students create products for the real estate and construction industries. UConn anticipates working with regional companies to expand student experiences and opportunities and to help companies in the area learn about 5G.

"We work with many corporate, community and non-profit partners, and oftentimes we will share resources," said Cheng. "So ultimately this will have a domino effect and a long-term positive impact."

“5G is a real game-changer. Access to ultra-fast wireless speeds is critical to our economic future for business and residents of our state,” said Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont. Lamont has been a longtime 5G advocate and has signed legislation meant to streamline municipal small cell deployments in support of 5G. His support was instrumental in directing state funding toward the development of UConn's 5G network, according to Cheng. 

Other universities working with AT&T to install 5G on campus include the University of Missouri, Purdue and the University of Miami. The University of Missouri created a 5G lab and a class devoted to the study of 5G and 5G use cases. Purdue and AT&T developed a 5G testbed. And at the University of Miami, AT&T started deploying "5G zones" more than a year ago to allow students to use 5G and MEC with virtual reality headsets made by Magic Leap.

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AT&T has said that there are many unknowns when it comes to the potential of 5G and how businesses may ultimately monetize the technology. That's one of the reasons the carrier wants to work with universities to learn more about what 5G can do.

"Because there is so much yet to learn about the future of 5G, the environment is ripe for higher education to fill the need with funded research, public private partnerships and wireless testbeds," said Matt Hickey, AT&T VP for public sector, education and FirstNet marketing. Hickey spoke late last year when AT&T announced the Purdue testbed.

Ultimately, AT&T and its competitors want to develop private 5G networks that corporate customers will pay for, either as a capital investment, an ongoing service, or both. Networks like the one at UConn-Stamford could serve as prototypes for corporate 5G networks of the future. Some types of businesses that might be target private network customers, such as hotels or eldercare facilities, could look to a campus network as an example.