Illustration of a city scene with 5G towers

Big on Gigs

College Helping UT Collaborate with AT&T on 5G Technology

By David Goddard.

In the world of technology, few things have driven conversation more in the last few years than 5G technology and what it could mean for users.

UT is poised to play a role in how 5G and its successors are utilized, helping to address some of the main concerns about the technology in the process thanks to an agreement with communications giant AT&T that will establish a 5G+ presence, including a testbed, on campus.

The Tickle College of Engineering is a big part of the project, with Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Ozlem Kilic serving as a lead. She spoke about the impact of 5G and what it can mean for the state and its flagship campus alike.

“Customized and smart systems will be at our fingertips connecting all devices surrounding us, and instantly processing and optimizing information touching everything we do as an individual, community, society, and more,” she said. “This collaboration with AT&T provides our research and education community at UT a platform to collaborate across disciplines to address societal needs and improve quality of life at all fronts.”

An oft-repeated concern about 5G technology is the possibility that it might increase the urban–rural divide, since it uses towers that are fundamentally different than those used by 4G and requires more towers to provide the same coverage. A key point of interest for UT is providing 5G to rural areas in ways that improve opportunities and outcomes for those areas.

For example, diminishing health care and education opportunities could be offset by telehealth and remote learning initiatives, while industries like nuclear energy production that require keeping areas off-limits to human interaction could be explored and controlled virtually.

We are excited to bring the expertise and talent of our faculty together with the capabilities of an industry leader like AT&T to solve real world problems. Our relationship will not only provide a better network on our campus for students, faculty, and staff, but it will also create opportunities for innovation and collaboration that could change the lives of Tennesseans.”

—Chancellor Donde Plowman

Even agriculture—important enough to Tennessee to be featured on the state seal—could benefit by real-time analysis and monitoring of things like crop health and soil fertility and hydration.

Professor Aly Fathy, who, like Kilic, is from the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is also pursuing uses of 5G that go far beyond communications.

The ability to use 5G technology to “see” through walls and other barriers holds obvious promise for things like defense and security forces where knowing the location of others is critical to your own safety, but it can also be used to help improve the safety of others.

“It could be a very critical technology in fields related to securing lives,” said Fathy. “That could be everything from finding survivors after earthquakes or building collapses to monitoring the safety of prisoners.”

Jason Porter, president of AT&T Public Sector and FirstNet, said bringing AT&T 5G to UT’s already robust research community opens the door to explore new possibilities, develop innovative solutions to real-world problems, and further ambitions to make a positive and productive impact on society.

Taken together, the project’s benefits position UT as a key player in everything from health care to national security while strengthening research opportunities for students and faculty.

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