Central Iowa

Wireless Living Lab for Smart and Connected Rural Communities

Platform Now in General Availability for Research

ARA has launched! View the September 6 announcement and stay tuned for more details.

ARA is establishing its wireless living lab across Iowa State University, the city of Ames, and surrounding farms and rural communities in Central Iowa. With a deeply programmable infrastructure, ARA features a wide range of wireless technologies as well as an application focus on precision agriculture in both crop and livestock farms.

ARA is based out of Iowa State University where a team of researchers including students are working in close collaboration with state, community, and industry partners. Select partners include the Iowa Communications Network (ICN), Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT), Iowa Statewide Interoperable Communications System (ISICS), Iowa Regional Utilities Association (IRUA), Iowa Communications Alliance, city of Ames, Story County, local school districts, Meskwaki Tribal Nation, Woodland Farms, U.S. Cellular, Collins Aerospace, and John Deere. Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, Ohio State University, and International Computer Science Institute are also key members of the project team.




ARA Interactive Coverage Area Map – Click icon at top left for details



View the architecture diagram here.

Click to enlarge




Open Source NextG 

While 5G is increasingly being deployed across the world and research in 6G is gaining momentum, realizing the vision of next-generation (NextG) wireless services such as ultra-reliable, low-latency communications (URLLC) for control and extended reality (XR) applications requires radical innovations across the whole network stack from the physical layer to MAC layer and above and end-to-end across radio access networks and core networks. In addition, the emergence of open-source 5G platforms such as OpenAirInterface and srsRAN enables whole-stack programmability and end-to-end softwarization of cellular systems from user equipment (UE) to base stations and core networks. For whole-stack, end-to-end research and innovation in NextG and for fully-programmable, over-the-air experimentation, ARA features at-scale deployment of advanced software-defined radios (SDRs) both indoor and in outdoor, real-world agriculture and rural settings, as shown in the figures below.


O-RAN holds a great potential for enabling intelligent, open, virtualized, and fully interoperable mobile networks. While great progress had been made in O-RAN standardization and O-RAN compliant solutions have started to emerge, much efforts are needed to further develop the O-RAN architecture and to test and integrate emerging O-RAN solutions before O-RAN is capable of delivering advanced NextG services such as ultra-reliable, low-latency communications for control and extended reality (XR) applications. With its support for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) experiments and its end-to-end, fully-programmable SDR infrastructures both indoor and outdoor, ARA enables a wide range of O-RAN research and innovation in real-world application settings. O-RAN experiments will also be supported in part by the ARA OTIC.

Spectrum Innovation

Wireless spectrum innovation is paramount for addressing the unique challenges of rural broadband access. Not just the government; even researchers from industry and academia are interested in developing dynamic spectrum-sharing solutions. Many researchers face issues when trying out new algorithms and solutions for dynamic spectrum sharing. Researchers often end up doing indoor testing because of the complexities revolving around getting the experimenter’s license to access the wireless spectrum, and sometimes, most of these researchers don’t have the right platform and hardware to mimic real-world scenarios. This is where ARA comes in; the widespread footprint of the ARA platform that is spread around the coverage area of around 60 km2 comes with a less congested spectrum in rural areas that allows for experimentation with dynamic spectrum sharing, optimizing resource utilization. ARA exhibits extensive spectrum coverage, ranging from low-UHF to mmWave frequencies. SDR platforms like Skylark and USRP cover diverse bands, while COTS platforms span from optical to low-UHF frequencies. This comprehensive spectrum capability enables research in spectrum innovation, fostering experiments such as spectrum sensing and dynamic sharing.

Wireless X-Haul

ARA features a first-of-its-kind wireless x-haul infrastructure known as AraHaul, consisting of microwave, mmWave, and free-space-optical (FSO) wireless x-haul links. This multi-modal, long-distance, and high capacity wireless x-haul infrastructure operates across diverse frequency bands. The microwave, mmWave, and FSO links operate at 11 GHz, 71-86 GHz, 191 THz respectively. These links offer high communication capacity up to 160+ Gbps across distances up to 15+ km, holding the potential of providing fiber-like capacity without having to lay fibers and thus particularly suitable for rural regions as well as high-capacity NextG backhaul.




Real-Time Liquid Wireless Transport for Video Streaming in Rural and Agricultural Applications
Published 2024, ACM Mile High Video (MHV)
E. K. A. Permatasari, E. Gosling, M. Nadim, S. Babu, D. Qiao, H. Zhang, M. Luby, J. W. Byers, L. Minder, and P. Aggrawal

Exploring Wireless Channels in Rural Areas: A Comprehensive Measurement Study
Published 2023, IEEE Future Networks World Forum (FNWF) (Best Paper Honorable Mention)
Tianyi Zhang, Guoying Zu, Taimoor Ul Islam, Evan Gossling, Sarath Babu, Daji Qiao, Hongwei Zhang



Click here to visit the ARA website.

Click to view a video of the ARA selection event.

ARA is part of the National Science Foundation’s PAWR program, and is funded in part by NSF, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), and by the PAWR Industry Consortium