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Va. Tech ups connectivity with broadband block buy

In an effort to literally expand Virginia Tech’s research bandwidth, the Virginia Tech Foundation bought eight blocks of Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in the Federal Communications Commission’s auction this summer.

As owner of priority access licenses (PALs) for four 10MHz blocks in Montgomery County and four blocks in Craig County, the university will likely use the spectrum to create a private 4G/LTE network and, later, a private 5G/LTE network for use on campus, according to Scott Midkiff, vice president for information technology at the university. “It’s not to make phone calls,” he explains. “It’s primarily for data.”

The FCC decided in 2015 to share the midband spectrum — widely thought to be ideal for 5G service — for commercial use, prompting the auction. Previously, the band was limited to satellite operators and federal agencies. Virginia Tech can use the spectrum for “research opportunities, things that we can do for our own operations, primarily on campus, and then opportunities for partnerships to work with local government and with commercial entities,” Midkiff says.

Although many bidders were mobile phone and cable service providers, Virginia Tech was joined in its purchases by the University of Virginia Foundation, which paid $118,200 for six licenses, and Texas A&M University, which paid $39,000 for one license. In Arlington and Alexandria, developer JBG Smith purchased seven licenses to build a 5G network in the Arlington area where Amazon.com Inc. is building its $2.5 billion East Coast HQ2 headquarters.

The CBRS band is particularly well-suited for applications related to the internet of things, a term referring to internet-connected devices capable of sending and receiving data. Virginia Tech may use the wireless LTE network to connect surveillance cameras, Midkiff says, instead of the hardwired ethernet cables currently in use.

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