Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) researchers had some unusual coworkers during some recent fieldwork – cows. 

“We were in the hay storage area on the top floor of the [Virginia Tech] Animal Husbandry Barn,” said Joao Santos, a CCI postdoctoral researcher from Virginia Tech. “We are attempting to deploy one of our outdoor wireless nodes right there on the top of the barn.”

Santos was one of several CCI researchers who recently hopped into a Gator utility vehicle with an antenna and spectrum analyzer to drive the Blacksburg campus and advance the university’s first private mobile network. 

The network should roll out this summer and will be deployed around Stroubles Creek to service such public safety applications as flood sensors and closed-circuit television cameras along with smart agriculture applications. 

“The network is based on Citizens Broadband Radio Service and will add a crucial outdoor component to the CCI xG Testbed, allowing our researchers to test security solutions to be incorporated in the next generation of mobile networks,” said Luiz DaSilva, CCI executive director.

The CCI xG Testbed enables the design to deployment of next generation mobile networks and is built on open standards to allow experimentation before products appear on the market.

Santos and CCI graduate research assistants Oren Collaco and Asheesh Tripathi brought equipment from the CCI hub at the Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington to analyze the electromagnetic field and ensure the entire Stroubles Creek region can be covered. A poor electromagnetic field strength in this context would mean a smaller coverage area for sensors and smart farming devices.

Researchers used a spectrum analyzer to inspect the electromagnetic environment. The spectrum analyzer also can visualize existing networks and how powerful they are, allowing them to decide which channel to use to avoid interference.

A commercial-grade Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CRBS) antenna, contained in the utility vehicle bed, was connected to a portable spectrum analyzers to capture realistic measurements in the CBRS band. 

The researchers visited three locations – the Human and Agricultural Biosciences Building 1, Hahn Hall North, and the Animal Husbandry Barn. They envision deploying the outdoor wireless nodes — weatherproof enclosures with servers and software-defined radios — close to the antennas at those sites, said Santos.

It could be tough going. “We needed to climb to the top of the Hahn Hall South and squeeze through a series of nooks and crannies around their industrial rooftop HVAC, to finally reach the site location on top of the Hahn Hall North,” Santos said.

But it won’t be tough for the cattle. 

No cows will be harmed as part of our deployment, Santos said, as the antennas will generate non-ionizing radiation, at power levels much lower than Federal Communications Commission limits.  

CCI is a statewide network of 41 Virginia public universities and colleges and includes more than 300 researchers focused on cybersecurity, autonomous systems, and intelligence. Virginia Tech plays a leadership role, serving as the headquarters for the CCI Hub and as the lead institution for the Southwest Virginia region.

CCI researchers setting up equipment in the back of a farm utility vehicle.

CCI researchers capture realistic measurements in the CBRS band through a commercial-grade CBRS antenna that’s connected to a spectrum analyzer. The antenna is enclosed in a white weatherproof plastic tube.
CCI researchers capture realistic measurements in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service band through a commercial-grade antenna that’s connected to a spectrum analyzer. The antenna is enclosed in a white weatherproof plastic tube.
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