Taimoor UI Islam, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, has spent the last two and a half years working with Hongwei Zhang on the groundbreaking ARA wireless living lab.
ARA is an at-scale platform for advanced wireless research, being deployed across the Iowa State campus, Ames and surrounding research and producer farms as well as rural communities in central Iowa, spanning a rural area with diameter over 60km.
It serves as a wireless living lab for smart and connected rural communities, enabling the research and development of rural-focused wireless technologies that provide affordable, high-capacity connectivity to rural communities and industries such as agriculture, livestock and education.
Pakistan to Iowa
Before ARA, Islam was working in the industry in his native Pakistan before hearing about Iowa State’s graduate program from a visiting professor.
“I was more into problem-solving, and my work was feeling somewhat monotonous,” Islam said. “I didn’t get a chance to look into problems in detail, while leading a team of network operations. So when I heard about Iowa State and the ARA project, I decided to go for a Ph.D., and I reached out to Hongwei.”
ARA aligned right with his interests: working to solve networking and wireless communication problems and addressing the digital divide in rural areas. The struggle for connectivity could not only be seen in rural Iowa, but also in his home in Pakistan.
“Being from Pakistan, I recognize the problems of the digital divide; most rural areas are offline; I saw all those things, and this project called to me, and I thought I could help make a difference and address this divide,” Islam said.
He also saw all the applications rural connectivity could positively impact other industries, like agriculture, rural schools and livestock.
He has been working on all aspects of the ARA: designing, procurement, installation and connectivity along with all the other team members. This includes troubleshooting problems, working in the field with agriculture producers and monitoring all aspects of the project.
“This is the first of its kind, a living lab focusing on rural broadband,” Islam said. “It is really great working on this project. It gives me such a great opportunity to work with incredible people and interesting problems. I have been learning so much and this unique idea of rural broadband making a difference in the community is really satisfying.”