IEEE Talks 5G: An interview with the co-leaders of the IEEE 5G Initiative

Ashutosh Dutta croppedg fettweisNovember 2016

Ashutosh Dutta and Gerhard Fettweis are co-chairs of the IEEE Future Directions 5G Initiative and both are members of the IEEE Communications Society. In the private sector, Dutta currently serves as Lead Member of Technical Staff at AT&T. Fettweis serves as Senior Research Scientist at the International Computer Science Institute and as Vodafone Chair Professor at Dresden University of Technology. In this interview, the two scientists discuss the topic of 5G and its opportunities and challenges. 

Question: What is 5G and why has IEEE Future Directions created an initiative based on it?

 Dutta: 5G is the next-generation mobile telecom technology and it will represent a revolutionary leap over 4G capabilities in terms of greater data speeds, lower latency, massive sensing, and network flexibility. 5G, when fully realized, will enable sensational applications. 5G will connect people with other people, with the cloud, devices, networks of devices, networks of networks at speeds and with network advancements that will enable the Internet of Things, Augmented Reality – the big picture is really big.

As a convening authority with global reach and an impartial approach, the IEEE and its Future Directions program is building a community of professionals in industry, academia and policy to solve the challenges associated with 5G. The Initiative in collaboration with the IEEE Communications Society and IEEE Standards Association has been sponsoring a series of 5G Summits around the world – in the United States, Canada, India, Denmark, Germany, China – to develop a global understanding of our diverse and disparate needs and challenges in this area. Through the summits and other efforts, we are building a global 5G community to foster collaboration on all things 5G. And we are encouraging the participation of industry to anticipate and shape applications in many industries and markets. The Initiative provides this community with access to extensive resources including publications, webinars, workshops, and conferences. We have also formed a Technical Community that will help members stay at the forefront of the research, development, planning, and deployment of 5G. This Initiative is multi-disciplinary and therefore driven by multiple IEEE technical societies. In the case of the IEEE Future Directions 5G Initiative, we have at least 10 sponsoring societies.

Question: What are the opportunities and challenges in commercializing 5G?

Fettweis: Over a decade ago, it became apparent that cellular networks were gaining 10x speeds every five years, 100x every ten years. Data speeds continue to increase and may leap to 1,000x today’s speeds by 2020. But 5G introduces two new application areas that have not been addressed by cellular technology and infrastructure before, and that makes 5G exciting, because it’s the beginning of a new wave of innovation that will play out over decades.

The first application is connecting every sensor – I always say every “flower pot” – to the cellular infrastructure. This is the massive Internet of Things (IoT). Wireless nodes will be embedded in everything, providing us with real-time information and insight into our environment. Networks will become capable of managing billions of nodes. The second application area is an outgrowth of data speeds. In voice telephony today, the reaction time that we need for us to feel we’re part of a natural conversation is 100 milliseconds, basically a tenth of a second. If we are to make Augmented Reality work – to create the sensation that you’re participating in an augmented, physical reality – we’ll need to cut that reaction time to one-thousandth of a second. 5G may enable us to do that. In addition to the IoT and Augmented Reality, think about the reaction time needed by driverless cars, industrial automation, and so on. In the standards world, this is called “extreme low-latency resilient networks.” “Resilient” because, due to the nature of the application, they have to work. When we refer to non-resilient applications such as gaming and entertainment, we generally use the term, “Tactile Internet.”

Reaching consensus on and writing standards to ensure interoperability will be an arduous task, especially considering the wide range in requirements for various applications. The energy efficiency or self-sufficiency of sensors needs attention. Building out 5G infrastructure will need a positive, incremental business case, one that offers a return-on-investment as 5G is rolled out over time. And, of course, there’s a vast array of technology challenges that need solving and cannot easily be described here. This 5G Roadmap infographic provides a high level view and the IEEE 5G Initiative has also established a 5G Roadmap Project to build out a comprehensive view of the way to realize deployment of 5G by 2020. Keep in mind that, as a global organization, one of IEEE’s responsibilities as well as opportunities is to capture the world-wide diversity of requirements that define specifications for 5G and beyond. Global diversity and participation will make 5G a truly globally accepted technology, which generates value for all.

Question: Today, half of the world’s population remains unconnected to the Internet. What happens to the digital divide when the 5G “revolution” brings such radical applications to some but not others?

Dutta: Gerhard and I feel very strongly that the IEEE mission to “improve technology for the benefit of humanity” means all of humanity. We are taking our 5G Summits to both developed and developing countries to gain a cultural understanding of how local needs and local innovations might spread 5G in various ways. We are consciously attracting and including start-ups and entrepreneurs to bring their fresh voices and ideas into the conversation. And we are deliberately including academia, industry, and policy makers in our community to address the need to bring this ultra-broadband capability to everyone who can use it.

Question: When will consumers actually experience 5G products and services and what will they look like?

Fettweis: The kick-off will come in 2020, maybe 2022. Like other technology roll-outs, we will see elementary applications at first and, as we develop the technology, as we find ways around the boundaries set by the initial standards, we’ll add capabilities. We certainly will not be able to build a one-millisecond, end-to-end latency system with the first version. As it looks right now, we might enable five milliseconds of latency in five years. We certainly will not have a reliable and resilient network that will allow driverless cars to cross intersections in every direction without traffic lights because they’re fully controlled by the infrastructure. Sensors may not be energy self-sufficient and they’ll need recharging or replacing periodically.

But, as with past technology leaps, we’ll get started with an initial 5G version and, as we advance it, new opportunities will open up. We will start learning just as we started when we had 2G and 3G technologies such as GPRS or the first CDMA. We will develop applications. As we learn, a stampede of innovation will follow over the next 30 years

Dutta: I think Gerhard is right. We have LTE (Long-Term Evolution) networks today that continue to create value and we are not replacing LTE right away. Network operators are just now applying Software-Defined Networks (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) to the network core. In fact, though we say that 5G is not an evolution of 4G technology – that 5G really is a revolutionary leap – SDN and virtualization are common characteristics of both 4G and 5G and will serve as the foundation. As Gerhard mentioned, building the infrastructure for 5G with a positive business case will take time. If operators are building virtualized networks today to support LTE, many of those networks and technologies could be reused in a 5G build-out. But different operators will approach this differently based on their business needs and priorities.

Question: What’s next on the IEEE Future Directions 5G Initiative’s agenda?

Dutta: The IEEE Future Directions 5G Initiative takes a multi-pronged approach that will help to accelerate the evolution of 5G and contribute towards rapid deployment. These efforts will include areas such as education, conferences, publications, 5G tutorials, training, and standards. At the same time we will continue to collaborate with other standards organizations and complement their efforts. We will continue with our 5G summits as part of reaching out to different parts of the world. We will be holding 5G summits in New Delhi, India, 2 December 2016, in Lisbon, Portugal, 19 January 2017 and in Kuwait City, Kuwait, on a date to be determined in 2017. In addition, there are eight more summits being planned for 2017 including ones in Finland, Japan, Canada, Colombia, South Africa, Taiwan, and the U.K. We have already planned for three 5G tutorials on three different continents during the first quarter of 2017. Look to the IEEE Future Directions 5G Initiative web portal for new information and activities. We are encouraging membership in the IEEE 5G Technical Community and for people to engage with IEEE 5G on Twitter, @5GIeee, the IEEE 5G group on LinkedIn , and the IEEE 5G community at Collabratec. We will continue to make progress in the areas of publications, educations, and standards by engaging our community across the world and from all walks of life including folks from industry, academia, research and development labs, and regulatory bodies. These efforts reflect our stance that the IEEE Future Directions 5G Initiative is diverse and inclusive.