IEEE Talks 5G: Three Questions for Gerhard Fettweis

g fettweisJanuary 2017 

Gerhard Fettweis is co-chair of the IEEE 5G Initiative and a member of the IEEE Communications Society. Fettweis also serves as Senior Research Scientist at the International Computer Science Institute and as Vodafone Chair Professor at Dresden University of Technology. In this interview, Fettweis provides his perspective on 5G technology issues and the commercial opportunities it will support.

Question: The development of 5G cellular networks will bring new data speeds, lower latency, and a new level of network capacity, flexibility, and manageability. How will those advanced capabilities be put to use?

Fettweis: The advanced capabilities of 5G mean that we’re driving innovation along three different axes. Axis number one is based on the fact that cellular network data rates increase about 10x every five years – we’ve known that for 2 ½ decades – and that’s going to leap ahead with 5G. This has big implications for mobile data networks. Think of sending massive files with the touch of your finger, or real-time virtual reality at 200Gb/s. The second, completely new aspect of 5G is that it will enable us to connect sensors, devices, objects, and so forth in a massive Internet of Things network. The interconnectedness of billions of objects, devices, and networks will generate a wave of innovation that will take decades to fully realize. The third major category of capability is that 5G will enable us to build infrastructure for remote controls, for which I coined the phrase, “tactile Internet.” This means we can have an interaction with virtual environments just as we are used to from tactile interaction with objects around us, which means real and virtual object will be able to interact with a reaction time of one to 10 milliseconds to enable a human to control things in a steady state that mimics reality. Conceivably, a person or a machine could be in one place, yet apply their physical skills in another place through the tactile Internet. This possibility will enable a burst of innovation in so many aspects of our lives that we simply cannot imagine all the applications at this point.

Question: What does all this imply for the IEEE and the sixteen technical societies that support the IEEE Future Directions 5G Initiative?

Fettweis: If you look at 5G from an IEEE perspective, it’s essentially a connectivity infrastructure that touches the innovation of sensors, integrated circuits, communications, computing, Big Data, and many further areas. It touches computing control theory, drives, as well as automatic controls. So, it will impact how we build the computer systems of the future to control interconnected objects. It will drive how we design integrated circuits, how we build antennas. We’ll need to understand how power can be generated to run aspects of these systems. Standards for interoperability will be critical to all this. So 5G really touches many if not every IEEE society. The development of 5G will affect the future of research and development and the structure of our industrial base. That’s why it makes sense to launch the IEEE Future Directions 5G Initiative, where all these focal areas can coalesce. As well, IEEE is a global organization with hundreds of thousands of volunteers focused on these technologies and with knowledge of their unique region’s circumstances and requirements. As an organization, IEEE has deep expertise in fostering collaboration and achieving consensus, which is critical to a sea change like 5G.

Question: You’ve organized or attended several of the international IEEE 5G summits. What do you hope to accomplish with the summits and can you share a few take-aways?

Fettweis: 5G is going to rock the boat by creating business opportunities that will make Facebook and Google seem small compared to what is ahead of us. So, we want to focus these summits to address industry’s needs, on the innovations of entrepreneurs and startups, and on the unique local conditions related to development and adoption of 5G. We want to get industry people involved as thought leaders. By conceiving of the business opportunities, we can spark engineering development that leads to product development. We’re holding the summits all around the world to build a community of academics, industry and policy makers, and to spark local entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovation. We need global consensus on standards and in other technical areas, but we also hope to initiate activities on-the-ground at the local level as well, and also capture the requirements and ideas from every pocket on the planet. 5G should become truly globally accepted and bring opportunity worldwide. Where local IEEE chapters and regions and innovators want to hold a 5G summit and have a reasonable proposal, we’ll say “Yes. Do it. Make it an IEEE 5G summit.”