OnQ Blog

On the path to 5G: The Invention Revolution [video]

Jun 19, 2017

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Implying, as we did, that 5G will have an impact more profound than electricity may sound presumptuous; and as you would expect we did get a fair bit of social media mockery for that statement. This is symptomatic of a society increasingly distracted by short term noise while overlooking the signal emerging after adequate processing and filtering.

The affirmation that 5G will have as much impact on society as electricity surely needs to be considered with a broader time scale. Information theory combined with electromagnetism have already had an impact far more profound than that of electricity alone, and are closer to the impact of the industrial revolution of the 19th century, triggered by the steam machine.

The ambiguity lies in the duality of electricity or, more specifically, electromagnetism; indeed, electromagnetism enables both the transfer of a massive amount of energy, as well as the transfer of a massive amount of information. The former amplified the industrial revolution while the latter is at the heart of the digital revolution.

It is no coincidence that Shannon chose the term entropy to reflect the amount of information required to describe the logical state of a system, a nod to Boltzman’s thermodynamic entropy which describes the information required to reflect the physical state of a system.

Electricity has been around for a long time; but it only had a massive direct impact on our society once it could be stored, transported and distributed ubiquitously. Likewise, the impact of information will only be felt fully once we can access and update information ubiquitously; this is exactly what is expected from 5G.

5G is another point in history where physics — in particular the propagation of electromagnetic waves masterfully represented by Maxwell’s theory — chemistry, and mathematics all come together to change the world; their combination is creating a stronger aftershock, following the social earthquake initiated by electrification; like harmonics combining constructively with such high resonance that nothing will ever be the same in anything we do.

Yes, we have been on the path to 5G for at least the past two centuries; a path which started during the French enlightenment era, in the 18th century, when Volta, Ampere and Faraday made breakthrough discoveries about electricity, energy storage, and electromagnetic phenomena. Maxwell, Marconi, Bell, Shannon, Turing, and Lamarr took us further along on that journey each with fundamental theories and innovation.

Charting that path further, three of Qualcomm’s co-founders — Irwin Jacobs, Andrew Viterbi, and Klein Gilhousen — made digital wireless communication practical and scalable; in doing so they contributed the keystone of the digital wireless communication foundation, on top of which the information revolution is only starting.

5G is much more than a technology or a standard. 5G is the affirmation that we have reached a tipping point and are ready to propagate information across every corner of society, inexorably transforming every process, across every industry and setting up fertile ground for this revolution to accelerate.

Our belief in the 5G vision is anchored in progress made and milestones achieved over the past 30 years — from 2G digital voice that freed up people’s communication, to 3G high-speed data that made the fixed internet mobile, to 4G LTE that set the mobile internet revolution on fire and is enabling gigabit-class wide-area connectivity today.

LTE Advanced is already weaving in technologies matured after the initial LTE design cycle, such as wider bandwidth, advanced MIMO capability, and lower latency to support the growing demand for wide-area wireless connectivity. LTE Advanced Pro is already addressing new use cases and enabling the transformation of multiple industries including automotive, health, logistics, and many others. It is also enabling new network deployment and topologies as well as shared spectrum operation.

The stage is already set for the fifth-generation mobile system, which is primarily about aggregating everything we’ve learnt over the past three decades into a clean sheet platform design that will support the next decade or two of technology and service innovation. The stage is also set for a graceful transition of billions of connections and users from 4G LTE to the next-generation platform.

But what kind of situations do we expect this platform to serve? When considering the diversity of use cases and requirements, the fifth-generation cellular platform can only be envisioned as the Swiss Army knife of wide-area connectivity; its defining attributes will be adaptation and evolution. Quite fitting as we increasingly link machine learning, artificial intelligence, and wide-area wireless connectivity.

While some are scratching their heads as to why anyone would ever need 5G, a larger scale observation of history suggests that the virtuous cycle between computing and increased access to information, or “inputs” in Turing’s words, will not end anytime soon; at least not until the singularity kills us all.

Yes, we’ve been leading the world to 5G with passion for more than three decades; however, much remains to be done. Miniaturization, simplified integration — in particular as it relates to RF front-end and antennas — simplified onboarding of connected devices, energy harvesting and energy densification, security, and ultimately the ability to absorb, comprehend and act meaningfully, securely and ethically on the infinite amount of data available; all stand as strong roadblocks as well as major opportunities to search for solutions and innovate further on our path to information nirvana.

The core research and findings needs to be recognized, encouraged, protected, and nurtured. This work, combined with the ability of companies like Qualcomm to further invest and innovate to enable deployment of advanced technologies at scale by bringing technology innovations to tens of thousands of developers and billions of users, is enabling the 5G vision to become reality…. and in some cases that reality to become virtual.

This work, this model, needs to be nurtured with necessary incentives: support for strong science and art programs in education, support for public funding of universities and fundamental research, support for protection of intellectual property rights when that research is funded privately. These are necessary pillars for continued progress in our journey and insurgency against the established status quo and concentration of power.

Necessary, but insufficient! Creativity and problem-solving needs to be cultivated and amplified by intersecting multiple disciplines across the whole spectrum of liberal arts and marrying them with technology advancements and humanism. In a world where vertical specialization is becoming the norm, the opportunity lies in breaking down the walls and enabling cross pollination across domains not expected to mix together.

The opportunity lies in embracing the unknown and the complex, rather than the fashionable and the limelight. Ultimately, freedom of mind enables creativity to blossom; this is what helps us connect the dots and carry on the invention revolution.

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Serge Willenegger

Senior Vice President & GM, 4G/5G and Industrial IoT | Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

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