While I, generally leave discussions on keynotes to my contemporaries, the data presented by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai this morning talked to a bit of the technical aspect of the industry as well as the regulatory. Therefore, I thought it might warrant a bit of discussion.
Pai discussed two topics of particular interest; regulation and spectrum. Of course, those are topics constant, general discussion but his presentation was a bit more on the cutting edge. For example, Pai reiterated what seems to be a concern of late, which is that it is important our industry be at the forefront of the 5G movement. That seemed to be what much of the trade press glommed onto, the extreme “if you ain’t first, you’re last” to quote Pai, (taken from the Will Farrell movie, Talladega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby).
While he stopped short of rabidly championing that we need to be first, he did allude to the fact that the FCC plays a big part in enabling the United States to be at the front of the pack, which, of course, is where we need to be.
A short time ago I penned a missive that I thought the race to worldwide 5G was not as much of a race as it was a march – a cooperative, as opposed to a competitive, movement, IMHO. What I heard was that the FCC recognizes that 5G is a worldwide movement. But he also expressed confidence in the United States, as a highly innovative and competitive player, will have no problem running with the leaders.
In that vein, he noted that being aggressive, in FCC policy decisions, would be one of his priorities to keep us competitive. For that, action not lip service, is the message the FCC is trying to disseminate.
This is good news, since the FCC, in the past has not been known for moving quickly. According to Pai, the FCC’s primary role in the development of next-generation networks is one of enabling vendors to maximize (and capitalize) on their role in the development of these networks to make it easier for vendors to deploy this next-generation infrastructure. And, to make available spectrum to so these networks can be deployed easily and quickly – three key concepts. To that end, Pai was bullish on modernizing and updating the FCC’s rather antiquated infrastructure regulatory environment – from the age of 200-foot towers to an environment that understands and favors the densification that will be a 5G world.
There was more, but to this editor, the modernization of FCC policies and procedures, to support the next generation of wireless networks is paramount, above all else. Kudos to Chairman Pai for his understanding and willingness to support and take on this brave, new world.
Dense Networks – Coming to a Location Near you, but When?
The terms used to define dense networks vary. Some call them ultra-dense networks, others call them hyper-dense networks, even hybrid-dense networks. But regardless of what they are called, they promise to offer ubiquitous wireless coverage, wherever you are.
While there is a lot of chatter about dense networks and they are well covered at Connect (x), the bottom line is that they are still in the petri dish stage. There are some test beds and areas such as sports stadiums that come under the dense coverage umbrella, but they have yet to scale to areas much larger than such venues, with next-generation technology. In fact, according to Greg Najjar, director, business development, Advanced RF Technologies, during the 5G Ultra Dense Networks pane session, “There are innovations, and apps, yet to be developed that are not even on the radar screen yet.” These will be what puts the pedal to the metal in the development and deployment of dense networks.
While the technologies for densification are rapidly reaching the viability stage, technologies are not the real challenge, according to the panel discussion. The real challenge is esthetics. That makes so much sense. While we rush to make it possible, technologically, putting that technology into hardware and deploying it poses a significant challenge. This because hardware is ugly and we just don’t want to see it. And, the hardware cannot be just dropped anywhere. There are many issues with who owns what and if they are willing to be part of this solution.
But that is not all. Even if we overcome the visibility factor, and have the technology, applying it transparently and reliably is also challenging. By that, I mean finding ways to scale network density.
The panel discussed that while it is pretty easy to cover an area, even a large one, with dense coverage. The dynamics of the space are often fluid. For example, take a sports venue. Typically, such a venue sees high traffic only periodically and then it is swamped. And that traffic may be dynamic within the venue as well. It may not be a particularly critical problem with a stadium, but scale that to the enterprise, city centers, or other large development s and it becomes problematic.
The panel addressed that by talking about new technologies such as AI, virtualization and self-optimizing networks. That is likely to resolve many of the issues, but realize that these technologies are in various stages of evolution and not necessarily ready for prime time, today.
And, of course, there is the RoI, which has yet to be proven. The pressure is always on cost containment, but in many cases, the cheapest solution may work under some conditions, and not under others in the same environment.
And finally, there is the issue of integrating all of the technologies currently in existence with new ones on the horizon. The last thing that the industry wants to do, with densification, is reinvent the wheel.
But it ended on an optimistic note. Once all the issues are resolved and densification begins, in earnest, the benefit will be tremendous. You will be able to find a parking space without driving around. You can find out how long your favorited restaurant wait is, even reserving a special table. People management will become possible, such as directing individuals to less crowded exit and entry points at various venues and showing crowd dynamics. And, not to mention autonomous vehicles and smart “x.”
Densification promises a lot. But it will take some time to deploy it, ubiquitously. And don’t forget, it will stratify across not only places but people and things as well. The vision is to up the level of the transparent user experience, across everything.
Autonomous Vehicles are Here – Not!
If one really wants to know where technology sits, ask an engineer. Kudos for Connect X having an autonomous vehicle panel. After all, autonomous vehicles will be a critical component of the future wireless ecosystem.
The panel led off with Kevin Lacy, state traffic engineer, North Carolina Department of Transportation. While this may intimate is has do with the state of North Carolina, the fact is that what is an issue here is an issue everywhere and the solution for one place is the solution for every other place (modified for environmental conditions, of course, but the core solution is the same).
Lacy did an excellent job of pointing out the current state of autonomous vehicles, what exists now, and what it will take to develop an autonomous vehicle infrastructure.
A couple of the platforms that get a lot of attention in this space is sensors and navigation technology. Both of which are in various states of advancements. According to Lacy, the following elements are what will make fully autonomous vehicles possible:
I write a lot about this topic, and much of the above is in various stages of existence and development. However, the last item, the connect AV infrastructure, specifically vehicle to infrastructure (V2X) and its next iteration, vehicle to everything (V2X) is what will put the vehicles in full autonomy. However, much of it is still on the drawing board. The following figure shows where we are presently (courtesy Kevin Lacy).
Still, there is talk that some vehicles are at level 5 (or at least very close), if one listens to those with an agenda. But Lacy’s chart shows that a bit differently. It shows we are now developing level 3 and some level 4. Fully autonomous vehicles, level 5, will not be here until after 2025 or later.
In this editor’s opinion, this is a much more credible scenario. I have said it before and I will say it again –without some sort of two-way smart road infrastructure, I believe fully driver driverless vehicles without driver-accessible control are, likely even further out than 2025.
OK, let us assume, by whatever plausibility theory one wants to assume, that we do develop the necessary V2X, and back, infrastructure. Technology has reached level 5. Now the ecosystem has to deal with the intangibles. Things like cost. Who will pay for both the technology and the ongoing costs of all of the components involved? Not only the vehicle with its complex technology, but building intelligence into the roads and the other objects. Then there is the central and edge management platforms.
And there is more, like the number of lines of code it will take to handle all of this (processing complexity) and the latency from the various elements. According to Lacy, autonomous vehicles may have 300, 400 million, maybe more, lines of code. At present this is a very complex and expensive platform and even as costs scale downward, putting all of this together will be a monumental undertaking.
Next, come legal and liability issues. We all know how long things can take in the judicial and regulatory systems. It will be years before the present lawsuits, and suits yet to be filed, are resolved. There is little in the wheelhouse about liability and responsibility so far.
On the regulatory side, the ecosystem is barely seeing the tip of the iceberg. Autonomous vehicles span all types of governmental agencies, from federal to local. And they vary from municipality to municipality. Need I say more?
Lastly, but not finally, just for this discussion, there is the human factor. We are not all going to wake up the day after full autonomy is reached and give up our vehicles. While there will be an evolutionary process here, some individuals, (like me) enjoy driving. There is something exhilarating about going from zero to sixty in three second. At this point, the last thing I want to do is turn my vehicle into an office, or spend all of my travel time ride sharing (I dig rock and roll music). Other issues include ownership models, transport, vehicle powering options, and the rate of adoption.
To be fair, things are moving at all levels of technology and regulation so all of these will, eventually, be resolved. But the challenges are many and complex. We have some ideas but are far from having our arms around all of the issues within this platform.
This session painted a very realistic picture of the state of, and the issues that face the evolving autonomous vehicle platform. It was good to see cooler heads stepping up.
Executive Editor/Applied Wireless Technology
His 20-plus years of editorial experience includes being the Editorial Director of Wireless Design and Development and Fiber Optic Technology, the Editor of RF Design, the Technical Editor of Communications Magazine, Cellular Business, Global Communications and a Contributing Technical Editor to Mobile Radio Technology, Satellite Communications, as well as computer-related periodicals such as Windows NT. His technical writing practice client list includes RF Industries, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Agilent Technologies, Advanced Linear Devices, Ceitec, SA, and others. Before becoming exclusive to publishing, he was a computer consultant and regularly taught courses and seminars in applications software, hardware technology, operating systems, and electronics. Ernest’s client list has included Lucent Technologies, Jones Intercable, Qwest, City and County of Denver, TCI, Sandia National Labs, Goldman Sachs, and other businesses. His credentials include a BS, Electronic Engineering Technology; A.A.S, Electronic Digital Technology. He has held a Colorado Post-Secondary/Adult teaching credential, member of IBM’s Software Developers Assistance Program and Independent Vendor League, a Microsoft Solutions Provider Partner, and a life member of the IEEE. He has been certified as an IBM Certified OS2 consultant and trainer; WordPerfect Corporation Developer/Consultant and Lotus Development Corporation Developer/Consultant. He was also a first-class FCC technician in the early days of radio. Ernest Worthman may be contacted at: [email protected]