“Future evolution of wireless”: Looking beyond 5G | Executive Interviews

Henry Tirri

The US-based mobile communications company InterDigital, which integrates research and development into its business strategy and roadmap, is working towards “something completely different,” says Henry Tirri, Chief Technology Officer IBC365,

“Basically, we create a mirror world, a strange mix of digital and physical world and the way they interact,” he explains.

As an avowed "Silicon Valley man", whose passion is first technology and then strategy, Tirri has a broad background and business experience on a global level and drives technology products with know-how in the latest developments. Research and innovative operations for 5G and IP are among the immersive and mixed reality technologies.

The InterDigital team works worldwide with laboratories in Palo Alto, California, and Rennes in France, where IBC365 toured the company's laboratories and met Tirri. He explains: "It cannot be understood that it always represents the physical world because it is a digital entity that is somehow related to the physical entity."

With developments in avatars of the human body that use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) and advance standardization, including MPEG, next generation codecs, distribution of light field technologies, AR / VR, IoT, smart home and wireless connectivity, the team is huge and the projects are futuristic.

More than 350 engineers are employed in research and development centers in New York, London, Paolo Alto, Rennes, Montreal, San Diego and Philadelphia. Another 300 are employed as laboratory directors for patents in the converging video and cellular industry. The company itself licenses patents and does not manufacture any products.

According to Tirri, the company's goal is to develop talented people and organizational strategies to create something new, with each research laboratory hosting very different projects during the collaboration. Since “not many companies do pioneering work in industrial research”, Tirri is well suited to driving the organization forward and driving around 100 projects at the same time.

He previously worked as a professor at the University of Helsinki and as a telecommunications provider Nokia. He was transferred to Harman International, where he held advisory positions before joining InterDigital.

Tirri is now heading the business’s wireless R&D side and Technicolor after taking over its research and innovation unit last February.

As part of the transaction, InterDigital confirmed that it would offer Technicolor R&D services and support Technicolor's continued leadership in immersive technology.

It has been a pioneer in wireless mobile technology for decades with more than 9,800 patents and around 30,000 contributions to global standards for 2G, 3G, and 4G technologies and the 5G movement of 3GPP.

From 4G to 5G and beyond
The possibility of improved 5G connectivity has existed for years, with the application being used in particular to enhance immersive experiences and video compression.

Tirri says: “On the wireless side, we work on the network in the laboratory. ML and 3GPP radio technology and parts of 5G are groundbreaking for a future of 6G. "

However, he adds: “Nobody knows what 6G is; We work in Europe with the 6G consortium in Finland, which is very future-oriented.

"6G is a concept name for what comes after 5G, but the requirements for 5G have not yet been met and we are still in the 5G rollout phase," he continues: "We already see ML and virtualization in the innovation of wireless technology. 6G will absolutely have concepts that ML is built into, and people will agree on those components. "

However, the technical specifications of 6G, including terahertz, have not been specified: “We could argue that 6G-related work is the future of radio, but we cannot call it 6G.

"I see it as the future development of the wireless network – beyond 5G – which suggests that, from our perspective, it won't be what we think 5G is today."

Is it too early to talk about 6G?

Alan Carlton, InterDigital Vice President for Wireless and Internet Technologies, said IBC365 It is "absolutely not" too ambitious to discuss beyond 5G.

Alan Carlton

He says: “In addition to the 5G research started a few years ago according to the definition provided, the standardization in (3GPP) Release 17 is already in full swing.

“6G is still a long way off, but the momentum is increasing in industrial research communities. All of this is closely related to historical precedents. "

From 2009 to 2010, 5G research really started to gain momentum, and after a decade we are now starting to see the introduction of the 5G rollout.

“It seems that the same pattern is now repeating, although I expect 5G to extend this cycle a bit. It's supposed to be the most flexible generation, so hopefully we'll have a little more time to figure out what 6G could be. "

To date, all major U.S. carriers have limited 5G deployments in a variety of shapes and configurations in approximately ten U.S. cities, reflecting the rest of the developed world.

Carlton explains: "Beyond 5G starts working in 3GPP Release 17 and Release 18. Including these two releases, I would expect there to be at least seven 3GPP releases of 5G and beyond, then maybe we will talk about 6G."

As soon as 5G lives up to its promise that "it is much more than just improved mobile broadband," Carlton says: "Interesting to note that there are still no wireless features on the planet that could acceptably support 8K video.

“This puts 5G in perspective. The use cases listed for 6G include holographic communication, telepresence and MR, and multi-sensory augmented reality (XR), so new media and entertainment experiences will remain a high priority. "

What comes after 5G / 6G?

“5G is said to be the most flexible, software-controlled generation in history. If for some reason this is not achieved, 6G will surely finish the job and possibly end any further traditional generation development.

"Hopefully what comes afterwards will be an endless series of software-controlled upgrades, but we have to wait and see."

Computing is marginalized
"We're moving into this weird digital world," Tirri adds, "I don't like the word digitization."

Explaining the digital movement is like "bits that eat atoms, eat photons" to point out sensor communication, computing, edge computing and the value of data for decisions. He believes that research and innovation are the key to future success.

"Visual technologies and basic wireless technologies form codecs and architecture developments, infrastructure networks and radio networks", the focus of research and development is currently on the fact that the core business moves in monetization cycles.

"We are working more than five years in advance and what we are now developing for 5G was examined in 2014. With 5G deployments from 2020, we are in a very early stage of 5G."

He refers to his experience at Nokia: “MR was a term that was introduced by Nokia research.

“AR was demonstrated in a handset by Nokia in 2004, but was unsuccessful because the technology was not there.

"Today we are at the heart of the technologies that create this mirror world, and the duality of visual and wireless technologies is unique to InterDigital," he argues: "With this combination, there are no other wireless players."

As it approaches the methodology and logic behind F&I, the company is working on its portfolio and the innovations required for standardization and adoption by industry.

"We follow a standard research view that you invest in around 70 to 20 to 10, with 70% being in the core," that is, video, wireless research on 3GPP, and forward-looking standard work. “We do the things that we imagine and that will be at the heart of our business.

While the 20% focused on "emerging adjacent areas, but essential technologies such as virtualization, edge, cloud-related communication and work on extended and mixed realities (AR / MR)".

He adds: “The last 10% are fully explorative, where we study certain aspects of the quantum computer and how radio technology plays a role.

The company ethos "is all about people and talents and everything else is secondary," he says, "innovation management is a strange term," but it works well for this strategy of using a vision, leading people, and offering enough freedom to define the research.

“You need external methods to understand that you are addressing real industry issues with the organization of standards and companies you want to work with and the potential users of collaboration technology.

He adds, "It keeps you honest in solving real problems."

InterDigital Illustration digital_double

Digital disposition
With the fundamental shift from hardware to software, the industry has entered a new era of computing and standardization that is a key component of InterDigital's business.

"You have to play the game of standards, participate and drive the contributions and develop innovations on the topics."

While other partners are actively looking for standards, InterDigital is working to collaborate and advance research to create patents and major innovations.

Explain that academic collaboration is natural for research, but intellectual property and patenting are performed differently with more governance.

Tirri says: “All aspects of work and the goal is to build organizations that use all of this and work according to common rules.

"The access to the community is profound and it is necessary to participate in standard and leadership roles and in the scientific community."

Determination of data
With 25 years in the academic field, Tirri is no stranger to innovative technologies, while immersive technology has made headlines in recent years. He says, “AI and ML are not a function or new technology, but a new face of computing and a new era of computing and how the same way we had hardware and software came to create more complexity.

“AI does the same for software, and we learned to program things by writing them and using computers or devices for every function that was needed.

He continues: “After AI technologies have developed software that changes through learning, they have made progress at different speeds.

High-speed Polar Code FPGA demo

"Certainly things are easier, and if you think more deeply, research and their ability to record and visually recognize have evolved a lot in recent years due to the access to the data."

AI is omnipresent, Tirri adds, as it is the new era of computing that will undoubtedly delight him with some kind of standardization that will take place so that it becomes de facto or formal standard.

He says: "AI and ML methods will initially fit into existing standard processes. Obviously, you can improve video compression through deep learning (DL) and certain wireless communication with DL and existing standard processes by adopting them."

With new possibilities, new questions arise, he adds: “This only happens in the computer every 20 to 30 years. We are at the beginning of a new era and quantum computers are fundamentally changing research. "

Past, present and future
InterDigital is by nature a company that “monetizes this innovation through licensing,” says Tirri.

With its long history in the wireless sector, expansion in research and development is of central importance for entry into the mirror world.

He adds: “The idea is working on basic technologies that will shape the future because communication won't go anywhere. We see that our future expands our base on the technologies and goes somewhere where people have not gone because we can combine the competition of communication and communication visual technologies.

"Many things that have both aspects to develop a solution."

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