5G Professor backed by Ericsson calls for no more “G’s”

KCL's Mischa Dohler

By Richard Maher

Things are finally coming together for Professor Mischa Dohler’s vision of the tactile internet, for which 5G is a key enabler. He is head of telecommunications research at Kings College London (KCL), which has just signed a partnership with network giant Ericsson.

‘They are going to give very expensive equipment to Kings that will be placed within the college,’ claimed the excited professor. ‘They are also going to give us access to their 5G developments which is a really big thing since Ericsson has core competences in MMWave, massive MIMO, software-defined networking, cloud RAN among others.

‘Following the current industry trend, I would expect a lot of that access to equipment be handled remotely. I hope we can really leverage on that because I have a big army of students and I really want them to impact these 5G developments and develop the necessary skills for an engineer in 2020.’

Dohler’s ‘army’ is manned with 50 people, but also, as part of the wider department, he has 100 staff, PHD students and 1000 undergraduates at his disposal, as well as the benefit of working alongside a first-class robotics centre and artificial intelligence unit.

“I can leave a legacy on the whole operation and get this stuff out by 2022 or 2023”

He believes that the relationship will only grow over time and that more industry members will be pulled in. It is a timely development with him currently negotiating with more industry bodies as work proceeds towards 3GPP’s release 14 input.

‘We want to influence Ericsson’s prototypes and product development,’ he avowed. ‘I have been very clear that, eventually, I want to talk to the COO so I can leave a legacy on the whole operation and get this stuff out by 2022 or 2023 into real-world deployments.’

“It was a difficult road … but it came through because they … know exactly what it means to innovate”

According to Dohler, Ericsson had been on the look-out for academic partners around the globe before they discovered what was going on at KCL. ‘They’re the biggest telecom manufacturer on the planet, although Huawei is clearly not far behind. To stay on top of the world they need to innovate themselves all of the time. They have been scouting the planet for the most suitable and the best groups and they got stuck with Gerhard and myself!’.

He is referring to Dr. Gerhard Fettweis, who is a good friend of his, co-creator of the term “Tactile Internet” and the joint-head of 5G Lab Germany at the University of Dresden. Ericsson invested equally in the German university and Fettweis’ contributions for more industry-based applications is welcomed by Dohler.

‘Against all odds, it actually happened with Ericsson,’ he admitted. ‘Its a long way for the CEO to give the green light. It was a difficult road because they obviously laid off 2200 people to save operational costs – but it came through because they value us and they know exactly what it means to innovate and how important that is so they are paying cash now.’

” I didn’t want to compete with 5GIC

Keith Robson, COO of the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre, has described the news of the collaboration between Kings and Ericsson as ‘a fantastic addition to the UK’s communications research programme’ and added ‘for 5G and its associated applications to be successful there needs to be a global effort based on collaboration.’

Dohler echoes these sentiments, claiming that the deal had to take a different shape from that at 5GIC in order to avoid an unhelpful competitive initiative in the UK. ‘I told Ericsson from day one I didn’t want to compete with 5GIC. We decided let’s focus on something which is much more horizontal, much more outreaching, where 5G plays a very important, instrumental role in terms of the connectivity.’

But the overall goal is to deliver a tactile internet, where touch can be transmitted. Dohler is using KCL’s strengths in areas such as healthcare and culture to show use cases for his vision. Whilst he may have accepted that being able to conduct very critical operations via tactile internet is impossible, Dohler believes limb surgeries are very doable and claims to have convinced world-leading surgeons.

He claims that the tactile internet could also revolutionise retail, allowing consumers to actually touch products over the internet before buying them, as well as the servicing industry as car companies could service vehicles globally from a central base. A thin glove could generate a very accurate sensation of touch.

‘The requirements are very simple in that we need very low delay,’ he outlined. ‘Kings is very strong in the radio access networking design, the core networking design and then of course the AI. If you do the maths, the only way of getting into the 1m/s end-to-end delay capabilities is by invoking a lot of EDGE intelligence; we’re also very strong at that so we’re looking very promising in this type of research.’

“we need to get quicker and more agile so the changes are needed”

He believes that the biggest hurdle with 5G is that it takes too long to get things standardised. ‘It takes 10 years no matter how hard you try. In terms of the internet, you don’t have Microsoft, CISCO, Facebook and other guys sitting together to come up with the next generation internet – they don’t because everybody innovates in their own space and they know they have to speak one language.

‘3GPP doesn’t have that and that’s a legacy thing. We don’t have to continue doing that for the next 100 years and some people are starting to understand that.’ Dohler likened his vision to that of ETSI’s Adrian Scrase, who is pushing for standardisation in a more open, crowd-sourced way to accelerate the process. ‘If you want to deliver data-rates of terabits per second rather than megabits per second we need to get quicker and more agile. So changes are needed.’

“My personal dream is to get rid of the notion of generations altogether, to make 5G the last G

Dohler also champions the idea of thinning the core network, because its construction can not allow a millisecond delay. The fact that manufacturers such as Alcatel-Lucent are agreeing with this is great news for the likes of Dohler who now doesn’t have to convince them himself.

‘My personal dream is to get rid of the notion of generations altogether, to make 5G the last G,’ he confessed. ‘Like the way the internet evolves softly and smoothly, I want to get to that same stage with the cellular industry and that will be a turning point for more innovation to come.’

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