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A Disruptive and Creative Venture

Vincent Chan

Vincent W.S. Chan



Networks are at the dawn of a disruptive change. The metamorphosis is driven by big leaps in network and computing hardware and architecture development. The emergence of webscale service providers took advantage of these advances and these providers build many novel services over the network and computing infrastructures. Indeed, the lion’s share of current long haul network capacities belong to these webscale providers. ComSoc plans to strategically ride this wave to a new horizon. To that end, we need a broadening of our technical portfolio, improving the balance of our membership by re-engaging the industry and the infusion of young blood. It may also require some structural changes to the Society and even significant improvement in communication between volunteers and staff.

5G is a misnomer. It is not a linear extension of 4G. In its fullest vision, network, computing and services are orchestrated to enable a rich set of applications, allowing significant reduction in cost and at the same time providing greatly differentiated services with much better quality including critical time deadline services. Some of the enabling technologies have always been around, except currently they can be manufactured at much lower costs:

  1. RF phase array with high power amplifiers (e.g. GaN).
  2. Integrated photonics.
  3. Low cost in-line optical amplifiers.
  4. Ultra-small scale and power efficient CMOS (7nm now) with >1B gates per chip.
  5. Lower cost satellites.
  6. Advancement in Cloud and HPC computing with GPUs and “accelerators” (special purpose hardware/ software implementation to accelerate common computing functions).

Some new architecture features that now can be implemented economically:

  1. MIMO and antenna beam forming and nulling.
  2. Optical flow switching enabling end-to-end large data flows.
  3. Agile control plane that adapts quickly to traffic demand and changes.
  4. Learning and cognitive algorithms for network management and control.
  5. Integrated wireless and fiber access networks.
  6. Affordable satellite constellations and low cost phase array earth terminals and laser cross links.

The above functions were present even as far back as 30 years ago. What is different today is the feasibility of economical mass production using silicon and the new III-V compound gallium nitride. A good analogy is the building industry, which used to employ wood and bricks to build two to four storey high buildings, being disruptively transformed with the advent of steel and reinforced concrete, and started building malls, stadiums and 100 storey high-rises. Indeed, the Internet is about to go through a similar quantum leap.

If ComSoc wants to be the leader of this revolution, it needs to also transform itself as quickly as possible. We need multi-disciplinary leaders who both understand the capability of the new technology and possess the creativity to construct new architectures. These architectures must be affordable and easily embraced by users. Academics are less in tune with the marketplace, and the network industry can provide valuable insights and perhaps directions for architectural pursuits. The academics are high power brain-trusts that can help formulate and analyze/ optimize new architectures. It is imperative that the two groups work together on this disruptive and creative venture.

It is critical for ComSoc, with foresight, to assess emerging technologies in a timely manner and re-structure our standing Technical Committees and Emerging Technology Committees to lead this venture. Within ComSoc, our Technical Committees must better focus on coordinating cross-layer developments. It is important to expand activities of the upper layers including applications, and new blood is needed for leadership and execution. The following are some of the actions we will put in place:

  1. Broaden TCs and ETCs to mirror broadened thrusts. Silos must be broken. A new Emerging Technology Initiative Committee is formed to start new initiatives.
  2. Integrate TCs with Industry Communities activities, removing the barrier between industry and academia.
  3. Integrate technical activities with regional (chapter) activities.
  4. Expand educational activities to fulfill the needs of our diverse membership.
  5. Evaluate standards activity engagement by ComSoc members, industry and government regulators. Standards activities are complex matters often interweaving technical, financial and even geo-political issues. Com- Soc should review what its rightful constructive role is and proceed efficiently.

These activities will need an infusion of leadership and volunteers with interdisciplinary backgrounds, new perspectives, and a willingness to put in hard work. Alliances with other societies are important in this strategic future of ComSoc. To that end, we will not let alliances such as joint sponsorships of journals and conferences run on autopilot but seek to take a proactive and leading role in shaping the future. This falls on the shoulders of volunteers who are willing to do the extra work with unfamiliar partners and find viable solutions for every party involved. Hence, we need more volunteers who are great diplomats that can build broad-based alliances and lead the charge. Let’s go build skyscrapers and not the Tower of Babylon!