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5G will transform the world not because it's all powerful, but because it's flexible


Albuquerque, home of Sandia National Labs and the some of the most world-changing engineering projects of the last century.

A bold heritage, then, as a location for the University of New Mexico and an ideal venue to host this year's IEEE ComSoc Summer School.

The Summer School, run by the Communications Society of the IEEE, aims to propel a handful of existing researchers into the cutting edge application areas in communications engineering. Presentations and workshops came from the likes of IEEE officers, IoT startups, media giants like Netflix, and professors from leading institutions.


We started out right in the deep end - the smart grid.

Ah, that word again. "Smart".

It turns out, as our speaker explained, that the smart grids of today aren't as smart as we make them out to be. There's still a long way to go before we're really making waves on the way the world receives it energy. And unpredictable renewables like wind and solar, as good as they on their own, are cranking up the complexity of the work ahead by an order of magnitude. But the future is looking bright, with improvements in the way the smart grid communicates and organizes itself mean we'll be able to make exponentially better use of renewable sources compared to where we are at today.


Then it was onto health - specifically air quality and the IoT. There's a great deal you can do with some low cost sensors, WiFi and good network topologies. Demonstrations showed the ability to identify and track a seriously polluting vehicle across the city based on just it's Nitric Oxied (NOx) emissions.


On Tuesday we had the delight of working with Professor Fabrizio Granelli from the University of Trento, and IEEE ComSoc Director of Online Content. His area of interest is Software Defined Networking (SDN) in 5G and he got the class up and running with some of his favorite network emulation tools.


Prof. Granelli also had a really strong grasp on the vision for 5G. He's a pragmatist and knows that in the real world you can never create a single design that will solve every challenge simultaneously. After all, I would wan't to try to go off-roading in Formula-1 car, or try to compete in a Formula-1 race using a family-friendly minivan. (Bad analogy - I would love to do both of those things, just for the laughs). The design of each of these vehicles is optimized for a specific application. Applications that have polar opposite requirements. So it is in the world of communications.

But with the right planning and technology, we can create a platform which is flexible enough to serve all the wildly different applications out there. As Prof. Granelli puts it - "Flexibility will be the true distruptive technology in 5G".


I trapped the professor at the top of Sandia Peak so that he was forced to tell us all the secrets of how SDN is going to make the world a better place...