Last week I attended the IEEE Globecom conference in Austin, Texas. This is the annual meeting of the IEEE’s Communications Society. I have been a member for decades. This is one of the best communications-related conferences, especially if you are an engineer. Many conferences are shallow glitz, hype and fluff, but not Globecom. It is one for the serious practitioner. In addition to detailed tutorials and workshops, the technical sessions are in-depth including the math. If you are looking for a real educational update on the latest comm stuff, this is the conference for you.
The big picture for current and future communications came from the keynotes. These were given by heavy-hitters from industry including Ed Amoroso of AT&T, Dr. James Truchard of National Instruments, Pankaj Patel of Cisco, Wen Tong of Huawei, Alicia Abella of AT&T, and Rajesh Pankaj of Qualcomm. These were real eye-openers. Overall the keynotes are a great view of the current state of the industry as well as the trends.
As for the technical sessions and industry panels, there seemed to be some concentration of coverage. It was easy to tell what topics were of the greatest interest. Here is a quick summary.
The greatest emphasis, in my opinion, was on 5G cellular. 5G is still in the development stage but there was lots of discussion about what it is and when it might come on line. The consensus seems to favor millimeter wave bands (28, 38 and 72 GHz) using small cells and massive multi-user MIMO. But as they say, the devil is in the details. There is still lots to do in defining, developing and deploying 5G. A good guess is that we won’t see this until 2020 and beyond. Most carriers haven’t even started LTE Advanced which is next up for 4G.
Along with 5G were multiple sessions on heterogeneous networks and small cells. The small cell movement has been around a while but few have been deployed. It is finally happening but there apparently are lots of options and some critical issues to solve. Self-organizing networks (SONs) are a part of that effort.
Another hot topic was the internet of things (IoT). This trend is already taking off in many forms. Yet there is still some confusion over multiple standards. Many wireless technologies are used including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, ISM band and others. The new Bluetooth 4.2 and ZigBee 3.0 standards will boost their use.
One major theme covered was software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV). Multiple sessions attempted to define each and show how they will impact all future networks. SDN/NFV seems to be one solution to the security problem as well as implementing 5G. The transformation is just beginning but this appears to be a major shift in networking. A fully programmable network is in our future. Some other topics with multiple sessions were cognitive radio, Wi-Fi, sensor networks and fiber optics.
As for exhibits, there were few. Only about a dozen companies showed. The largest exhibit was Austin- local National Instruments. They had the most significant announcement at the show. NI introduced their LabVIEW Communications System Design Suite. Dr. Truchard, NI CEO briefed me on this amazing new development platform uses a combination of hardware and software for prototyping software-defined radios and other new wireless systems. It is already being used to test new modulation algorithms, 5G approaches and large MIMO systems. Look for it to expedite 5G.
If you are planning your conference budget for next year, you may want to include Globecom. It is in San Diego in 2015 and well worth your investment if you are serious about communications engineering. And while you are at it, consider joining the IEEE and the Communications Society.