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Analyzing all the best tech conferences and meetings helped us throw a great 5G party


The tables were turned on this well-documented “5G Symposium Critic” last month. This began last spring, when I am sure I visibly flinched when our group president said, “Let’s have a 5G Summit!”


Despite the risks of having YA5GE (Yet Another 5G Event), I was fortunate to host a very successful inaugural Keysight 5G Tech Connect event in which we drew on the best practices of the industry, and inserted a few of our own novel ideas.

 Roger Nichols kicking off the Keysight Tech Connect event


This post is a tribute to events and speakers who inspired us to throw an excellent technical party. We drew on many best practices, and here are just a few that are noteworthy:


Bookend With Charisma and Competence

 (Inspiration: 5G North American Workshop, hosted by Ericsson and Qualcomm, San Jose, Summer 2016)


Innovation happens when the unconstrained mind confronts the over-constrained problem. Making 5G real will require significant innovation and the keynote speakers highlighted innovative thinking. Maryam Rofougaran, co-founder of Movandi, opened the pre-event dinner with a description of how her organizations managed these processes through unprecedented mixed-signal IC integration in a previous role at Innovent, later with Broadcom, and now new phased-array antenna technology for 5G. 


Scene from Tech Connect


Peter Rabbeni of Global Foundries further underscored the potential of silicon technologies, even in our new millimeter-wave (mmW) world, during his opening Keynote the next morning. And Dr. Mischa Dohler of Kings College London, closed the event with an optimistic and energetic talk on the inevitability of 5G combined, enabled, and driven by profound changes coming to networks—changes that will disrupt that business so it will ultimately not look at all like it does today.


Stay Technical

 (Inspiration: IWPC, pretty much any event Tom Watson and team do)


Recall my criticism of overtly or thinly veiled commercial presentations. 5G Tech Connect avoided this by focusing not just on technology, but on technology for measurement. Professor Gabriel Rebeiz (UCSD), Dr. YiHong Qi (GTS), and Emil Olbrich (Signals Research) introduced and led discussions on phased-array antennas, over-the-air measurement, and 5G NR device validation, respectively.


Notwithstanding a few pleasant (and unsolicited) plugs for Keysight by Gabriel and YiHong, the discussions remained focused on key challenges in the technology. Here are some of my insights:

  • Reinforcement of my prediction of mobile commercial mmWave coming only after 2022;
  • Renewed confidence in silicon technologies making headway in 5G mmWave; 
  • The inevitability of the uncomfortable marriage of licensed and unlicensed spectrum—starting in Licensed Assisted Access (LAA), but moving full-force in 5G.


Others reached additional insights, which means there was technical fodder for all involved.


Provide Fascinating Toys for Engineers to Play With

 (Inspiration: Brooklyn 5G Summit, 2017)


One cannot host a proper 5G event without the “show floor/demo room.” It is on this real estate that the “overt commercial” behavior often becomes crushing. So, we adopted three rules:

  • Keep our demonstrations constrained to very newly released and cutting-edge technology, or even capabilities that have yet to see commercial exposure;
  • Only have our deepest technical experts available to discuss these technologies; 
  • No lead sheets within 50 miles of the venue. We ran the risk of tipping our hand too soon on some of this capability, but the animated discussions in the crowded demo room were evidence that this recipe worked.


Demo at Tech Connect 


I walked away from that initial discussion on hosting a “5G Summit” with a feeling of dread. Those of you who have managed such things know the work involved—the planning, finding participants and speakers, last-minute changes, panic, elation, terror, and anger. And finally, relief— relief followed by pride in managing a good use of time for all involved. But pride has again been unseated by dread. We had not yet opened the post-event cocktail bar when the group president shook my hand, thanked me for an excellent experience, and said, “Let’s do one of these in Asia!”

Here are a few video segments from the Keysight Tech Connect event.

My experience with broadcast TV in 1960’s Colorado was fraught with “ghost” images that distorted our television screen during episodes of my favorite TV programs. My parents’ explanation of this being an “echo” from the mountains was very confusing. How could light have an echo? It was in my early days at Hewlett-Packard that I learned the physics of multipath interference; and it was much later that I encountered the technology that would take advantage of these physics rather than fight them.


Multiple In, Multiple Out: This act of adding an advantageous term to the Shannon-Hartley theorem to squeeze a few more bits per second from our precious spectrum is enjoying its highest popularity ever. And while it sounds like a new concept the careful reader will note a reference in Dr. Thomas Marzetta’s 2010 seminal paper on Massive MIMO to a fascinating paper dating from 1919(Alexanderson, Ernst F. W., “Trans-Oceanic Radio Communication”: Transactions of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers Volume XXXVIII, Issue: 2, July 1919). Considerations that smell a lot like MIMO appear to date from a time when the founders of radio communications were but recently in their graves.


Most descriptions of Massive MIMO are either opaque with multi-dimensional calculus, or full of simple brightly colored cartoon diagrams of antennas with lightning bolts. Novices like myself struggle with the topic and there is even significant debate amongst the experts.


MIMO is the use of multiple independent transmit and receive chains each connected to its own antenna to take advantage of the different and independent paths that radio waves follow in a reflective environment. Sophisticated baseband systems split and reassemble signals to and from these different paths to create multiple useful radio communications channels out of what used to be just one. This enables any of the following:

  1. Use of more than one path to decrease the error rate of a single set of data
  2. Use of more than one path for different sets of data
  3. Manipulate the inherent nature of multipath interference to either cancel or emphasize the signal at any physical location in the radio channel


#3 is the essence of what is now called “Massive MIMO”. But based on the heated discussions at industry and academic symposia it is clear there is disagreement about “Massive MIMO” in 5G. A few of the more hotly-debated topics:

Is “Massive MIMO” the same as “Beamforming”? No—as above. MIMO can take advantage of beamforming and indeed FD MIMO has two modes that are strictly referred to as “beamforming” modes. But beamforming is done in many non-MIMO applications.


How many antennas does it take to be “Massive”? Dr. Marzetta stipulates that “Massive” means not only “many antennas” (many more base station antennas than users—and more is always better) but also that each is part of an independent transceiver chain.  But the economy of scale given technology available in the 5G time-frame probably means something less than 600.


Is FD-MIMO “Massive”?  3GPP’s FD MIMO introduced in Release 13, has a 64-antenna element count. Hence, many deem it as “massive”. 64 antennas is “much greater than” what??--probably not much more than 10 UE’s. Is FD MIMO really about servicing only 10 UE’s in any one cell? Probably not.


Can you do Massive MIMO in FDD systems?  At least one implementation of FD-MIMO in the R13 standard is for FDD scenarios. If one accepts that FD-MIMO is “massive”, the answer to this question is “yes”. But due to the lack of scalability, I do recall Dr. Marzetta stating flatly (and I quote): “FDD is a disaster. End of story.” 


Will we get Massive MIMO that will improve capacity, energy efficiency, and spectral efficiency for 5G systems?  Yes.  MWC 2017 was host to impressive Massive MIMO demonstrations. And the promise of using new digital technologies to take full advantage of a rich radio channel continues to drive innovation. I look forward to it just like I look forward to the next related heated discussion--which perhaps will be a result of this very post.


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Roger Nichols

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