My family represents three generations of University of Texas (UT) students: my father, brother, and myself are all proud Austin graduates, and today my oldest daughter is enrolled at UT Dallas to study computer science and animation. With this background, and my role as a tech analyst focused on wireless telecommunications and enterprise networking, I was understandably excited to learn of the school’s strategic role in shaping the future of cellular communications. I recently had the opportunity to visit UT and speak to one of the professors, Dr. Sanjay Shakkottai, who, along with 22 other professors, all contribute to the research effort with the Wireless Networking & Communications Group (WNCG) in Austin.
Academia and industry unite
The mission of the WNCG is to bring faculty and over 130 undergraduate and graduate students from the departments of electrical, computer, and aerospace engineering, as well as mathematics and computer sciences, together to focus on industrial applications tied to next-generation wireless networking. Leveraging a multi-million-dollar annual budget, UT collaborates with some of the biggest names in the tech industry to advance its research. These include AT&T T +0%, Intel INTC +0%, National Instruments , Qualcomm QCOM +0%, and Samsung Electronics . The WNCG has consequently published a number of research briefs that have fed into the 3GPP standards-setting process, dating back to 3G when Apple AAPL +0% introduced the first iPhone. You can find some of the group’s work here if interested.
Founded over 17 years ago, the WNCG engages in many areas of wireless research. These include scheduling, time scale, and resource allocation optimization, artificial intelligence and machine learning aimed at improving network performance, network slicing for new wireless service delivery, and most recently mmWave and beamforming to support improved propagation for mobile 5G in higher spectrum bands. During my tour, I saw evidence of both National Instruments and Qualcomm’s strategic investments in UT—not only in the sponsoring of facilities but also in test equipment and lab resources. I also appreciated the opportunity to see a number of “toys,” ranging from remote-controlled cars and drones to IoT devices, all designed to test mmWave and new 5G use cases.
There is a 6G!
The 5G New Radio standards have been set with the 3GPP’s published release schedule. I’ve chuckled about 6G references in the news recently, but the WNCG is already looking ahead. One area that Professor Shakkottai spoke of in particular during our time together was the application of radar for centimeter-precise telemetry to support autonomous driving. A radar-based solution in a future 6G world could eliminate the need to install an extraordinary number of IoT sensors in roadways, traffic lights, or on signs. Tesla is an early pioneer in autopilot functionality, and some of its recent mishaps are based on the lack of telemetry to support virtual guardrails.
The University of Texas at Austin is at the forefront of researching next-generation wireless communications. It will be interesting to see what innovations unfold for 5G as a result of the WNCG’s efforts behind mmWave and how the team of professors and students shape the future of 6G. One thing is certain, there’s some orange blood in 5G. Hook ‘em Horns!