The 9th International Symposium on Communication and Information Technology (ISCIT 2009) was full of respected experts in all sorts of fields on Sept. 28 - 30 in Songdo, Incheon. They were able to give their insights on a variety of topics. Most interesting among them were two of the experts who traveled the furthest to be there - Professor Geza Kolumban from Pzamany Peter Catholic University in Budapest, Hungary; and Professor Ramesh Rao, of the California Insititute for Telecommunications and Information Technology. The Organizing Committee General Chair, Profesor Kwak Kyung-sup, was also quite engaging on the subject of wireless communications, which we can get into later.
ISCIT 2009 was full of speeches. So full, in fact, that two of them took place before the opening ceremony itself. These two speeches set the tone for the entire 3 day event, and Prof. Kolumban was one of the speakers. The other speaker, and in fact the first speaker, was Dr. Xiaojing Huang, Principal Research Scientist and Gigabit Backhaul project leader for the ICT Centre of Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Sydney, Australia. Both men spoke about their current work in their respective fields of wireless gigabit Internet and UWB Radio, respectively.
Filling in a Capability Gap
Dr. Huang's speech was entitled "Innovations for Multi-gigabit Millimetre Wave Communications," and was full of interesting information about the future of wireless communications. He spoke about the current state of wireless communications and pointed out a gap in the current range of options. He plotted the current options for Internet connectivity on a graph based on data rate and distance. On the graph was everything from Bluetooth and ZigBee technologies to Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and fiber optic cable. Fiber optics dominated the top of the graph with the fastest data rate and the longest range of distances available. Lower down on the graph with slower data rates and variable, but limited possible distances were the wireless technologies. Dr. Huang pointed out that there was a gap between the universal coverage and fast data transmission rates of fiber optic and the wireless systems. This capability gap should be filled, and filled by gigabit wireless technology.
Wireless still can't hope to compete with wired connections in any category. Its always going to be slower, more limited in range, and more difficult to develop. But it does have one advantage over its wired cousins - lower installation costs. Setting up a network of towers for a theoretical wireless network is not cheap, but it is going to be cheaper than digging a 2,000 mile trench to bury wires. Maintenance and upgrades for such a tower network is also going to be easier. This is why a fast, solid wireless network technology is sought after.
UWB Radio Dreams
The next speech was presented by Professor Kolumban detailing work done on the UWB radio band. The UWB standard has been under development since 2000, and after many long years Prof. Kolumban is at a major point. He said, "Now we are in the stage where we can look back and ask if we reached our goal or not." Unfortunately, he had to say that UWB has not lived up to expectations.
UWB stands for Ultra Wide Band, and its applications are mostly used to try to squeeze more use out of existing radio bandwidth. The way radio frequencies are used today is that radio stations use a very small slice of bandwidth and broadcast their information on it. Anyone who has grown up listening to the radio knows that 106.9 and 102.3 Mhz are very different radio stations, varying widely in the type of music that they play, and their relative coolness factor. This reporter prefers 106.9, actually. However, UWB transmission is another way of looking at megahertz. Instead of transmitting a small amount of information per second at a high power in a narrow band, UWB in theory will transmit a large amount of information per second, spread out over a very wide band, and at low power. This transmission would be able to use a number of the same frequencies as traditional radio stations without interfering with their existing broadcasts, enabling more use of the radio spectrum. In practice, however, UWB transmissions are often picked up as noise on traditional radio stations, which has limited its usefulness.
Wireless the Word of the Day
Later, in speaking with Professor Kwak Kyung-sup, the professor also emphasized the importance of wireless technology for the future of IT. He also pointed out cognitive radio as one of the more important and interesting topics at ISCIT 2009. "This one is a very difficult term. But its very important concept in communication recently." He explained the concept using his cellular phone. "This phone could scan around and capture which band is empty. Which means that nobody is using the band at that point. Then the phone switches to that band, and I use it. When someone else uses it I stop using it. And the phone searches all the available bands to find out an empty one." He went on to explain that intelligent use of available radio frequencies is crucial to bringing wireless technology to the 21st century. "This is a very theoretical, but good idea," he explained. "But it is hard to make it."
He also spoke about the statistics of the conference. The conference received 330 papers from 30 different countries. He said that this was one of the most interesting ISCIT sessions he has had the pleasure of attending.
Professor Kolumban also was able to take some time out to speak one on one. He spoke again about his pre-opening ceremony topic of UWB radio. But he also spoke about cognitive radio, confirming that it was indeed a hot topic in the communication and information technology field. He emphasized that the need for cognitive radio was necessary because the existing, centralized bandwidth regulations were not sufficient to provide for the needs of today's technologies. "Can you find any central regulatory body behind the Internet" he asked. "No. There are some standards we have to obey just to provide the interconnectivity of the systems. But it is developing naturally." He said that information technology is now appearing everywhere, especially with smart houses and existing technologies. And, in order to support this evolution of technology, our attitudes towards the radio spectrum had to change. "We have to establish data communication systems which are self-regulating. If you want to simplify, we want to establish something that is very similar to the Internet, because that is the beauty of it." He painted a picture of the wireless world as a distributed, organic, robust system which would be able to adapt to any kind of environment. It will be interesting to see how this initiative develops.
Willingness of the State
Professor Ranesh Rau was also good enough to speak for a few minutes on his institute. He mentioned that he and Kwak Kyung-sup go way back - Professor Kwak used to be a PhD student of his. "I watched him emerge as one of the leaders here. His work in ultra wide band communications is pretty cutting-edge." He said that the level of technology development in Korea was impressive overall.
He also spoke about what the California Institute for Telecommunications and Inforamtion Technology (Calit2) was up to, since he is the is the director of the UC San Diego division of the institute. "We have found in the institute that I direct, the applications for ultra wide band in completely unexpected spaces. For example, in the design of surgical instruments, and surgery, there is a great deal of development in natural orifice surgery." He went on to explain that surgeons prefer to do routine surgeries by inserting instruments through a very tiny hole in the patient, and then using cameras and radio-controlled devices to complete the surgery. Ultra wide band instruments are very helpful in such situations.
Professor Rau had also given a presentation on the first day of the symposium, titled Enabling Societal Transformation through Digital Convergence, in which he gave a glowing presentation of the cutting-edge research his institute was involved in. He was asked if it was really as good as he presented, and answered, "No, it is, its even better! I just gave one example of each of the spaces. There are other examples that are equally profound that I could have given." He went on to explain about the differences between the state of his institute in comparison with other academic institutions. "Now an institute like Calit2 comes along, and it is kind of our business ... to actually see how you can combine some of your strengths and go to the next level." He said that the orchestration of diverse disciplines to create useful things that impact people's lives is what Calit2 is all about. He hinted that Calit2 is in communication with Songo to try to create a daughter institute in Songdo New Town. He showed true admiration for the entire Songdo project, and said, "Calit2 demonstrated for me the first time that more produces more ... So rare is the occasion that you can actually demonstrate that putting more resources into something actually generates even more resources ... Another way of saying it is that you have to be above that critical mass. You cannot incrementally grow into a new state sometimes. You have to create this big bang, go there, and once you're there its incredible." He said that the illusion of state support can produce that kind of big bang that cannot happen any other way. And he thinks that Songdo is one of those big bangs that can become something special, can reach that big bang, and make something new on the Korean peninsula.