Top 5 academic institutions leading in 5G research

NYU Wireless, Surrey, Dresden among top schools leading in 5G research.
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By Monica Alleven

Whether it's a group of students studying remote control robotics or professors going out into the field with students to take millimeter wave measurements, dozens of academic institutions all over the world are making meaningful contributions to 5G and the future of wireless.

Given the sheer number of breakthroughs being made at these academic institutions and their level of engagement, FierceWirelessTech decided to take a close look at the top 5G academic institutions. The result is a list of five (or six) top institutions that we think are especially worth keeping an eye on in coming months and years.

Some of the criteria we examined includes participation in public comment on 5G, dedicated staff and facilities, engagement with industry, published works, ability to host workshops or conferences and overall thought leadership. We came up with what we believe are the brightest and ground-breaking institutions, but this is by no means the "be-all, end-all" list. Surely there are plenty of hard-working students and faculty out there who are making significant contributions but without the means or university support to effectively communicate it.

Let us know in the comment section who's missing or who you believe deserves recognition.

University of Texas at Austin
Austin, Texas

The Wireless Networking and Communications Group (WNCG) is an interdisciplinary center for research and education at the University of Texas at Austin with an emphasis on industrial relevance.

Founded in 2002, the group includes 20 faculty from the departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, Mathematics, and Computer Sciences. WNCG has more than 130 graduate and undergraduate students as well as research scientists, postdoctoral fellows and industry visitors.

Why it matters: WNCG Professor Robert Heath and his graduate student assistants have conducted extensive research into mmWave research and believe further research and development of mmWave cellular is essential to demonstrate the viability of the technology for 5G systems.

Important issues facing the adoption of mmWave communication include blockages, system coverage, sensitivity to interference and antenna arrays. One of Heath's current research directions focuses on finding ways mmWave can provide adequate coverage and rates to users across the system.

WNCG researchers also are developing hybrid beamforming transmission strategies to adaptively configure arrays at the transmitter and receiver. They are also developing ways for propagation channel estimation, which can aid the beamforming process. 

The 13th annual Texas Wireless Summit (TWS) takes place Oct. 16 at the University of Texas at Austin campus. One of the keynotes will be TU Dresden's Professor Gerhard Fettweis, the visionary behind the Tactile Internet, who will address the fundamental changes 5G networks will require versus 4G networks.

University of California at Berkeley & Stanford University
Berkeley and Stanford, Calif.

Let's call this a tie of sorts. Software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) are two key pillars leading up to and into 5G. SDN arose out of the graduate work of Martin Casado at Stanford in collaboration with Nick McKeown, also at Stanford, and Scott Shenker at Berkeley, who are both professors of electrical engineering and computer science at their respective institutions.

Why it matters: Several years ago, they established the Open Networking Research Center (ONRC), which is exclusively focused on OpenFlow and SDN. Its mission is to develop a comprehensive intellectual framework for SDN and to develop, deploy and support open source SDN tools and platforms. The founding sponsors of ONRC include CableLabs, Cisco, Ericsson, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Huawei, Intel, Juniper, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Texas Instruments and VMware.

The ONRC includes several components: The networking research groups located at Stanford University and UC Berkeley headed by McKeown and Shenker, respectively; and an independent, non-profit Open Networking Laboratory (ON.Lab) led by Guru Parulkar, who serves as executive director of the ONRC. The lab is responsible for the open source SDN tools and platforms.

For going on five years, the ONRC has collaborated with the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) on the Open Networking Summit, where a cross-section of industry engineers, business leaders and researchers gets together for tutorials and keynotes, including appearances by John Donovan, senior executive vice president of AT&T Technology and Network Operations.

As it has the past several years, you can bet the ONRC and the wireless programs at both Stanford and Berkeley will influence the direction the wireless industry goes with future standards and open ecosystems.

Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden)
Dresden, Germany

Every major infrastructure vendor is working with TU Dresden and while that in and of itself is not going to land it on this list, it's indicative of its reputation and stature.

Opened in September 2014, the 5G Lab Germany brings together 20 professors from the Technische Universität Dresden with more than 500 scientists. The lab comprises four separate tracks that allow members to focus on areas of interest: wireless and networks; silicon systems; tactile Internet applications; and mobile edge cloud.

Why it matters: TU Dresden Professor Gerhard Fettweis gets credit for coining the term "tactile Internet." He and his team had started thinking about using touch to control robotic systems remotely and in real time as early as 2012.  Fettweis' lab has produced more than 10 startups in the telecom space and is recognized for making seminal theoretical contributions to wireless communication systems.

Elsewhere, Ericsson and King's College London are collaborating on 5G research that addresses both technical implications and societal challenges toward the development of a tactile Internet, working alongside TU Dresden. It's also building on other leading European research institute and university collaborations on 5G, such as the Royal Institute of Technology, Chalmers University of Technology and Lund University in Sweden.

The TU Dresden lab is exploring 5G candidate technologies like General Frequency Division Multiplexing (GFDM) and mmWave, with TU Dresden successfully demonstrating the world's first GFDM single input single output (SISO) and multiple input multiple output (MIMO) link at the CeBIT trade show in March 2015. At a high level, GFDM builds on the OFDM concept, including a multi-carrier framework, but adds signal processing to both transmit and receive chains to improve operational performance.

University of Surrey
Guildford, England

A year ago, the University of Surrey welcomed a £5m investment to support future 5G growth, recognizing the university's flagship project, the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC), which is focused on Internet of Things, intelligent transportation, smart cities and future Internet technologies.

The university has been busy constructing a 5G building dedicated to an end-to-end test bed to be shared by industry and academics alike. It is starting with 4G and implementing 5G radio and network technology over time. 

Why it matters: While companies have their own test beds, the 5GIC provides a means where potentially competitive companies can work together to develop future standards and systems. It's billed as the only center in the world that can offer a full end-to-end test system across the range of 5G technologies under consideration. A legal entity, 5GIC IP Limited, is responsible for housing the intellectual property that arises from the research.

Low latency and high reliability are core pieces of 5GIC's research, covering all layers of the protocol stack with the goal of making them more optimal. Advanced air interface technologies for dense small cells is also an area of focus.

Professor Rahim Tafazolli, director of the 5G 5GIC told V3 in February that for the first time in the world, speeds of 1 Tbps were achieved during tests at the University of Surrey, where the 5GIC is working on new technologies to support 5G services, which have been instrumental in producing the 1Tbps results.

"We have developed 10 more breakthrough technologies and one of them means we can exceed 1 Tbps wirelessly. This is the same capacity as fiber optics but we are doing it wirelessly," he told V3. Tafazolli said that the tests were carried out in lab conditions over a distance of 100 meters using transmitters and receivers built at the university.

The plan is to take the technology outside the lab and onto the campus at the university during 2016 or 2017 before demonstrating it to the public in early 2018, ahead of rivals from South Korea, Russia and Japan. "We want to be the first in the world to show such high speeds," he said.

The aim is to bring end-to-end latency down to below 1 millisecond in order to enable new technologies and applications that would not be possible with 4G. Applications like connected cars and 3D holographic games are examples where lower latency will be required.

New York University (NYU)
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Founded in 2012 as one of the world's first academic research centers to combine wireless engineering, computing and medical applications, NYU Wireless is led by founder Professor Theodore (Ted) Rappaport. He previously founded two academic wireless communications research centers that are among the largest in the world: the University of Texas at Austin (also on our list) and Virginia Tech, which deserves an honorable mention.

NYU Wireless involves more than 100 students and 20 faculty members, combining NYU's Polytechnic School of Engineering with NYU's medical school and the Courant Institute, which offers interdisciplinary expertise for the creation of new knowledge in wireless communications, computing and medicine.

Why it matters: NYU Wireless' research, leadership and industry participation are all coalescing to shape the future of wireless networks. It's an influential contributor in the FCC's proceedings on 5G and the use of spectrum bands above 24 GHz for mobile radio services.

Rappaport and his students have conducted extensive research in terrestrial radio propagation, communication system design and antenna technology at the millimeter wave frequencies.

Part of their research activities involve development of a massive database of mmWave radio channel measurements collected from Manhattan and Brooklyn. The campus of NYU is used as a "living laboratory" to emulate realistic operating scenarios and real-world channel effects for base stations, mobile users and backhaul devices in mmWave networks.

Their contributions set out to prove that mmWave radio propagation and associated radio technologies can easily provide multi-Gigabit per second transmissions in CMRS settings. Research shows that mobile networks with data rates on the order of 10 to 20 Gbps are viable in urban settings through the use of beamforming and MIMO-like techniques at frequencies above 24 GHz.  

However, they didn't stop there. In June 2015, Rappaport, along with NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering doctoral student Ting Wu and Christopher Collins, a professor of radiology at the NYU Langone School of Medicine, published "The Human Body and Millimeter-Wave Wireless Communication Systems: Interactions and Implications."

In the paper, they detail how four models representing different body parts were used to evaluate the thermal effects of mmWave radiation on humans. Their simulation showed the steady state temperature increases--even of clothed parts with less blood flow such as the forehead of a person wearing a hat--are negligible compared with the environmental temperature variations when the exposure intensity is similar to that likely to be used in a next-generation cell phone.

The paper calls for temperature changes in the tissues of the body to be used as a safety metric for mobile devices operating at mmWave frequencies, rather than the current standard, which is power density. The paper was selected as the best from several hundred entries at the 2015 IEEE Conference on Communications, one of the flagship gatherings of the IEEE Communications Society.

The center is funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Health and an Industrial Affiliates board made up of the leading wireless companies. Nokia Networks and NYU Wireless have jointly sponsored the Brooklyn 5G Summit in 2014 and 2015, bringing together industry experts to further explore and develop 5G.