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InTechnology Podcast

#33 – What That Means with Camille: Wireless Communications

In this episode of What That Means, Camille talks wireless communications with Vida Ilderem, VP at Intel Labs in charge of wireless communications research. Vida has 27 patents, including one on beam forming, and she’s the perfect person to get the definition and evolution of wireless communications from.


The convo covers:

•  3G, 4G, 5G and 5G+

•  IOT

•  Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

•  Computing at the edge

•  Interoperability

•  Reliability

•  Liable low-latency com

•  LTE

•  Beam forming

…and more. Don’t miss it!


Here are some key take-aways:

•  Wireless communication is the transmission of information over networks, without the use of wires. It’s about communication and the connectivity needed.

•  5G stands for the fifth generation of communication.

•  Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are examples of protocols for wireless communication.

•  As machines come online, ultra-reliability and low-latency becomes even more important – especially in mission critical applications like surgery.

•  The human needs and machine needs of wireless communication are different. Making wireless communication reliable means finding that balance of human and machine needs.

•  The more things on your network, the greater your attack surface. The challenge of securing all of these things is an ongoing one that’s not as simple as we’d all like it to be. One reason is that we want our devices to talk to each other, regardless of what company they’re from. Making that inoperability possible while keeping everything secure is inherently difficult.

•  Reliability is another challenge of wireless communications, because wireless, by nature, is not reliable.

•  Introducing a new generation of wireless communication doesn’t mean you can stop supporting previous generations. Not all devices will rely on the latest generation and being able to fall back on another generation when a connection is lost improves reliability.

•  Beam forming is a way of using antennas to transmit information directly to users by forming directional beams. The benefit is that it extends the distance, increases capacity, and increases the number of users.


Some interesting quotes from today’s episode:

“5G stands for fifth generation of communication. The first generation was analog — you must have human communication. The second generation was about going digital on it — there’s voice communication. The third generation was when they introduced data — more people loading images. The fourth generation was allowing people to do more streaming and added mobility. And fifth generation is about, not only getting higher data rates and throughputs, but also bringing the machine and instrumenting the devices — so giving rise to Internet of Things.  These all become possible because of wireless communication.”


“There can be licensed spectrums like cellular or unlicensed spectrums like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.”


“Then there is the ultra-reliable, low-latency communication for very mission critical applications. And that’s where the concept of edge comes in, because you need to bring the compute closer to the data. From the cloud computing all the way to the edge computing. Because the machines or the applications which are coming online now, they need that ultra-reliable, low-latency requirement you have to meet.”


“We want to make sure we get the data when we need the data — anywhere, any device. That’s the human side of it.”


“As you’re increasing the number of things which are instrumented (i.e., they have an IP address and they’re joining the network), you’re increasing the attack surface. I mean, look at your home. How many sensors do we have now that talk to the Wi-Fi router in your home? And many of these are not necessarily secure today. It is a big task and a challenge that is still being addressed.”


“Wireless link by nature is not reliable. We can drop it because the charge works through the air. So, you can lose the link.”


The other thing with wireless communication is, as you’re introducing a generation, you still are supporting previous generations.”


“There’s also a lot of re-use going on. Again, as I said, you’re not throwing out the old to add the new. We still need the old — you build up on that. So, it’s more of an integration challenge.”

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Camille M: [00:00:00] Hi, welcome to What That Means. Wireless Communication. Today Vida Ilderem joins me to discuss wireless communications. She’s got a PhD _______________, VP at Intel labs in charge of Intel’s wireless communications research. She has over 20 years of experience in a semiconductor industry, including at Motorola working on among other things, nanotechnologies for radio frequency communication and embedded systems. Vida has [00:00:30] 27 patents, including on something called “beam forming”, which I’m looking forward to asking her about.

Vida, welcome to the show. And can you define Wireless Communications in under three minutes?

Vida I: [00:00:42] Thank you for the opportunity Camille and for the nice introduction. So what is wireless? Basically, it’s about transmitting information and the connectivity is required. The provider is the path toward unwiring and the [00:01:00] unleashing the potential power of data.
So we talk about 5G, 5G+, talk about networks and edge and sensing system—they can all be wireless where they don’t need, um, the wires. So it’s about communication. It’s about mobility and 5G stands for fifth generation of communication. The first generation was analog. You must have human communication. The second generation was about going digital on it. There’s voice communication. The third generation was when they introduced data. Um, more people loading, uh, images. The 4th generation was allowing people to do more streaming and added mobility. And fifth generation is about not only getting higher data rates and throughputs, but also bringing the machine and instrumenting the devices, so giving rise to internet of things. These are all become possible because of wireless communication.

Camille M: [00:02:11] Thank you. Let’s dive a little deeper. So when I think of wireless, I think of wifi cellular, Bluetooth, basically the things I use kind of in my car, in my house. Are there other wireless communications? I mean, you [00:02:30] mentioned IOT.

Vida I: [00:02:32] So these are the protocols that you use. Uh, you have the cellular bands. Uh, you have wifi, as you say Bluetooth. Now, some people are looking at some protocol called ultra wide band for gesture recognition, the millimeter waves, which are very high frequency, which is introduced with the deployment of 5G. And these are gave you higher data rates because they have wider bandwidth. So [00:03:00] it’s a spectrum that you use. And there are different spectrums and there can be licensed spectrum like cellular or they’re unlicensed spectrum like wifi and Bluetooth. And then, uh, there are shared spectrum because spectrum is a very scarce resource. So is how can we improve the capacity and a throughput by allying, you know if the spectrum is not used, uh, it’s to be used by others [00:03:30] under certain policy conditions. So yes. What you said, cellular wifi, Bluetooth those are protocols at different frequency for communication.

Camille M: [00:03:40] So the other question I have is it seems like in the past, as you kind of, you were talking about the generations–2G, 3G, 4G–it seems like from my lay person’s perspective, we were driving as an industry toward just more capacity, [00:04:00] more bandwidth, more ability to get to more data, more streaming, more video, all that stuff, more images. And then with 5G, we’ve applied more targeted use cases to say, “well, in some cases in IOT, it’s not about more bandwidth. Um, it’s about preserving battery life because some, some sensors sitting on a cargo ship only has intermittent connectivity and we’ve got to be, or it’s a satellite or something.” Can you talk a little bit about [00:04:30] that or are we looking at 5G fundamentally differently than we have the other generations?

Vida I: [00:04:35] Sure. 5G is what we call the inflection point and where we say there’s the transformation is going to happen in the network. Because what is happening is 5G has several capabilities. One is human-to-human communication. I still need a higher data rate. I still need better capacity. I still have a higher throughput.
Okay. Then the 5G has two [00:05:00] classes of a machines that introduced one is you have millions of machines or things out there. Like what you just give an example of which are, uh, you know, uh, very low data rate. They just get up, wake up and send their information and they go back to sleep. So they’re more of a set and forget notes.
You don’t want to say, “Hey, but it’s that thing I put in the tool. I need to go change the battery.” So these are very low, powerful, efficient, and they’ll usually run at a lower frequency side of [00:05:30] the band—less than One gigahertz usually.
Then there is the ultra reliable, low latency communication for very mission critical application. And that’s where the concept of Edge comes in because you need to bring the compute closer to the data from the, uh, cloud computing all the way, um, you know, to the edge computing, uh, because the machines or the applications, which are coming online [00:06:00] now, they need that ultra reliable, low latency requirement you have to meet.

Camille M: [00:06:06] Like a car for example, or an airplane?
Vida I: [00:06:11] A car would be one yes. Uh, airplanes are a little bit different, but cars or something that so some people talk about the more surgery, right. Or even the CAD industrial case, right. You have a, you teach a robot, if you move your arm, you want the robot to simultaneously [00:06:30] in quotation move its arms.
Right. So, um, any lag there will cause the robot to not perform the job that you were showing it to perform. Okay. So it could be industrial, it could be car. Um, so that brings the, the car is little bit, even more serious because if you use wireless communication as a, if, uh, for safety reasons, then it becomes even [00:07:00] that latency becomes even more critical. Right. But there are so many other sensors in, in the car, which communication could be, uh, another sensor, which you can, um, uh, depend on for the information coming in and from the car.

Camille M: [00:07:15] So w I actually got a question from one of your senior technical colleagues who, who recommended I ask you, it sounds like we’re moving to this topic a little bit. What’s the main difference between wireless comms for human-centric versus machine-centric? Is that what you’re talking about with latency or is that something else for humans?

Vida I:: [00:07:37] For humans, so like we are having this conversation right? But if you’re streaming video for entertainment or education, so we care about the bandwidth, we care about the data, right. And we want to make sure we get the data when we need the data anywhere, any, any device, right. That’s the human side of it.
With machines, some machines don’t need that type of [00:08:00] sensors in the field. Right. They have a very low requirement for transmit. So they don’t have that much data to transmit, but they do disrupt the network when they wake up to send the data, it could be kilobits versus gigabits or megabits per second. Right? Then the reliable side of it is a combination of human and machine need. But mostly if you look at the car, the car is the thing that is communicating to the environment. So in [00:08:30] that case, at the Edge site or a roadside unit which we call RSU. Um, so that’s the difference is, uh, the criticality of the task. So it could be a machine or it could be human, but mostly it’s designed for machines. But they don’t necessarily need wide bandwidth or high data rates. They just need that low latency and, uh, At least 5/9th guarantee of the link’s [00:09:00] reliability.

Camille M: [00:09:02] Hmm. So what, especially as, I guess we move into 5G. With more and more machines, um, actually communicating or joining communications networks. What are some of the security challenges that we’re facing in wireless communications going forward?

Vida I: [00:09:20] Well, as you’re increasing the number of things which are instrumented i.e. they have an IP address and they’re joining the network, [00:09:30] you’re increasing the attack surface, right? I mean, the, at your home, how many sensors do we have now that talks to the wifi router in your home? Right? So, uh, and many of these are not necessarily secure today. And it is a big task and it is a challenge that is still being addressed.

The other thing to consider is interoperability is very important for [00:10:00] wireless. What do I mean by that? So if you buy products from different companies, um, you want them to work together. I mean, when Internet of Things were introduced originally, I mean, one of our people has he instrumented his house to show how things will work. And he has like tons of application on his phone try to control everything because this device did not talk to that device. [00:10:30] So those are the challenges that if you can break in that you can get access to everything through that router, to other information that devices connect to that router. So there needs to be security there. So the attack surface has gotten bigger, if you may. Um, have you solved a problem? Uh, no. It’s work in progress.

Camille M: [00:10:51] What actually are some of the leading research topics in wireless communications [00:11:00] right now?

Vida I: [00:11:01] Uh, mostly, uh, looking at, uh, reliability, uh, because wireless link by nature is not reliable. We can drop it depending of, because the charge works through the air. Right. So you can lose the link. So, uh, one thing because of this, you are LLC or for liable low-latency com, requirements um, there’s a lot of activity and research going on that part of 5G, [00:11:30] uh, to make sure we can offer the most reliable required, necessarily latency that goes with that. And that’s very important if you want to unwire the factories of future, for instance. Okay. And there are different ways of doing this. You can have backup links and, uh, for instance, we can have LTE backing up at 5G link and LTE is your 4G. Okay. So if you lose the connection, you have [00:12:00] another connection that you fall back on.
That’s the other thing with wireless communication is as you’re introducing generation, you still are supporting previous generation. So for instance, your form today, it has 4G, 3G, three and a half G. It has, you know, it’s going to have 5G and future’s going to have 5G millimeter wave, you know, so you cannot just drop it because all of your devices are not going to work with the network.

Camille M:: [00:12:29] Is anybody using 5G today?

Vida I:: [00:12:31] There are some operators that have introduced 5G and they have introduced it at what they call less than 6 gigahertz.

Camille M:: [00:12:41] Is there a need to build out an entirely new infrastructure– hardware infrastructure–for 5G?
Vida I: [00:12:48] It’s an interesting question because on the radio side, uh, the answer is yes, because you’re introducing new frequencies and a new spectrum. [00:13:00] Okay. So then you’re doing millimeter wave. You need new radios. So that’s a yes.
Um, but there are also a lot of re-use going on. Um, again, as I said, you’re not throwing out the old to add the new, we still need the old. Okay. So you build up on that. So it’s more of an integration challenge.

Camille M: [00:13:21] So, but fundamentally, we’re going to have to add new radios to like cell towers in order to implement 5G?

Vida I: [00:13:31] Yes. Yeah. The other thing is for capacity, which we call multi-input multi-output antenna. These are big, large antennas. Sometimes you see them on the towers and that helps you with increasing the number of users per square kilometers. And that’s also some, um, operators have, uh, deployed that for the less than 6 gigahertz span. So you increase [00:14:00] your capacity for the spectrum.

Camille M: [00:14:02] And speaking of sort of large antennas that are increasing our, our ability to all get wireless. Um, you know, some people have concerns over the health of that. Is that something that anybody in the industry is worried about? Or do you feel like those are concerns that nobody who’s actually working on it has?

Vida I: [00:14:23] Anything that is introduced, there’s an SAR limit that has to be met. Third parties [00:14:30] do lots of studies, um, to make sure there are no health issues. So, um, I don’t believe the concerns are valid because there has to be third party certifications and validation to study all of these new spectrums that are introduced. They limit the power. It has to be below a certain limit. So there are lots of studies going on.

Camille M: [00:14:52] I actually just wanted to back up briefly and ask, how long has wireless communications been around?

Vida I: [00:15:00] Well wireless communication has been around for some time. I mean, it goes back to Marconi’s day. But the phone side of it, or the mobility side of it came out in 80s actually from Motorola, actually, with the “big brick” (laughs). But that’s the first instantiation of it. But even you had, you know, you have, um, Uh, what you call that, uh, the ones at home and that you can take and walk without the cord. Cordless phone! (laughs)
[00:15:30] That’s also wireless right? They give you the ability to become mobile inside your home. And then the cell phone was the ability to become mobile outside of the home.

Camille M: [00:15:46] I remember back in, I think it was 2003, and I don’t know if I was late to the party or was right in the mainstream there, but I was, I was getting a wireless card for my laptop. And I had to decide [00:16:00] between cellular or wifi. And I remember that was a decision because we didn’t know which way it was going to go. Seems like now we’ve all moved to wifi embedded within laptops.

Vida I: [00:16:12] Laptop is a form factor that you don’t carry with you on the go, right? It’s something that you sit somewhere and you work on. So and most of the places right now have wifi hotspots. That’s what got enabled. And I take internet a big hand in [00:16:30] studying that. Uh, so it’s, uh, that’s why you have it on the PC, uh, laptops, because you work from home. And you don’t want to pay the cellular fee to access the network. But wifi is free. Well, you have to buy the router but it’s free. Right? Right. They don’t pay for that connectivity. So it makes sense.
But now if you want to be on the go. I mean, how many people use [00:17:00] their laptop while they’re driving? Hopefully not many (Camille laughs) You use your phone, you don’t use, or your tablet. You don’t use the laptop. Right. So that’s the way why wifi makes sense. But now people are considering, you know, for some applications bringing 5G to the laptops because of the different capabilities that it can provide.

Camille M: Like what?

Vida I: Well, people talk about, [00:17:30] you know, so you still have the wifi. There is some, um, interest in if I have a warehouse and I do wifi plus the less than 6 gigahertz 5G band—so you have a multi-enterprise private network, uh, you know, then I would need, you know, uh, devices, which can talk to that network. Right. But that would be one.

Camille M: [00:17:56] So let me, let me ask you, because I think I said I would in the [00:18:00] intro, um, what is beam forming?

Vida I: [00:18:04] (laughs) Beam forming is when you have. Okay, think about laser lights, right? How thin the beam is so they could pencil beam. Now you have antennas that can form a directional beam to the user. So you get the information transmitted to your device. So this is a lot of technology, fundamental research going [00:18:30] into combining array of antenna to basically point the beam to the user. And it can happen multiple beams and that’s one way to increase the number of users per antenna. That’s when I was talking about MIMO–multi input, multi output–antennas, because now you can have many beams pointing to very different users. Um, so the beam forming [00:19:00] is the, uh, way of doing that.

Camille M: [00:19:03] Does that take up less space in the airwaves, basically, because you’re focused at beam instead of just broadcasting kind of everywhere?

Vida I: [00:19:12] Well that goes by the energy. Uh, such a big energy dissipation, um, and that’s the function of the power. So that’s the distance-power relationship.

Camille M: [00:19:25] So the reason you beam form is to extend the distance of [00:19:30] the beam? or is it to focus it?

Vida I: [00:19:32] Extend the distance and increase the number of users.

Camille M: [00:19:34] Because the beams are, are going individually to a whole bunch of different people, as opposed to kind of being diffused?

Vida I: Correct.

Camille M: [00:19:42] As they travel?

Vida I: Correct. And you get the capacity that you, you need. If it’s broad, then you have many users and you may get interference or you may not get– Say I have one gigahertz going out and I have 10 users and everybody gets [00:20:00] 100 gighertz. But if I get one gigahertz per second, I have 1 gigahertz per second.

Camille M: [00:20:06] second for, we can have run out of wavelengths?

Vida I: [00:20:08] As I said, spectrum, is they a scarce resource. And that is a lot of, uh, research into, uh, have more efficient and better use of the spectrum and sharing this spectrum, possibly.

Camille M: [00:20:27] Vida, thank you so much for joining [00:20:30] us today.

Vida I: [00:20:30] Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity and listeners

Camille M: [00:20:33] stay tuned for the next episode of Cyber Security Inside as well as the next episode of What That Means.

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