L. Reese

Better 5G with AI?

The long-promised 5G cellular network is slowly rolling out, one stage of standards at a time, with much marketing fanfare. The final and complete global standards for 5G are to be released in 2020. A patchwork of different communications technologies will combine ultra-densification, massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO), and use of the mmWave spectrum to achieve the demands of the wireless data explosion that is already upon us, for which 5G will be the answer.i

The path of innovation has often started with the launch of new technology, followed by new applications, then by consumer or industry demand, and results in commercial or personal productivity. Today, the tail is wagging the dog in that 4G is not ready to support the rapidly growing and extremes in demand, i.e., the technology to sustain enormous flows of data via 4G cellular technology is not here yet.

However, rescue comes as 5G, which presents a 100x to 1000x improvement over 4G, and is expected to reduce latency further, increase throughput by 1000 times (as an aggregation of a patchwork of technologies), and improve coverage to 100 Mbps or more for at least 95% of users. Such an enormous improvement relies on several key technologies to achieve offloading and extreme “densification” since the physical frequency spectrum is not able to expand. (Technology can improve the efficiency of the spectrum, however.) Engineers see a possible increase in bandwidth by expanding into the mm wave spectrum.  We can make better use of the unlicensed spectrum and apply MIMO to sustain even more bits/s/Hz per node.

5G will service a diversity of needs such as delivering live streaming HD video to large numbers of mobile devices, real-time two-way mobile gaming, touch-screen activated cloud-based applications, a trillion or so IoT devices that send data 24/7, and autonomous vehicles with ultra-reliable, low latency service for Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) communications.

Advanced 5G networks, using AI, could quickly determine variations in network traffic, adjust resources based on demand, coordinate base stations and other networked equipment, and use elementary intelligence to provide options for diverse situations.

According to Intelligent 5g: When Cellular Networks Meet Artificial Intelligence, “5G will need to be a paradigm shift that includes very high carrier frequencies with massive bandwidths, extreme base station and device densities and unprecedented numbers of antennas…the core network will also have to reach unprecedented levels of flexibility and intelligence, spectrum regulation will need to be rethought and improved, and energy and cost efficiencies will become even more critical considerations.”[i]i

It seems as if the decade-long sustained effort that we will have put into the logistics, design, coordination, deployment, and launch of 5G is the kind of effort, diligence, and commitment needed to fix something like a broken national political system. For engineers, math is either right or wrong; large decisions are based on physical truth, correct mathematical calculations, and some experimentation. Alas, “necessity is the mother of invention,” and human nature is to wait until a system is untenable before working on a solution.

[i] What Will 5G Be? Jeffrey G. Andrews, et al., 12 May 2014, https://arxiv.org/pdf/1405.2957.pdf

ii R. Li et al., “Intelligent 5G: When Cellular Networks Meet Artificial Intelligence,” in IEEE Wireless Communications, vol. 24, no. 5, pp. 175-183, October 2017.  

Military Aircraft at Risk from Well-intended Technology

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has determined that there’s an urgent need for the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to address risks associated with new technology that makes tracking military aircraft easy. Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out enables anyone to determine an aircraft’s precise location, velocity, and dimensions and follow both real-time and historical flight paths.

The FAA wants to replace ground-based radar with space- and satellite-based ADS-B as part of a larger FAA initiative called NextGen. ADS-B Out enables avionics systems to broadcast position, velocity, and altitude to receivers located on the ground, in the air, or in space. ADS-B Out provides air traffic controllers with more precise data (than radar) to keep aircraft safely separated in the national airspace. (To some extent, legacy radar systems in use from 1984 to present can be used to reveal similar data. Hobbyists with commercial receivers share data online that is used to triangulate the position of aircraft.) ADS-B Out is also vulnerable to electronic warfare and cyberattack. Using ADS-B Out, the GAO was able to track different types of military aircraft.

An F-22 Raptor pilot from the 94th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron

The F-22 possesses a sophisticated sensor suite allowing the pilot to track, identify, shoot and kill air-to-air threats before being detected. (Credit: U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Ross A. Whitley)

According to the GAO-18-177 report, “Information broadcasted from ADS-B transponders poses an operations security risk for military aircraft. For example, a 2015 assessment that RAND conducted on behalf of the U.S. Air Force stated that the broadcasting of detailed and unencrypted position data for fighter aircraft, in particular for a stealth aircraft such as the F-22, may present an operations security risk.”

Even Captain Obvious can surmise that without modification, ADS-B introduces risks “by providing information to the public that was not previously accessible.” The above January 2018 GAO report concludes that “while DOD and FAA have identified some potential mitigations for these risks, the departments have not approved any solutions.” The FAA deadline for ADS-B implementation in all aircraft is January 1, 2020.

All quotes above are from: GAO Report Urgent Need for DOD and FAA to Address Risks and Improve Planning for Technology That Tracks Military Aircraft, GAO-18-177.

Smarter Shopping with Technology

While quietly shopping for groceries at midnight on my phone next to my sleeping husband, I realized just how strange it was to do so. The plan was to drop off the kids at school in the morning, work out, then stop by and pick up the groceries that I had put in the electronic cart on my mobile phone. Times are changing. The next morning was productive, as the grocery store was on my way. I pulled into the designated parking spot, and within 10 minutes my groceries were in the trunk and I was on my way to the office. Traditional, brick-and-mortar stores are fighting fire with fire: an online presence is now a tool in building business with conveniences like having someone else do the shopping. Stores are using digital signage, IoT, and other technology to make every customer interaction count.

Companies like Amazon, an online behemoth, are making it increasingly difficult for brick-and-mortar stores to compete. Shopping online has 24/7 convenience, makes comparing products easy, knows the products that you purchase repeatedly, and saves your shopping cart forever. Customers expect online stores to track their preferences and personalize the shopping experience. The same kind of personalization has been difficult for traditional stores. However, with smart digital signage, smartphone apps, and a little creativity, traditional stores are working to customize the shopping experience, too.

A woman holds her smartphone up to a code on a shelf to add a coupon for the product.

A few years ago, I put a store app called Cartwheel on my smartphone. It saved me money, time, and made shopping more informative. I could check a price using my smartphone as a barcode reader. I marked e-coupons at any time, which the app collected and saved for my next visit. Later on in the store, the cashier scanned a single barcode on my phone that applied all the coupons; no scissors required. No irritated customers behind me when I had 30 coupons that each had to be scanned. Technology is making life more productive in the retail world.

Digital signage can make shopping more informative and convenient for shoppers in brick-and-mortar stores. Personalizing the shopping experience can be a good thing for customers, saving them money, time, and frustration. For retailers, information from digital signs on how long people linger in front of a display can translate into products that better fit the demographic local to the store. Smart digital signage means less wait time at a restaurant. Table-top payment kiosks in restaurants mean that customers don’t have to wait for the check; it’s on the touch-pad kiosk. Customers can close their ticket, securely swipe their credit card in the kiosk, and leave a busy restaurant without wait staff ever handling their credit card.

Remember Pokémon Go? Augmented reality apps can assist customers in finding an item. A customer can find the correct aisle for a specific item by searching for it on her phone. When she reaches the right aisle, she can hold up her smartphone, and a digital overlay identifies the area or bin with the item. Digital signage can save time for customers and store labor costs.

Stadium games are more fun with digital signage. You can leave the game to get snacks or go to the restroom without missing a play since large displays feed the live action along the way. Moderated, scrolling twitter feeds allow fans to contribute to the social experience with commentary. Voting by smartphone enables concertgoers to influence the encore song. Processors all around us fuel engagement, create convenience, and offer a richer experience. Signs can be much more than signs anymore.