The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Resilient & Intelligent NextG Systems (RINGS) just-launched public-private partnership may share a common thread with other 6G-centric partnerships around the globe. However, it claims to stand alone in at least one way, at least for the time being.
The Challenge of Wireless-System Resiliency
Thyaga Nandagopal, Deputy Director of the Computer and Network Systems division within the NSF’s Computer Science directorate, spoke to 6GWorldTM. He said he believes the rest of the world is already thinking of how next-generation networks are going to be more intuitive, enabling greater hands-off management. However, he said the focus on wireless-system resiliency is a unique one, but that he envisions that not being the case for long.
“We are hoping that all operators around the world and other funded agencies will take up this call. It comes from the awareness that we cannot afford to have any kind of downtime on these networks,” he said.
Nandagopal suggested the amount of damage done from even the slightest amount of downtime, whether because of an attack, a natural disaster, or simply lost connectivity, could end up in the billions of dollars. As a result, he said more can be done in that respect. He sees RINGS as a challenge to the research community.
“We took the opportunity to kind of reset that discussion a little bit and say how would the networks look if we started focusing on building new resilience from the ground across the different aspects,” he said. “We are hoping for some interesting answers to come from the community, because those answers in turn will help us design better, secure, and resilient, robust networks in the future.
“When we talk about this with our partners, everybody says, ‘We agree. In fact, this is something we’ve been thinking about.’ So, we made the call to say, ‘Well, if everybody is thinking about it, let’s just do it, make the call, and put that front and centre as the focus.’ We are hoping that others will follow the lead that NSF has taken.”
Partners in 6G Research
There are nine private partners who make up a veritable who’s who of the tech world: Apple, Ericsson, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia, Qualcomm, and VMware. The Department of Defense (DoD) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are the two public entities of the public-private partnership.
Erwin Gianchandani, the Deputy of the NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate also serves as its Senior Advisor for Translation, Innovation, and Partnerships. He joined Nandagopal on the call, saying one goal of the partnership, through which as many as 48 awards of up to $1 million in funding each will be distributed, is to leverage the partners’ expertise, ideally expertise that complements that of the program managers at the NSF. According to Gianchandani they also bring assets as well. He cited experimental NIST test beds as an example.
“Those are resources that the researchers who would be applying to this program can potentially tap into as they conduct the research they’re seeking to do in this [wireless] space. You can think of it as expertise that can help to shape and inform the research directions and the research vectors that are outlined in the funding opportunity. You can think of it as bringing experimental assets and data sets to bear that can be valuable to the community as they go about conducting the research,“ he said, adding that the DoD and NIST are also financially supporting the initiative.
Speaking to 6GWorld in a separate interview, Mallik Tatipamula, CTO of Group Function Technologies & Architectures at Ericsson, described what the telecommunications company brings to the table.
“Ericsson’s role in the partnership is going to be providing that system-level innovation, where there is a fundamental convergence of communications, computing, and control driven by artificial intelligence. Our role is to really bring in that wireless expertise,” he said. “Being a leader in mobile networking we are going to bring that expertise to the table.”
Tatipamula dated conversations establishing the partnership with the NSF back to September. He said the relationship between the agency and Ericsson has been “fantastic.”
“It’s part of our public-private partnerships. We have been doing this for the last several decades, the United States being one of the largest markets for us and we wanted to take such a lead in establishing public-private partnerships,” he said. “We’ve had excellent collaboration [with the NSF] in terms of brainstorming and forward-looking ideas that can enhance or accelerate some of the technology developments.”
No Need Running RINGS Around Competition
Gianchandani described the project as a progression of sorts, to the point that RINGS represents the largest public-private partnership the NSF has helped to spearhead. In his mind, the next-generation networks and systems to potentially come out of the research represent just one piece of the puzzle.
“What’s also important here are the graduate students and the undergraduate students who are going to be supported by the research projects that we are going to be funding, because they constitute the next generation themselves of researchers and practitioners and it’s critically important,” he said.
Asked if he sees 6G as a global race, in the context of the start-up of partnerships like RINGS elsewhere in the world, Gianchandani said he wouldn’t characterise it as such.
“I just characterise this as it’s critically important for U.S. competitiveness for us to have a conjuring of folks who are talented and capable of developing and deploying and getting into users’ hands, into beneficiaries’ of the research hands the sort of outputs we want to see with respect to next-generation systems,” he said.
Asked the same question, Nandagopal similarly said he didn’t see it as a race. He also explained how the NSF already partners with countries like Finland, South Korea, France, and Israel. In his opinion, it’s not about being the first to deploy the first 6G network, but rather how that network is leveraged.
“The smartphone revolution unleashed the Facebooks, the Twitters, the whatnot that we’ve seen today and it came not because somebody decided, ‘Oh, we have to do this,’” he said. “It came because they figured out there’s a network that enabled things and therefore maybe they can do [something] better with it.
“So, we are seeing the path to next G and what’s happening with 5G as well. If we ever build this advanced infrastructure, let’s hope that we develop better services. It’s like putting a highway down on a street and hoping that new factories and businesses pop up along the side of us, to take advantage of this highway, creating better economic value. The next G is very much similar along those lines.”
The deadline for RINGS proposal submissions is July 29. Additional details can be found on the RINGS page on the NSF website.
Feature image courtesy of design36 (via Shutterstock).
With journalism credits spanning several sectors including finance and tech, Ryan joins 6GWorld with wide eyes looking onward. He aims to lend his experience to the site, covering the latest generation of cellular advancements as it unfolds, leading into 6G.