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JJD: Where in the communications-technology industry do you see the largest need for investment?

AE: There is a need for more capacity per user (and for more users)--particularly in urban areas. That will mean more and even smaller cells, and the corresponding problem of connecting those cells to the rest of the network (right-of-way issues). In addition, we'll need some additional improvements in access technology. Lower-power wireless transceivers also will be required to enable access all the time, anywhere. As spectrum becomes more and more congested, practical solutions must be proposed for using higher-channel frequencies that suffer from nonlinearities as well as limited propagation characteristics. Smart-antenna technologies should be exploited to overcome propagation limitations.

JJD: In your opinion, what technology or software tools are most valuable to a communication engineer?

AE: It depends. MATLAB is used a lot. But so are Octave and Python. Developers of MAC protocols use NS or Opnet. Everyone writes a lot of C and C++, but there many tools are used for development. At some point, a real-time emulator is useful, and then it is helpful to build a prototype on a field-programmable gate array (FPGA).

JJD: What are companies looking for in a communications engineer?

AE: Most importantly, excellent fundamentals in mathematics, statistics, information theory, signal processing, and economics. Yes, economics. It is helpful to have some practical experience implementing hardware—usually by writing Verilog and/or VHDL. Good coding skills in C/C++ and familiarity with rapid prototyping in MATLAB are helpful. Python is invaluable for data analysis and control of lab equipment. Additionally, this person must be very creative in defining the communication problem and seeking the best practical solutions.

JJD: How do communications engineers keep up to date on the latest in the field?

AE: Read math books—seriously. Keep up with some of the latest published work in a couple of key subfields. These days, there is a lot of excellent work in codes and the application of information theoretic concepts to machine learning. All of these disciplines are inter-related, and the victors will see the inter-relationships. The dimensions in any communications scheme is continuously increasing--for example, from single-carrier to multi-carrier (OFDM), from single-input single-output (SISO) to MIMO and from QAM to WAM. Such innovations should be backed by a mathematical background and fundamental understanding of communication theory.

JJD: In what ways could the communications industry attract more young engineers to the field?

AE: The key is to show everyone the massive opportunities that remain. Much of the news of late has focused on how the communications semiconductor business is moribund. The reality is that much of the failure is the result of trying the same thing too many times. Just because it was successful once doesn't mean that it will be successful again. The communications business is much more mature and efficient today; it is harder to make a big splash. There are plenty of opportunities, but understanding the remaining market opportunities is key. The technologies that are considered for next-generation communications involve sophisticated and challenging methods, such as carrier aggregation (in LTE-A, for example), which may attract young engineers seeking real challenges.

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