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Getting Better in 5G—with a Little Help from Your Friends


What does the collaborative power of Lennon & McCartney have to do with 5G communications? Perhaps not much—but I believe their days together yielded far more genius-level work than did their respective solo efforts.

From my early days at Hewlett-Packard and across five generations of wireless evolution, I have witnessed the highest levels of business success when we collaborated closely with industry leaders early in the development of the next generation of, well, anything.

The history of science and engineering is full of famous teams: Louis and Marie Pasteur, Pierre and Marie Curie, the Wright Brothers, and the aforementioned Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. Even seemingly self-made individuals who changed the course of our collective river—Newton, Leonardo, or Pascal—collaborated with others to exert their own special influence on humanity.

Why collaborate? Why put yourself into a situation that forces you to find common ground, adopt another’s pace, and perhaps share the glory? First of all, nobody has all of the answers. Wilbur needed Orville, and Bill’s technical insight needed Dave’s business acumen.

More important is the multiplicative benefit of teamwork: call it “synergy” or “gestalt.” With leadership and talent, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. In addition, by engaging in early collaborations, you build expertise and insight into a market while creating prototype solutions and thereby earning long-term credibility with top players.

That is what makes a difference in the very complex world of 5G. This new generation will see myriad changes: digital and RF semiconductors; antenna technology; fiber-optic communications; eNB (or gNB?) design; UE/CPE design; networking and applications software; cloud and virtualization; overall system design and interference management; and even a rapidly growing body of work to augment and virtualize our view of reality.

Nearly 2,400 years ago, Aristotle wrote a single volume that described humankind’s complete understanding of physics. Today one person has not a chance of even reading all the books on these topics much less gaining a full understanding our collective knowledge. Even if we focus only on the applications of physics to mobile communications, we have breadth beyond what even a small group of people can embrace.

And so we work together! I have been involved in enough of these interactions to develop this simple recipe for success in technical collaboration:

  • Get involved early with the industry leaders.
  • Ensure both parties have something unique to contribute and something important to gain. This means both parties also take on significant risk.
  • Live up to your end of the bargain and constantly manage and reconcile expectations—nothing sours a relationship like missed commitments and other bad surprises.
  • Put the right complementary skillsets on the program, combining brilliantly technical thinkers, rigidly pragmatic project managers, and, of course, out-of-the-box creative types.
  • Manage a healthy balance of strategic versus commercial intent. Not all collaborations result in a commercial windfall, but good collaborations always provide significant benefit to both sides.

At a corporate level, also think about your overall strategy for collaboration. Our approach has been to consider the following:

  • Stay global. 5G wireless is happening everywhere. There are differences in approach depending on geography, and the leaders may not be in your backyard.
  • Manage a variety of partners. For 5G this means a mix of university and government research; industry and national consortia; and other commercial entities.
  • Embrace a variety of technologies. 5G means everything from millimeter-wave and semiconductors to antennas and massive MIMO all the way to validation of mobile applications. This exposes you to a broader ecosystem and enables a process of developing higher-value solutions.

As a hobbyist musician, I always perform better when surrounded by the best. Thus, I ask you to remember the emphasis on market leaders. Whether we work with startups, 70-year-old industry icons, universities, or government researchers, our focus is on those leading the way to 5G communications. So let’s work together. Whether it is John with Paul or Bill with Dave, harmony is always richer than solo.

Blog Post created by Roger Nichols