Real-time communication: Why the Internet has to become tactile

The Internet of the future will greatly enrich many areas of life: From industry to health care provision, all the way to traffic management and intelligent logistics. The essential foundation for all this will be 5G, the next generation of mobile communications.

More data, more speed, more security

© Photo ITU ICT Facts and Figures 2015-2020

Global data flows are rapidly increasing. Greater efficiency is necessary in order to avoid bottlenecks.

© Photo Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2015-2020 White Paper

Soon there will be more mobile devices on earth than there are people.

The fourth industrial revolution is already underway in production, the heart of the German economy: Industry 4.0 will result in highly flexible series production, making it possible to satisfy even the most individual customer requirements at low costs. But an still higher-performance telecommunications infrastructure than before will be needed if Germany is to build on its present good starting position. 

High speed is an essential prerequisite for real-time communication, itself the foundation of the Internet of Things (IoT). This goal presents industry and developers with enormous challenges, because more and more devices, machines and everyday objects are beginning to communicate with one another: The amount of data generated worldwide doubles every two years. 

5G – More than just a new communications standard

But how will we manage to process this rapidly growing flood of information? "This will require filtering and analyzing data at the source, letting systems react rapidly," says Professor Slawomir Stanczak, Department Head of the Wireless Communications and Networks department at Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications, Heinrich Hertz Institute, HHI. Ultra-short latency times of under a millisecond, data transmission rates 100 times greater than in today's LTE networks, peak transmission rates of more than ten gigabits per second, robust wireless connections with drastically reduced consumption of electricity: These are the requirements placed on the new mobile communications standard 5G, the key to future topics such as IoT, automated driving, and relevant progress in health care provision through telemedicine, smart homes for health-impaired individuals and the energy revolution based on smart grids. Simply thinking in terms of a new mobile communications standard is not enough, observes Professor Thomas Magedanz, Director of the Software-Based Networks business unit at Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems FOKUS: "The matter at hand is creation of a universal network for device communication, involving the consolidation of previous mobile communications standards, WLAN, satellite and terrestrial networks." Put concisely, "5G is the ultimate convergence platform," emphasizes Magedanz, an expert on switching node architectures.

This calls for the creation of a new software architecture as the basis of an adaptive core network that will provide highly agile infrastructures and will thus be able to serve as the basis for new business models. Magedanz envisions an "evolutionary development". The decisive factor for technologies such as automated driving, he continues, is that the reaction times involved have to be faster than human reaction times. Nevertheless: "Speed isn't everything, though. Secure, extremely reliable connections that can hold their own in comparison with cable-based systems are essential as well," adds Stanczak, an expert in network information theory. 

© Photo Fraunhofer HHI

From the car phone to vertical industry: The lightning pace of mobile communications development is revolutionizing communication, with production soon to follow.

Fraunhofer concentrates core competencies into 5G

However, a lot remains to be done before the planned launch of the fifth mobile communications generation in a little less than five years. This is particularly the case in Germany, which has slipped back to number six in the worldwide ranking of countries with the most modern digital infrastructures. Germany will have to become a crucial market for 5G if it is to be at the vanguard of Industry 4.0. Global standards and regulatory measures are the key to the success of this technology. Fraunhofer scientists are working intensively to help establish these prerequisites in a variety of committees and policy groups and actively participating in strategic projects. Here they consolidate the core areas of expertise of their respective institutes: HHI in the area of optical telecommunications and signal processing, FOKUS in software-based networks, Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in communications systems and localization technologies, and Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE in system architectures. The initiatives Industrial Data Space, Fraunhofer Institute for Applied and Integrated Security AISEC and Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology SIT are handling security questions, while the institutes in the Fraunhofer Group for Microelectronics are contributing to the realization of the necessary hardware innovations.

The High Performance Center for Digital Networking is still in the formation process. The Center will research basic and cross-section technologies as well as practical applications. Four transfer centers – IoT Lab (Fraunhofer FOKUS), CPS Hardware Lab (Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM), Industry 4.0 Lab (Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology IPK) and the 5G Testbed (Fraunhofer HHI) – will implement, test and demonstrate new technologies such as software-based networks in a highly realistic laboratory environment. Here 5G is emerging from its infancy. 

© Photo 5G Berlin

All technological variables will be optimized for the next generation of mobile communications.

Secure, reliable, efficient

Medium-sized businesses are still the primary source of skepticism regarding the reliability and robustness of wireless connections. This is slowing the development of Machine-to-Machine (M2M) networking and ultimately the arrival of Industry 4.0. The Fraunhofer HHI and the Fraunhofer IZM at SAVE, a subproject of the Berlin High Performance Center Digital Networking, are working on solutions especially for industry that will enable secure decentral data centers and digital connections that are protected against interception or disruptions. Here decentral and thus rapid evaluation of data is crucial.

In the project "fast automation", subsidized by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Fraunhofer IIS and several other groups are developing a real-time wireless communications technology which uses license-free frequency bands and can react in less than a millisecond. "Short latency times and secure protection against interference are especially decisive in the areas of industrial automation and street traffic," Bernhard Niemann, head of the Broadband and Broadcast Department at the Fraunhofer IIS, points out.

© Photo TechTarget: Fog Computing

In Fog / Edge Computing data is not processed centrally in the cloud, but rather on devices such as smartphones, cameras and sensors which constitute the interface or "Edge" between the Internet and the physical world. This enables efficiency gains in terms of response times, broadband requirements and storage requirements.

This kind of application has to locally process the information from a large number of sensors at extremely high speeds; central processing via the cloud would be much too slow and error-prone. The solution: "Fog Computing". This architecture approach leverages the miniaturization of sensor technologies and computing power to evaluate and prepare data, for example on street traffic volumes, on a task-specific basis directly on location via mobile edge (see Glossary). In the HardFOG project Fraunhofer researchers from Fraunhofer IZM and Fraunhofer FOKUS intend to construct miniaturized versions of various sensor nodes in the form of high-performance sensor systems. This is to be done by integrating chips, memory modules, interfaces and energy-saving voltage transformers in the sensor nodes themselves.

Several projects are specifically addressing the aspect of energy efficiency: ultra-fast transmission networks are useless when the batteries of the many distributed sensors run out of power too quickly. The researchers are convinced that with 5G it will be possible to prolong the operating times for low-energy sensors by up to ten times and are speculating on battery lifetimes of as long as 15 years. "At the High Performance Center for Electronic Systems in Erlangen we're researching the topic of reducing power consumption for the Internet of Things to an absolute minimum," explains Professor Albert Heuberger, Director of the Fraunhofer IIS. Intelligent tracking systems will soon take over positioning tasks using a fraction of the amount of energy typical today.

Innovative materials such as gallium nitride are to help increase energy efficiency as well. This semiconductor material can be used to create energy-saving and high-performance mobile communications transmission amplifiers. Since this way more operational frequencies are available, it is possible not only to significantly increase range but also the rates at which data can be transmitted. "This way we not only make the best possible use of LTE standard potentials, we're also creating the optimum prerequisites for the implementation of 5G," explains Professor Oliver Ambacher, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics IAF. Professor Ambacher's contribution to the development of highly efficient power amplifiers was recognized with the 2015 Karl Heinz Beckurts Prize.

Hardware will have to change to accommodate future networks. "New hardware components will be necessary in order to process these enormous data volumes at the highest possible speeds while at the same time consuming as little energy as possible," emphasizes Professor Hubert Lakner, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Fraunhofer Group for Microelectronics. Together with partners in industry, Fraunhofer is developing a new generation of semiconductor processes which will enable the cost-effective manufacture of transistors offering minimal latency and low energy consumption.

Of course taking full advantage of 5G will also mean that terminal devices for consumers will have to change as well. The 2018 Olympic Winter Games in South Korea, where pioneer applications will be demonstrated on a wide-scale basis, will provide a glimpse of how this will look. Spectators in the stadiums will be able to use their virtual reality glasses to zoom in closer to the action, access slow motion replays and bet on winners in ad-hoc online polls. Nevertheless scientists don't expect a Big Bang in the conversion to 5G, but rather a characteristic evolutionary development which will integrate existing landline and mobile broadband networks in the new network landscape. 

Glossary

The most important keywords of the topic Tactile Internet explained shortly.

This refers to Internet-based control of an application with extremely short response time imperceptible to humans (less than a millisecond). In the future this will make applications in areas such as telemedicine and Car2Car communication possible. 

Regarded as the successor standard of the current mobile wireless network 4G (LTE). 5G aims to provide 100 to 1000 times higher data throughput, 100 times lower latency an operation with a massive M2M type communication. Another goal is consolidating various networks and wireless connections to create a highly complex ICT platform. This platform will combine existing fourth-generation wireless communications technologies with WLAN and a variety of landline and satellite networks to form a flexible overall system. The technology is to be available by 2020. 

Long Term Evolution (LTE) refers to the fourth-generation mobile communications standard, currently the most modern connection technology. Download rates reach 300 megabits per second. LTE uses the UHF frequency band, with regional variances between 700 and 2600 megahertz. 

Latency is a delay or reaction time. It refers to the period of time between an action and the occurrence of a reaction, for example the time needed for signal propagation, for signal processing or execution of communication protocols. 

Real-time systems enable the direct control and performance of processes, important among other things in robotics and motor control. There is no time-based definition of "real-time"; the period of time involved can vary according to the application. However, the generally valid principle is that real-time systems should operate without perceptible delays. 

The Internet of Things refers to the increased networking of devices, sensors and machines via the Internet. The computer as a stand-alone device recedes into the background, to be replaced by intelligent objects. 

Machine-to-Machine (M2M) stands for the automated exchange of information (usually via the Internet) among machines and vehicles or with a central control center. 

Car-to-Car Communication (Car2Car or C2C) refers to the exchange of information and data between vehicles in order to provide early notification of critical situations to the driver. This helps prevent accidents and improve traffic flow. 

Car2X refers to communication between a car and its surroundings or infrastructures, for example in intelligent traffic control systems. 

Here mobile communications base stations are enhanced to include expansion modules that (in part) process and filter data. Effect: The communication doesn't need to be routed through the entire network, but rather can take place locally within the respective cell site. As a result, signal propagation times are dramatically reduced.