An engineering course that prepares students for the transition to 5G and beyond might focus on standardization, network architecture and the technical challenges involved in implementation.
At the School of Business at Stevens Institute of Technology, Dr. Kevin Ryan’s Next-Generation Wireless Networks class includes all that and then some.
“We’re a little higher than engineering in the sense of our perspective,” he said. “Our students need to be thinking about how to manage the evolution to the next generation in terms of businesses: How do I justify the cost for this migration? What new applications and customer solutions can this technology offer? What business opportunities are we losing out on if we don’t migrate?”
“If I only taught what was happening today and didn't open up the possibilities of the next step, their degree becomes obsolete.”
Dr. Ryan, whose background is in electrical engineering, isn’t exaggerating when he says 5G has the potential to be transformative for businesses, introducing not just new opportunities but entirely new industries that will be enabled by these highly pervasive, low-latency networks. He uses examples like remote surgery, self-driving cars and augmented reality-powered shopping experiences.
As much as 5G may sound overhyped in the popular press, Dr. Ryan said organizations are still underestimating its disruptive potential.
“In our lectures, I encourage students to think about what we can do with the capabilities of 5G that we could not do with 4G,” he said. “It’s something Blockbuster should have asked back when 3G introduced mobile video. Ultimately, they paid the price for ignoring it.”
Staying up to date
Dr. Ryan has seen — and managed — his fair share of network evolutions. Prior to joining Stevens, where he’s the director of the Network & Communication Management & Services master’s program, he spent 23 years at AT&T Bell Labs, working in network access, high-speed networks, wireless and education.
Interacting with the different stakeholders involved in developing and implementing technology gave him a full sense of innovation’s impact across organizations.
He also took on a teaching role within Bell Labs, where his department was charged with explaining new technologies to upper management, engineers and, occasionally, customers. It’s something he now prepares his students to do in their workplaces.
“Stevens is a very relevant with the times, in terms of technologies, and a lot of that is from Dr. Ryan, who is truly one of the smartest men I’ve ever spoken with — as a professor and a peer,” said Kevin Storms M.S. ’18, a business operations manager at Verizon. “He keeps current so that his courses are relevant, which makes the program a great investment for any student.”
Dr. Ryan’s classes include a mix of professionals who work for service providers, infrastructure manufacturers and tech giants. They are the ones currently deploying 5G, which make use of software-defined networks that will change the way future innovations are rolled out.
“Functions that used to be implemented in hardware are now going to be implemented through software algorithms,” he said. “It’s not an integrated circuit that has to be designed, fabricated and packaged. It’s going to be someone writing a sophisticated program.”
Navigating 5G's seismic shift
These software-defined networks are introducing a level of flexibility that will allow organizations to quickly make network changes to capitalize on new opportunities. Dr. Ryan said this a “seismic shift” that is not only fundamentally changing the network architecture, it’s also reshaping the way people do their jobs.
Dr. Ryan’s students are currently navigating this seismic shift, and classroom discussions, whether on-campus or virtual, offer them a chance to work through these obstacles before tackling them for their organizations.
“There’s a real immediacy to get this done quickly, but even with all the thought and planning that goes into deploying 5G, we’re still seeing new challenges come up when we implement it,” he said.
Students who come to his class looking for answers on these big questions surrounding 5G are somewhat surprised when Dr. Ryan opens with a discussion on 6G, which won’t be rolled out until later this decade. But it allows them to see the limitations of 5G in comparison to the innovations that the next generation will bring.
“If I only taught what was happening today and didn't open up the possibilities of the next step, their degree becomes obsolete,” he said. “They are going to be there when 6G turns to 7G, and I'm hoping to help them develop the critical thinking skills necessary to deal with the challenges that will certainly arise then.”