In a brilliantly formulated keynote address at ADHOC 11 at Johannesberg Castle, Stockholm, Sweden, Mischa Dohler of CTTC in Barcelona and CTO of Worldsensing proclaimed the demise of Multihop Wireless Networking (often confused with “Adhoc Networking”) as a hot topic in research. “There have been over 14.000 papers published and many are still to come, but the multi billion dollar research effort over almost has led to very little compared other areas, e.g. cellular radio”, Dohler remarked. Admittedly the educational impact has been great as multihop wireless networking offer many difficult challenges, but in terms of actual, working products the output has been weak. The academic community and the funding agencies have been reluctant to leave their well established pastures and change gears by moving into other challenging areas that bear more promise. One of these areas, Dohler commented, is the area of wide area Machine to Machine (M2M), the “internet of important things” that should be one of the great research challenges for the wireless network community. He must have had a sneak preview of the new Wireless@KTH research strategy -that frames “Networked M2M” as one of its key area of research for 2011-2013. The video with the full talk will be available soon at the Adhoc11 and Wireless@KTH websites.
Is Mischa right ? Sure, what he says can be applied to many areas. Mischa lead a panel at VTC 2009 on the question “Is the PHY-layer dead?” He may be right in that sense as well – new modulation & coding formats are not likely to be the top priority of the industry in the coming 3-5 years. What is “hot” in the academic world may not always be the key bottleneck in industry. Academia should definitely have its freedom to go on wild goose chase, explore areas which haven’t been explored before – discover the unexpected. What is the problem here is that we tend to stay on the same chase far too long. We need to let go and try something new.
Changing tracks is, however, well known to be difficult for an academic, in particular in the midst of his career chasing for tenure, funding etc. Going into a new area is a high risk endeavor usually reserved for those few, well established researchers that can tell their funding bodies “Trust me on this”. When it comes to the “Adhoc” area in particular, an interesting discussion emerged at the end of the workshop. Looking at the topics in the workshop, actually very few papers where about traditional “MANET” type work. Instead most papers dealt with different aspects of novel wireless system architectures, e.g. self-organization, delay tolerance, caching strategies, mobile cloud computing, opportunistic networking etc. So, at least in this workshop, it seams that the research community largely already made this leap of faith.