Huawei’s Eric Xu: To the Explorers

On July 26, 2018, Huawei held an award ceremony at its headquarters in Shenzhen, where they presented a special award to the inventor of 5G polar codes, a Turkish professor named Erdal Arikan. Speaking at the event, Huawei’s Rotating Chairman Eric Xu said, “We are well aware that the birth of 5G standards is only the beginning of a new journey. We will continue to work hard to ensure that 5G technologies – including polar code – creates greater value for society, and sooner.”

Below is the full text of Eric Xu’s speech at the award ceremony:

Professor Arikan,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s my great honor to be with you here today.

Please join me as we pay tribute to Professor Arikan and his fellow scientific explorers.

In a way, I think the invitation to today’s event was sent to us back on July 24, 2008, the day when we first saw Professor Arikan’s paper on polar codes.

As we all know, 3GPP officially froze the standalone specifications for 5G New Radio at 11:18 on June 14, 2018. This marked the official release of 5G Release 15 standards. The non-standalone NR specifications were released in December of last year. At present, the first phase of standardization work for all features has been completed. Polar code was confirmed last December as a basic element of 5G standards.

The world’s first 3GPP-compliant, polar code supported 5G system was launched at Mobile World Congress on February 22, 2018. It was jointly developed by Huawei and Vodafone.

About 10 years have passed between the release of Professor Arikan’s paper on polar codes and the completion of Release 15 standards. What we see today is just the tip of the iceberg. Below the waterline, there is decades of nonstop research and exploration.

In 1948, Claude Shannon published the paper: A Mathematical Theory of Communication, which became the foundation of information theory. In the paper, he pointed out the maximum rate at which information can be reliably transmitted over a given bandwidth with certain quality. This is known as Shannon’s limit. He also proposed that channel coding technology provides the means to reach that limit. As a result, channel coding technology has become the crown jewel of the communications sector, and numerous scientists have worked tirelessly to develop and evolve this technology.

The Viterbi decoding algorithm was invented in 1967. It represents the pinnacle of the first generation of channel coding technology. This algorithm made decoding simpler, and provided a greater performance in the decoding process. It enabled the widespread use of convolutional codes in the information and communications industry. The algorithm was adopted for 2G GSM networks in 1988, and for subsequent 3G networks.

In an engineering experiment in 1991, French professor Claude Berrou discovered the turbo code, which was the first coding scheme to bring the industry close to the Shannon’s limit. This opened the door to the second generation of channel coding technology. In 1999, turbo code was adopted by 3GPP as the channel code for 3G UMTS systems. It has also been used in 4G LTE systems.

Building on turbo code principles, the computer science community gained a new understanding of LDPC code, which had been discovered by Professor Robert Gallager – Professor Arikan’s mentor – back in 1962. Based on this new understanding, people realized that, with modern computing power, LDPC code could also bring us close to Shannon’s limit. In the decades that followed, LDPC code has been widely adopted in storage and broadcast domains.

In 2008, Professor Arikan published his paper on polar codes. Polar codes became the only theoretically proved coding scheme that could reach Shannon’s limit. They ushered in the third generation of channel coding technology. Both LDPC and polar code have since been adopted as 5G standards.

As we know, moving from theory to practical application is a process rife with countless engineering hurdles. It took 10 to 20 years for each of the three generations of channel coding technology to evolve from academic discovery to industry standard.

Huawei began researching 5G back in 2009. This was also the year that Professor Arikan published his official paper on polar code in IEEE’s Transactions on Information Theory. 5G is the first product that Huawei has developed through a complete end-to-end process, from concept to research, standards, and commercial application. This experience has been invaluable, and there are a lot of lessons we can draw on from our work on 5G over the past decade.

Here, I would like to thank Li Yingtao for his outstanding leadership throughout this journey. Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I also want to thank Dr. Wen Tong, our 5G project manager. Over the past 10 years, he has travelled millions of kilometers around the world to get the job done. Thanks to his work, we have achieved our goals for 5G: making technical breakthroughs and helping to set a single global standard.

Again, please allow me to express my sincere gratitude to Professor Arikan, Mr. Ling Yingtao, and Dr. Wen Tong. Also to Professor Arikan’s peers in academia, fellow scientists, and all of the Huawei experts who have contributed to 5G.

Moving forward, we are well aware that the birth of 5G standards is only the beginning of a new journey. We will continue to work hard to ensure that 5G technologies – including polar code – creates greater value for society, and sooner. At the same time, we hope that the close collaboration between companies and the academia, like the one between Huawei and Professor Arikan, will continue, and give rise to more scientific marvels that drive the development of the ICT industry and society as a whole.

Thank you!

— Eric Xu, Rotating Chairman, Huawei



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