The Internet’s Spectrum of Possibilities

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February 11th, 2013

Henning Schulzrinne, a professor at Columbia University and the Chief Technology Officer of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), spoke at Boston University on January 30 as part of the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering Distinguished Lecture Series.

Henning Schulzrinne, a professor at Columbia University and the Chief Technology Officer of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), spoke at Boston University on January 30 as part of the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering Distinguished Lecture Series.

What does the future hold for the internet?

Henning Schulzrinne, a professor at Columbia University and the Chief Technology Officer of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), tried to answer that question in front of a packed room of students, faculty, and other members of the Boston University community on January 30. He started by explaining that the internet is here to stay.

“Civil infrastructures are part of what makes up a civilization, and they generally aren’t built over one generation,” said Schulzrinne. “The internet has now become one of our core infrastructures that society requires in order to operate.”

Schulzrinne visited BU’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series. During his talk, he discussed where he sees the internet is going and the areas he felt engineers could have the greatest impact.

“Much of our more promising research will probably be in spectral efficiency,” said Schulzrinne.

Lately, news coverage often focuses on spectrum interference and shortages. A radio station, for example, broadcasts using spectrum to transfer communications signals. No two channels transmit over the same spectrum at an identical moment because that would result in interference.

The FCC is responsible for keeping track of who uses which portions of spectrum, and as the use of smartphones and tablets increases, so does the need for spectrum.

Schulzrinne said that one way the FCC is trying to solve this problem is by convincing television and radio stations to sell their unused spectrum for a portion of the proceeds.

It was standing room only for the first Distinguished Lecture of 2013.

It was standing room only for the first Distinguished Lecture of 2013.

“Incentive auctions benefit the current occupants by motivating them to voluntarily relocate their spectrum for an economic gain,” he said.

At the end of his lecture, Schulzrinne also made some predictions for 2023. In a decade, he said, computer protocols and applications will not have changed too drastically.

“Many technologies that we see in widespread use will still look familiar,” he said. “…We will, however, see increased complexity which will result in some serious security challenges.”

Schulzrinne said that while engineers will play a role in the internet’s future, they must be adaptable to working with those from other fields like politicians, lawmakers and economists.

“Networks including the internet are too important to be left just to engineers,” he said. “When working with others, we have to recognize their constraints and work within them when we’re called upon to help.”

-Rachel Harrington (rachelah@bu.edu)

Schulzrinne’s talk was the first in the three-part Spring 2013 Distinguished Lecture Series. The next talk features Professor Kim L. Boyer, head of the Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic University. He will speak on the topic, “Staring Into Your (Dry) Eyes: Monitoring the Pre-Lens Tear Film From Narrowband Interferometry.” Hear him on Wednesday, March 20, 2013, at 4 p.m. in PHO211.