CARY — Back in 2009, Gerard Hayes watched in concern when his longtime employer Sony Ericsson began laying off workers and shutting down its RTP operations where new mobile devices were being researched and developed since the early 1990s.

Determined not to lose the talent and deplete the region of an industry stronghold, he founded the Wireless Research Center of North Carolina (WRC),  “a world-class testing and research facility” located in the heart of RTP.

According to Hayes, the nonprofit  “accelerates the rate of scientific innovation and is a network design and Internet of Things (IoT) consultant and certified testing facility for the CTIA and other wireless network providers.”

On Thursday, Hayes appeared as a speaker at NC TECH’s Demystifying 5G conference held at the Embassy Suites in Cary. WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam managed to catch him for a brief chat before he went on stage. Here’s what he had to say:

  • For the general public, why is it so hard for us to get our heads around 5G?

5G represents a leap in connectivity (in throughput, latency, and scope) that has been advancing rapidly since the adoption of 4G (LTE) in 2008. The 5G ecosystem with nearly instantaneous connectivity to billions of devices, the Internet of Things (IoT) brings a connected world closer to a reality.

There’s a lot of attention and hype around what 5G enables, as well as the technologies that are enabling those applications. So I think people are overwhelmed with the convergence of the technology and those applications. It’s not as scary or as daunting as people think. It’s really an actual evolution of where we are with 4G. With 4G, we started doing FaceTime on the move. So with 5G, it’s going to create a bigger pipe, lower latency, faster response time, which will impact the connected community in ways that we cannot even imagine right now.

  • What should we be looking out for?

5G is a technology evolution and harmonization of existing 4G connectivity with an initial coexistence of 4G and 5G systems. The benefits of 5G will impact and improve nearly every facet of our lives — from improved healthcare, connected vehicles, smart cities, connected classroom, connected IoT, smart agriculture. It will also enable innovative solutions in healthcare, education, transportation, agriculture.

We should be looking out for more connected applications on the smart cities, and the “digital citizen,” an expression for a connected person. Ubiquitous connectivity and quality of life, we will be seeing that, too. In the IoT space, we’ll see more of a return on investments where industrial IoT, meaning that connectedness and data analytics. You’ll be seeing a lot more applications that are benefiting from the enhanced connectivity.

What about America’s race with China on building the next generation of wireless networks? Should we be concerned?

We shouldn’t be overly concerned. I believe we should definitely maintain a global presence. Wireless standards are a global evolution, so we need to be a part of that. We shouldn’t retreat from that. I do believe that we have the innovation and the technology to lead and guide that.

Tell us more about the Wireless Research Center of North Carolina.

We’re bridging the gap between advanced communications systems, like 5G and next generation wireless, as well as innovation. We promote the startup companies as well as new products. We don’t hold any intellectual property, so it’s a very neutral space and we have the RIoT initiative under the center to really foster how you grow a company for profit and engage in the community.

What are some of the products that you see being tested at the WRC?

The WRC has been supporting the adoption of various aspects of 5G technologies to solve complex wireless challenges across several market sectors. The rapid advancement of software defined radios (SDRs) and software defined networks have greatly accelerated the adoption of new technologies.  This trend will continue.

We’re testing everything from on-body medical devices, wearable devices, all the way up to cellular devices for connected things that we use in everyday life, through to aviation and space connectivity. You may not see the product specific, but you will see the results of that application in the implementation.

  • What are some of the pitfalls surrounding 5G? What about cybersecurity? How can we protect ourselves from this increased connectivity?

There are some technology and adoption challenges about aspects of 5G (mmWave propagation, equipment availability, …) that are currently being addressed.  The engineering community continues towards developing effective solutions. Similarly, cybersecurity within existing 4G networks has been accepted for many applications (such as personal banking, information transfer, etc…).  This level of security will continue to be studied and improved.

  • You’re an NC State graduate who has been living and working in the Triangle since the early 1990s. How has the region changed since then as it relates to telecommunications?

North Carolina and the Research Triangle Park was a telecommunications mecca in the 1990s. That’s when I was with Sony Ericsson for about 16 years. One of the reasons we formed the Wireless Center was to harness that talent that stayed in the area. So we have the ability to lead not just nationally, but here in North Carolina in communication.