Reinventing engineering education in the era of 5G

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There is a long history of the emergence of communication technologies as the infrastructure for transformative innovations in almost every industry. The development of the printing press in the 15th century was the first major industrial innovation in communications that facilitated many scientific, technological, commercial, cultural and religious changes. In the 19th century, postal, telegraph and telephone services made long-distance communications accessible to ordinary people and even contributed to the expansion of railways. Wireless radio communication became a mission critical part of many industries in the early 20th century. Broadcast services have paved the way for many technological, business and cultural changes and have become the first step towards today’s media streaming on the web. During this time, motion pictures emerged as a new industry and created a huge public appetite for television broadcasting which began later in the mid-twentieth century. Pagers were developed in the 1950s and came into widespread use in the 1980s. Pre-cellular era mobile (0G) telephony began in the mid-20th century, laying the foundation for cellular mobile communications. Developments in computer communications began in the 1960s. Gradually, these technologies transformed computer systems enabling many innovations in all sectors. At the same time, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication technologies began to facilitate remote monitoring, motion control, industrial automation, etc., and industrial wireless communications were also introduced nearly four years ago. decades, laying the groundwork for the IoT revolution. Wired and wireless communications and broadcast technologies have enabled pervasive transformations of processes, systems and services across a wide variety of industries.

The first generation (1G) of cellular mobile communication, introduced in the early 1980s, used analog radio signals. These technologies are steadily upgraded to next generations almost every decade, delivering higher speed, quality, network capacity, lower latency, and multiple services to enable new businesses and processes. 2G started with digital radio signals and supported SMS, security and roaming. The cellular IoT era has begun, and 2G has also been widely used for remote measurement and control projects in various industries. Internationally, railways have adapted it as a modified communication technology, GSM-R, to manage their critical operations leading to faster and safer rail services. 3G, offers broadband services, GPS, etc., to redefine the mobile internet experience. New forms of collaborative technologies have become available. A new mobile-first commercial era has begun. Mobile e-commerce, social media, gaming, financial and banking services, etc., which became mainstream with 3G, have grown exponentially with 4G. 4G has delivered a much better mobile Internet experience through a wide range of real-time streaming, including telepresence and enterprise video conferencing, reinforcing and expanding the transformations underway. Strategists and decision-makers have started to include mobility with much more enthusiasm in their overall planning.

mHealth has emerged as a new field for remote care, enhanced ambulatory care, and wellness management. Construction companies have used 4G to create fully functional connected site offices, site security through video surveillance and workflow management. It has transformed many M2M applications. It has also emerged as an excellent infrastructure to manage the work and affairs of the world during the long period of Covid-19.

5G, launched in 2019, with its key capabilities of eMBB (Enhanced Mobile Broadband), mMTC (massive Machine Type Communication) and uRLLC (Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communication) is impacting all industries with ultra-fast broadband, massive deployment of powered IoT devices (1 million devices per square kilometer) and extremely reliable low-latency communication (99.99% reliable). 5G and IoT together deepen the integration of the physical, biological and digital worlds and transform computing from information technology to integration technology. According to Transforma Insights, mMTC will account for 2.6 billion IoT connections by 2030. This integration and blurring of boundaries between the physical and digital worlds increases efficiency and opens up new use cases in manufacturing, construction , mining, energy & utilities, healthcare, transport, buildings and cities, agriculture through applications such as autonomous vehicles, autonomous systems in factories, smart grids, digital twins, the remote surgery, mobile medical monitoring, security, remote control, sensor-based building management, and precision agriculture among others. Each of them offers huge opportunities for market growth in the near future, for example, Statista estimated that the Industrial IoT market will surpass USD 1.1 trillion by 2028 and according to Verified Market Research, the digital twins market to reach USD 108.58 billion by 2028.

This transformation opens up a variety of positions for graduates from different engineering disciplines.

Communication and computer engineers will design, design, implement and operate 5G communication systems. Electronic engineers will design the circuits required for 5G devices and infrastructure and also build 5G-enabled massive IoT networks. IT infrastructure engineers will design and maintain a 5G-enabled IT infrastructure. Cybersecurity experts will have to deal with much higher levels of vulnerability in the 5G ecosystem. Software engineers will also build 5G-based applications for various fields.

Data scientists will analyze ever-growing mountains of data, and together with software engineers, they will also build automation tools for this task. Other engineers will work with the aforementioned experts to enrich and transform their own products, systems and processes to integrate them into the 5G ecosystem. Most importantly, 5G and IoT will expand the frameworks in which engineers typically think about their respective customers, systems, processes, activities, and even goals. Transferable skills such as identifying and solving new problems through observation, modeling, analysis, interpretation, innovative synthesis, lateral thinking and systems thinking will be even more important. The new hyper-connected world will require even more interdisciplinarity to understand and influence it.

As Julius Caeser said in Latin, “Alea iacta est”, which means the dice are cast. All engineering students must now be trained in 5G and IoT, with a primary focus on integrating them with their own disciplines to develop innovative applications, standards and technologies within their own core disciplines. Most engineering courses should be enriched with relevant digital transformations and Industry 4.0 developments. For example, the civil engineering course on surveying may include topics on digital surveying and drone surveying, the mechanical engineering course on production technology may include topics on 3D printing and manufacturing computer-integrated, and the electrical engineering course on electrical systems may include topics on smart grid and smart meters. At the same time, students majoring in computer science or communications engineering now have a greater need to understand the physical world of core engineering disciplines as well. This approach does not require the design of new undergraduate engineering degrees. Appropriately transforming the existing degree program in all engineering disciplines will be a wiser and more sustainable approach. This can be done very effectively by augmenting common interdisciplinary core courses in the engineering curriculum which focus on developing interdisciplinary engineering problem solving skills by combining knowledge of the physical and digital worlds. It is also important that many of these courses are designed and designed to be taught by interdisciplinary teams of faculty. The new common core engineering courses are expected to include knowledge areas related to mechanical mechanisms, CAD, computer programming, contemporary production and construction techniques, digital electronics and embedded systems, measurement of engineering, mechanical and electrical machinery, digital signal processing and amp; communications, automation & control systems, sensors, actuators, data analysis, IoT, etc. Depending on their strengths and orientation, universities may integrate these subjects differently to create different sets of interdisciplinary courses. Additionally, many conventional math courses in the engineering curriculum can be redesigned as computer engineering modeling courses to be given to all engineering students so that math is contextualized and integrated across different engineering disciplines, in particular civil, mechanical and electrical on the one hand and programming. and simulation on the other hand. A large number of disciplinary and interdisciplinary elective courses can help students learn according to their specific interests.

However, as Bertrand Russel, British Nobel laureate, multidisciplinary researcher and great defender of Indian freedom has said, “more important than the curriculum is the question of teaching methods and the spirit in which teaching is given. Nothing will be accomplished simply by changing the curriculum if teaching methods continue to lack rigor or regular engagement in interdisciplinary and collaborative problem-solving through the integration of ideas and technologies. To stay relevant in the age of online education, engineering institutes really need to work a lot on this front, even more urgently. Or maybe it’s too late for most of them.



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The opinions expressed above are those of the author.



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