For many of us, 5G technology has only just become available. Maybe it has finally made its way to your hometown, or you were driving into the closest city for a weekend getaway and saw the letters 5G UW (ultrawide) pop up in the corner of your mobile device. 

With speeds up to 1Gbps, consumers are experiencing wireless connectivity 20 times faster than they were with 4G. For Walid Saad, professor in the Virginia Tech Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, 5G is still part of his research but he’s moved on and is chartering a new territory – 6G technology and what could lie beyond.

Recently, Saad won the 2022 IEEE Communications Society (ComSoc) Fred W. Ellersick Prize for his publication “A Vision of 6G Wireless Systems: Applications, Trends, Technologies, and Open Research Problems.”

This publication focuses on the limitations of 5G and how 6G technology can improve those limitations while pushing for more “out-of-the-box research” surrounding wireless technologies. 

The IEEE Communications Society Paper Awards honors the contributions of members and individuals who advance communications technology through published papers in ComSoc sponsored or co-sponsored publications.

The future of 6G and concepts brought to life

While the implementation of 6G into the lives of consumers and the workflow of industry is still a few years away, Saad and his team are confident that the work they are doing is making a real difference in both wireless and artificial intelligence (AI).

“We hope that these publications can pave the way towards new innovations in both the wireless and AI worlds, and we have already started to see some of that impact,” said Saad.

The cellular systems researcher published an award-winning paper in July of 2020 that helped catalyze much of the research around 6G since its introduction to fellow researchers in 2019. 

“It is always important to plant a seed for innovation and it is incredible to see it grow across the community, leading to even more interesting new research directions,” he said.

The Virginia Tech College of Engineering researcher is already quite familiar with seeing his research concepts come to fruition. Previously, Saad and other wireless experts advocated for replacing rigid, outdated protocols with edge AI-powered, data-driven algorithms and protocols. As a result of that push, industry is currently working on developing what they call "AI-native wireless systems" –exactly what was pushed for.

Conferencing after a COVID Hiatus 

In May, Saad attended the IEEE International Conference on Communications (ICC) in Seoul, South Korea where he was awarded a “Best Paper.” This was the first in-person ICC conference after a nearly three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. 

Saad noted how great it was to be back with colleagues and collaborators who share similar passions and research interests.

“Conferences are a great place to germinate ideas with others, over a break or after a presentation,” said Saad. “The exchange of ideas is central to technology-focused research, and while it is possible to do it online, it is never as effective as in-person.”

The highly cited researcher is looking forward to seeing how research on green AI – deployed over 5G and 6G – will contribute towards reducing the energy bill of AI and wireless systems. There has been a large increase in AI-driven systems, but not much attention has been given to the carbon footprint that is needed to run those large AI algorithms.

The hope is to be able to decrease the carbon footprint of those AI systems without jeopardizing their effectiveness or accuracy. 

“This is a fundamental question that our ICC 2022 paper addressed, it showed, for the first time, how one can balance the tradeoff between energy, accuracy, and precision,” he said. “We are working towards creating sustainable AI algorithms that can not only unlock new applications like autonomous driving or the metaverse, but can also do so without damaging the environment.”

This is the 8th time that Walid and his group have won a best conference paper award at a major IEEE conference since 2015.


Walid Saad and Minsu Kim accepting award on stage
Walid Saad (left) and Minsu Kim (second from left) receive ICC Best Paper Award.

Incentive to keep pushing

Saad is proud of the work his team has done and is honored to have received these two very prestigious awards.

“These awards mean a lot to our group because they validate because they represent a big testament to the excellence of the research that our group has been producing over the past few years,” he said.

He also noted his appreciation for the graduate students on his team. 

“The ICC best paper award was also the very first paper that my student Minsu Kim has written since he joined in August 2021, and thus this also demonstrates the high quality of the graduate students in my group,” Saad said.

Kim is a Ph.D. student pursuing research at the intersection of distributed green AI, control, and communications and is excited about the opportunity to work with Saad and continue his education at Virginia Tech. 

“I have been working with Professor Saad for about a year and so far the experience has been great,” said Kim. “He is at the cutting-edge of wireless research, and it keeps me motivated. I am also grateful for Virginia Tech’s interactive and supportive environment. That is what has allowed me to develop these research skills.” 

Much like the network, It looks like the research on wireless systems won’t be slowing down any time soon.