Site: GMD FOKUS
German National Research Center for Information Technology,
Research Institute for Open Communication Systems
Date Visited: 29 April 1999
WTEC Attendees: R. Rao (report author), A. Ephremides, N. Moayeri,
Hosts: Eckhard Moeller, Head of Competence Center
Mihai Mateescu, Head of MOBRA
Christian Schuler, member of MOBRA
Forschungsinstitut für Offene Kommunikationssysteme (FOKUS) or the Research Institute for Open Communication Systems was formally established in 1988, but its roots can be traced to the much older Hahn-Meitner-Institut in Berlin. It had then and continues to have an institutional focus on providing "information at any time, at any place, in any form, and according to personal preferences." GMD FOKUS undertakes research and pre-product development work on a variety of communications and computing initiatives.
FOKUS draws 30% of its support from the German government. The remaining 70% comes from companies like Deutsche Telekom and Textronix in Germany, Hitachi and NEC in Japan, the Racal Data Group in the United States, from E.U. programs like ACTS and ESPRIT, and from national R&D programs such as the German Research Network (DFN).
FOKUS takes part in a number of technological developments through R&D projects, management and development of international test beds, software and hardware prototypes, and product development. FOKUS is an active contributor to main standardization bodies such as OMG, EURESCOM, TINA-C, ATM Forum, TMF, IETF, ETSI, ISO, and ITU-T, and is active, as well, in education at universities (in particular the Technical University of Berlin) and other organizations. FOKUS has experience in developing working demos, and an essential part of its success in this regard comes from extensive industry involvement not only in donating equipment but also in setup and testing.
The organizational structure at GMD FOKUS and the funding mechanisms pursued exposes researchers to market forces. Although this exacts a price in the management of projects and recruitment and retention, research personnel seem to be engaged in relevant work.
About 20% of its 185 employees are permanent and the rest are hired for terms not exceeding five years. The permanent staff provides leadership and continuity. The temporary staff is hired for specific projects and the duration of their appointments are directly tied to the duration of the projects. This is viewed as a source of some difficulty in hiring and retention.
Discussions with key senior personnel spanned issues pertaining to network centric and user centric support for mobility, hybrid fiber radios, scheduling for the wireless channel, error control, fourth generation systems, cellular IP, and software radios.
Drs. Mateescu and Moeller, the WTEC panel's gracious hosts at GMD FOKUS, believe that competition is key to driving down the costs of access as well as the provision of proxy services to untethered mobile users. As far as mobility support was concerned, they saw particular merit in two architectures/technologies: architectures involving smart network resident agents that shadow mobile users and serve up appropriately reformatted information to low cost terminals and architectures where the mobile exercised more control and relied on network infrastructure primarily as a low cost transport medium.
Dr. Mateescu believes that communication is about information exchange. Large databases will be used to store this information, and therefore he sees high bandwidth optical networks as a key element of the overall communication infrastructure. In this context, an ongoing project on Hybrid Fibre Radio at GMD FOKUS was described to the panelists. The system incorporates passive devices that convert optical signals to RF and vice versa. The architecture allows for the deployment of many low cost antenna/converter subsystems that are linked to a more central base station. EURESCOM (www.eurescom.de), a pan-European institute for strategic studies in telecommunications, has an interest in understanding how this and other such technologies would affect the business of European telephone service providers.
Although research driven by market forces has its appeal, Dr. Mateescu indicated that a new hurdle in securing commitment of market actors for long-term projects was not the fear of failure but the fear that the work might become irrelevant in today's rapidly changing environment. Senior leaders remain confident that through nimble management, the quality of the research at GMD FOKUS will remain high but some concern was expressed about the quality of life of the researchers. An example of a long-term research project at GMD FOKUS within the confines of a standard was the development of packet "scheduling algorithms over the RF channel." This was viewed as a key point of differentiation between competing UMTS compliant data service providers.
GMD FOKUS was starting to explore "Fourth Generation" concepts in collaboration with major equipment manufacturers. At the current time, this new generation was viewed as extending the range and mobility support for broadband wireless access. Investigations were also underway on the concept of "Secure Cellular IP Networks." Long-term research plans at GMD FOKUS include MAC, FEC/ARQ, software radio, HFR, radio independent access, and mobility routing. Applied research is focused on hardware/software prototype development, and GMD FOKUS does get involved in pre-product development through the creation of networking software and software tools.
FOKUS was recently structured around nine centers of competence: