HLFF Spotlight: 9th HLF

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Laureates of mathematics and computer science meet the next generation
Heidelberg Laureate Forum

The Internet of Things – Khac-Hoang Ngo

The Heidelberg Laureate Forum has a single purpose: To provide some of the brightest minds in mathematics and computer science with the space and time to make connections and find inspiration. The HLFF Spotlight series shines a light on some of the brilliant young researchers attending the event, their background and research as well as their expectations for the HLF.

Khac-Hoang Ngo is a postdoctoral research fellow in the field of telecommunications at the Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden. Originally from Vietnam, he conducted his PhD research at the CentraleSupélec, Paris-Saclay University and Huawei Paris Research Center on the topic of noncoherent wireless communications. Since 2020, he has lived and worked in Sweden, pursuing a career in academic research. In our interview, he talks about how his participation at the 7th HLF shaped his career decisions, why he wants to participate again and what running a marathon and conducting research have in common. 

Khac-Hoang Ngo is attending the 9th HLF in September 2022. Image Credits: Toan Pham

How did the participation in the 7th HLF in 2019 influence your career?
When I attended, I was currently in the final year of my PhD, which was a critical time: I had to decide between a career in academia or industry. The chance to meet laureates who made a big impact through their research definitely influenced my decision. Their passion and courage encouraged me to pursue fundamental and impactful research questions. This is allowed best by a career in academia. Therefore, participating at the HLF motivated me to choose a postdoc and aim for a faculty position in a leading academic institution.

Why do you want to participate again?
At the 7th HLF, I got stirringly motivated and inspired, so I want to put myself in the HLF atmosphere again. At the 9th HLF, I would like to discuss distributed computing architectures for the Internet of Things (IoT) with leading computer scientists. Furthermore, I will present a poster about my current research on a novel information theoretic framework for massive random-access in the IoT. Through that, I would like to exchange knowledge and get feedback from other young researchers. I am also looking forward to attending the laureate lectures and the Hot Topic session to deepen and broaden my knowledge, and to enrich my perspective on the role of mathematics and computer sciences in future development. These are valuable inputs for me, a young researcher, to shape my future career. Finally, my connection with other 7th HLF participants has turned out to be fruitful, as we proposed a project that was later funded by the AlumNode alumni network. Thus, I am eager to broaden my network with other young researchers again this year.

Can you tell us more about the project that emerged from your time at the 7th HLF?
At the Forum I met two fellow young researchers Aniq Ur Rahman and Anish Jindal, who also work in the domain of wireless communications. Together, we proposed a project on “Connecting the Unconnected: A Tool for Digital Inclusion” and received funding from AlumNode. With this project, we aim to bridge the digital divide by devising effective solutions to provide broadband connectivity to remote areas. One of the main challenges in doing so is the deployment of mobile backhaul solutions. Due to high costs, only a few backhaul nodes are deployed in denser areas, while a significant fraction of the rural population is scattered in isolated villages with geographic barriers. To address this problem, we propose an algorithm to deploy access points in order to effectively and efficiently serve the scattered users. Specifically, we would optimize the number of access points, their locations, and the topology to connect them to the given backhaul nodes. We demonstrated our algorithm using a real dataset of the population of Kilimambogo, Kenya, which has one of the lowest GDP per capita in the world. Our results have been published in a journal paper and presented in several scientific conferences.

Khac-Hoang Ngo chatting with computer scientist Ivan Sutherland and other young researchers at the 7th Heidelberg Laureate Forum in 2019. Image Credits: Nhat Pham (Tuoi Tre Newspaper Vietnam)

What is your current research about?
My research focuses on the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT has emerged prominently due to the explosive growth of connected devices: around 39 billion connected devices are forecast to exist in 2026 – more than 4.7 times the projected global population. In the IoT, virtually all devices are interconnected and continuously share data. The IoT is a key enabler for a host of applications, such as intelligent transportation systems, smart cities, and smart grids. Thus, it promises to transform the way we live. To realize the IoT, it is crucial and timely to develop a communication and computation infrastructure that can support the processing of a vast amount of time-sensitive data. In terms of computation, edge computing has emerged as a novel paradigm to guarantee low-latency and high-bandwidth computing services. It involves moving the computation power from the cloud to where data is generated, by pooling the available resources at the network edge. In terms of communication, a typical scenario in the IoT is massive random access, where a random fraction of a massive crowd of battery-limited devices wakes up sporadically and transmits short packets in an uncoordinated manner. We investigate how low-latency and private edge computing protocols can be developed in wireless random-access networks in a project funded by EU’s H2020 under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Individual Fellowship. Relying on tools from information theory and coding theory, we tackle the two following challenging objectives: first, to establish a foundation for privacy and reliability in latency-critical, multi-client and multi-server edge computing in random-access networks; second, to devise resilient coding schemes together with energy-efficient and scalable wireless random-access protocols to achieve low latency and preserve privacy in distributed edge computing. The results of this project will help pave the way to the full realization of the IoT in the near future.

What do you think are the greatest challenges to date in the field of telecommunications?
The research in telecommunications is facing a paradigm shift. Nowadays, telecommunication not only provides tools to assist human communication, but should also serve as a platform for emerging use cases, services and technologies, such as the IoT, autonomous driving, virtual reality and Industry 4.0. For example, in the fifth-generation mobile networks (5G), while one of the three main usage scenarios is dedicated to enhanced mobile broadband communication, the other two main scenarios are reserved for the communication of massive machine-type devices, or of mission-critical devices with stringent reliability and latency constraints. Thus, telecommunication has been shifted from connecting people to connecting things. In the forthcoming sixth-generation networks (6G), new aspects have been speculated upon, such as extensive application of machine learning towards connected intelligence, integration of communication and sensing as well as the transmission of semantic information. These challenges cannot be resolved by simply modifying the current systems, but rather require a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices. Even Claude Shannon’s information theoretic framework for communications, which has been leading the development of global digital communications, could be replaced. I think it is important to establish a fundamental understanding of the problems faced in these emerging challenges.

Besides research, which personal achievements have shaped the last year for you?
My greatest achievement last year was to get married. Furthermore, I’m on my way to becoming a serious runner. Since September 2021, I have finished three races, including a half marathon in one hour, 30 minutes and 25 seconds. I am currently training for my first full marathon this September with a targeted time of below three hours and 30 minutes. Running helps me avoid stress and keep a good work-life balance. Furthermore, I found some similarities between running and research: both require one to be committed and persistent to get better every day, and hard work pays off in the long term.

More inspirational stories are to come in the HLFF Spotlight series, so stay tuned.

Lena Schwenker studied Nutritional Sciences and Molecular Biosciences at the University of Heidelberg. She now works as a full-time science communicator, most recently at the National Institute of Science Communication, Karlsruhe.

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