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Interview of Head of NGW group - Prof. Lajos Hanzo

Prof. Lajos HanzoLajos Hanzo, gives the impression of a man of incredible energy, who lives life to the full.

'Despite my age, I'd still love to chase the ball more regularly,' he said. 'I used to chase my friends on wind-surf boards around the Croatian Islands, still cycle to work every day, arrange the odd football game with the team, table tennis, you name it.' He has also kept at the cutting edge of his profession and is currently working on high-speed, 'green' i.e. low-power-consumption wireless networks facilitating the widespread roll-out of the wireless Internet.

Born in Hungary, he grew up in what he describes as an ‘exciting era’ when the world was setting the pace for Moore's Law – which predicted that the number of transistors on integrated circuits would double every 18 months or so, resulting in higher performance at lower cost. In 1976, Lajos completed his degree in electronics at the Technical University of Budapest and took up a research position with the Telecommunications Research Institute in Budapest, which he held until 1980. 'That was a fantastic place with a sizzling atmosphere and very well-educated people,' he said. 'Everything was possible in electronics there; it was a very constructive research atmosphere.'

However, Lajos was motivated to disseminate his research more widely and won one of 10 national scholarships to spend a sabbatical year at the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg in Germany – the freedom from development deadlines substantially contributed towards his PhD. 'I made a very lucky choice of topic for my research, leading to my PhD,' he said. 'I decided to try to increase the amount of data which can pass through telephone lines.'

In fact, while working on Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) - a prevalent technique at the time of writing - he set out to improve the transmission rate of traditional modems. He managed to achieve this goal, while simultaneously reducing the complexity and cost of the related modems. 'As a young PhD student, I didn't have sufficient clout then to tell the research community that this was the way to go,' he said. 'It took a good 10 years before the scientific community realised how important OFDMA was.'

In the meantime, Lajos started to make many further significant contributions to the research community and has published several well-cited technical books since then and has established a reputation as one of the world's leading authorities on adaptive wireless communications systems. In fact, he has co-authored 18 John Wiley/IEEE Press books, totalling in excess of 10,000 pages on mobile radio communications, and published about 900 research papers. He has also organized and chaired global IEEE conferences and presented numerous named lectures and keynotes.

In 1981, Lajos returned to Budapest to rejoin his former Institute and in 1986 he won another scholarship, which took him to the University of Southampton. One of the factors which influenced Lajos’ decision to join the University of Southampton was a chance-meeting in 1985 in Chicago with Professor Raymond Steele, the head of the communications research team at the University’s School of Electronics and Computer Science, whom Lajos found very inspirational. 'I was happy in my job at the Institute in Budapest and thought I might retire there,' said Lajos. 'I didn't realise that there was something better out there.' His decision to move to Southampton was not an easy one as his wife also had an interesting job, but in 1988, he and his family left Budapest for Southampton. 'Of course it was a good move,' he chuckled. 'I have been on sabbatical for 21 years!'

During that time, Lajos has had some major successes: in 2004 he was admitted to the Royal Academy of Engineering and received a higher doctorate (DSc) from the University of Southampton for his thesis summarizing his distinguished lifetime research in adaptive wireless communications systems. In 2007 he also received the Wireless Technical Committee's Achievement Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and in 2008 he was bestowed with the Sir Monty Finniston Award of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), an accolade which celebrates an outstanding individual in any field of the IET. Apart from several best-paper awards, in 2009 he also received the 60 th anniversary medal of the IEEE's Hungarian sister society known as HTE Lajos is an IEEE Distinguished Lecturer as well as a Fellow of both the IEEE and the IEE/IET and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (FREng). He acts as a Governor of the IEEE VTS as well as of ComSoc, a non-executive director of the UK's Virtual Centre of Excellence (VCE) in wireless communications and is also the Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Press.

For Lajos, some of his greatest achievements lie in the successes of his PhD students. 'I have probably had 60 by now and they are all making their own mark,' he said. 'It is such an honour to build 60 careers and see former students go on to become fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the IEEE - this is something that only us more seasoned academics get to experience.'

Although very modest about it, he was one of the pioneers of wireless communications, much of which he attributes to having 'fantastic colleagues and a superb team'. The team made major contributions to Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM), which every single laptop now uses for wireless access. 'In the era of early QAM developments no one ever thought that we could operate QAM-based networks over wireless channels,' he said.

Lajos and his team went on to write the first and only book on the topic of QAM, a source which contributed significantly to developments from the early to late ‘90s. In the mid-90s, Lajos returned to his PhD topic: Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA), and as a result of stimulating further work on the topic across the research community, it now forms part of virtually all wireless LANS (Local Area Networks). The team also went on to contribute towards a new standard for High Speed Packet Access (HPSA), which meant that mobile data access speeds could be much the same out on the motorway as in an office environment.

So what is left to do? Lajos sees many challenges ahead. He wants to develop flawless 3-D video conferencing systems for conveying the impression of tele-presence. 'Video conferencing technology has limitations at the moment and therefore it is far from "being virtually there" as reported on the news,' he said.

He also wants to develop "green radio", which means that he wants to optimise systems for low power consumption, despite operating at high transmission rates. One of the challenges here is that once there is a move to low power-supply voltages, the internal on-chip interferences may corrupt the signal, hence requiring error-resilient internal processing. 'At the moment, these networks may well be of high-speed but they are not 'green',' said Lajos.

He plans to work with his colleagues to reduce the power consumption, a challenge which excites and motivates him, which will reduce costs for phone companies and ultimately could be kinder to the environment and cash-strapped consumers. And, of course, he will continue ‘chasing the ball’, writing the books and no doubt, keep smiling throughout.