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The code that could unlock the next internet

Story by
Dr Ömer Bulakçı

Dr Ömer Bulakçı

Senior Research Engineer at Huawei GRC

The single most important coding innovation you never heard about

Instead of breaking the internet with an announcement of the latest tech trend or gadget, one man quietly perfected an invention that will play a major part in building the next version of it.

Professor Erdal Arıkan is the inventor of polar codes for 5G. This summer, Huawei presented him with a special award recognising his unique contribution to helping communications cross the next threshold.

It was just ten years ago that Professor Arıkan's paper on polar codes first landed on a Huawei desk, and luckily it did not go unnoticed. One decade on, which has seen intense cooperation between our company and Professor Arıkan in this field, polar codes have officially become a building block of the 5G standard.

What are polar codes and why are they important?

To better understand the concept, let us first introduce another fundamental notion: that of Shannon's limit. It describes the maximum rate at which information can be reliably transmitted over a given bandwidth.

Polar codes are what is known as channel coding technology, which refers to codes used for detecting and correcting errors due to noise and interference in digital communication systems, to effectively make them work.

What makes the polar codes so special is that they are the world’s first channel coding scheme theoretically proven to reach Shannon's limit. In practice, this involves improved performance in terms of computation power, memory, energy consumption and latency.

High risk, high reward

When Huawei started working with Professor Arıkan on polar codes, it was a bold choice: back in 2008, its competitive edge was pure theory, and a relatively new one, too. This theory, however, was impressive enough to kick off close collaboration and intensive research with Huawei, which finally resulted in building it into the 5G standard.

The success story of polar codes, and the bigger story of how 5G will revolutionise our societies, which is still writing itself, illustrate the key role of basic research for future innovation, the need for industry to take an open-minded, collaborative approach to research – and, above all, the willingness to dedicate time and resources in order to translate them into results.

The science behind 5G will be the topic of an academic roundtable discussion that will take place at Huawei’s Brussels Office on 19 September.