Ghannouchi, Dr. Fadel

2019 Winner: ASTech Special Award

Path of innovation leads to wireless communication revolution

Wireless connectivity is a crucial facet of modern life and the development and improvement of these technologies has far reaching benefits for industry and consumers. Dr. Fadel Ghannouchi and his team developed digital predistortion techniques that have revolutionized the industry by improving the cost, efficiency and deployment of wireless networks. This technological breakthrough allows for more data transfer and increased connectivity and has been adopted worldwide.

What problem or opportunity did you identify and seek to address?

In the late 1980s, wireless communication was utterly analog, with no signal processing code for digital communication. We called it 1G, the first generation of communication. In the 1990s, we started with 2G, subsequent generation communication, which was dedicated mostly to audio voice communication. The speed was minimal, and the application did not require high fidelity signals.

In 1995, we moved from 2G to 3G. The third generation was geared more toward broadening the bandwidth to start sending video and images. The need for a radio with a transmitter capable of delivering high quality or high fidelity signals became massive, and we had to deal with that problem. At the time, I felt an analog solution based on predistortion technique would not be sufficient and suitable enough for such broadband applications. This limitation has triggered the need to innovate and develop a digital predistortion (DPD) based technology.

In the mid-1990s, we started working on implementing digitally the traditional analog-built signal processing techniques that use electronic devices and transistors and began moving to the digital space. In 2000, we filed the first patent for this digital predistortion technology using indirect learning technique developed and geared toward  3G communications. Since then, the need for high-quality signals has only increased through 4G communications requiring broader bandwidth and higher data rates. 

For 4G applications, we developed a new digital predistortion technique for broadband and carrier’s aggregated signals. This innovation was the subject of a second fundamental patent filed in 2010 about multi-input-muli-ouput (MIMO) digital distortion technique.

Our original and innovative DPD solutions was adopted worldwide, and I believe that over 90 percent of 3G and 4G base stations have modems that run our digital predistortion algorithm inside—running our technology and our solution.

What has been the impact?

Digital predistortion technique is an enabling and critical technology for broadband communication, which impacted and affected every part of our daily life. With my phone, I can access everything; my office moves with me cross-continents.

Without this technology, we would not have the modern applications we take for granted. For example, we can provide e-government services through the Internet, and even now we’re started providing healthcare services and performing remote surgery. This is because high-end broadband can support applications that would be unheard of 20 years ago. This technology has a lasting impact on our daily life from personal to business, corporations, government, and so on.

How has being in Alberta helped you find success?

I started this path in 1995 at the University of Montreal and then moved to Alberta in 2005. I was recruited to build an Intelligent RF Radio Technology Lab (iRadio Lab) at the University of Calgary with support from Alberta Innovates—ICORE at the time.  Through an iCORE Chair program, we have been able to produce high-end and world-class research from ground-breaking concepts along with their actual implementation.

Without such sustained help and support for nearly 15 years, I would not have been able to keep developing this kind of break-through technologies critical and enabling to broadband communications.  

What are the plans for the future?

We have been following the evolution of wireless technology, monitoring for what is coming in the future and building or proposing new solutions to design cost-effective radio and terminals. We are at the verge to launch 5G wireless technology requiring very high bandwidth demands; companies need to implement new technologies into their infrastructure to move toward to 5G and beyond. It’s a long path, and it’s not something that you stumble on it by luck. It’s a whole process of continuous innovation and dedication to come with transformative, disruptive, and impact-lasting technological solutions.

How does it feel to be an ASTech Finalist?

I am pleased to be selected as a finalist for an ASTeh Award and I hope that the adjudicators appreciate the value of our contribution made over almost three decades to the area of wireless communications. 

Our invention enabled broadband and high-speed communications that shaped our daily life and societal interactions in Alberta, Canada, and the world.

With this ASTech recognition, it will certainly motivate me to keep the innovation momentum going on so that we can put Alberta on the world map as a hub for innovation in the wireless communication area. I am proud to be a professor in Alberta, and now when I go abroad, I can say DPD technology is born in Canada, made in Alberta. We were the first to propose it, and now it’s adopted worldwide. In Alberta, we are not only oil and gas, but we are also able practice and innovate in the electronics and communications sectors, and we compete with the best in the world.