Hossein Moiin: The Future is 5G

With the goal of harnessing the untapped potential of Iranian-Americans, and to build the capacity of the Iranian diaspora in effecting positive change in the U.S. and around the world, the Iranian Americans’ Contributions Project (IACP) has launched a series of interviews that explore the personal and professional backgrounds of prominent Iranian-Americans who have made seminal contributions to their fields of endeavour. We examine lives and journeys that have led to significant achievements in the worlds of science, technology, finance, medicine, law, the arts and numerous other endeavors. Our latest interviewee is Hossein Moiin.

An inventor and technology visionary, Dr. Hossein Moiin is the chief executive officer of Virafon, a company with the vision to democratize mobility. He is also a director of several innovative companies and an advisor to venture funds and large corporations active in the various areas of technology. Hossein has held leadership positions, including Chief Technology Officer in large organizations such as Nokia, BT, T-Mobile and Sun Microsystems over the past 25 years and has an in-depth understanding of technology while remaining focused on making the world a better place through communication. Hossein obtained his B.S, M.S and PhD degrees from University of California, Santa Barbara, in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and resides in San Francisco now after lengthy spells in London, Germany, Finland and Italy.

Tell our readers where you grew up and walk us through your background. How did your family and surroundings influence you in your formative years?

I was born in Tehran in 1964, but I grew up mostly in Hamadan where the family of both my parents came from. By the time I was born, all my grandparents and most of my uncles and aunts had moved to Tehran or the US to either study or work. My father who studied medicine and specialized in ophthalmology, however, decided to move back to his hometown and serve his community. He would often see more than a hundred patients and perform several surgeries a day, most of them free of charge or at significantly reduced rates. It was this dedication and a strong sense of a mission that I count as the earliest lesson of my life.

A few years before I was born, Iran went through “the White Revolution” where the land was redistributed to those who worked on it, as opposed to those who inherited it. My family was among the landowners and was significantly impacted by this revolution, and as a result they lost most of their wealth and only those with a profession were spared. This taught me a second lesson in my early days, a lesson that served me well in my life; while wealth, land or belongings are temporary, knowledge is permanent and is the one goal that should be pursued.

I started school in Hamadan when I was 5 under the watchful eye of an unforgiving Armenian head teacher who quickly taught me the pleasures of reading and learning and instilled in me a respect for knowledge. I had to change schools towards the end of the first grade due to my mother’s illness and moved to Tehran where she could receive appropriate care. The school I attended in Tehran taught English from kindergarten and as I was behind I failed miserably in my first English exam. For the first (but not last) time, I tasted failure. During my stay in Tehran I also became very close to my mother’s family, a closeness that I have kept all my life. We went back to Hamadan after my mother’s recovery and stayed there until I moved to California when I was fourteen.

Has there been a particular person, place or event that you count among your key influences to date?

My life, like that of others, has been influenced by many people, places, and events. My parents, siblings, and children, my journey from Hamadan to California and beyond; the Iranian revolution of 1979 and its aftermath; as well as other events small or great, have all played a role in my life. However, four people, two of whom I have known all my life, and two of whom I met in recent years, stand out as those with most impact on the direction of my life. First, my aunt, Shirin, whose courage, vision, and tireless effort to fight injustice despite enormous odds has always inspired me to persist and never give up. Second, my uncle, Jafar, whose kindness and generosity taught me that it is through conversation and understanding that we can accomplish our goals. Third is my partner in life, Eli, who showed me the true meaning of love and what happiness means. I will always be grateful to Eli, and one reason is that she introduced me to Abdul, the fourth key influencer of my life. Abdul is a boy of 12, born in a distant town in Afghanistan. Abdul lost his leg and a brother in a bombing when he was six, but he found his voice and courage the same day. His bright outlook on life is a constant source of inspiration for all who are fortunate to know him. Eli, Abdul, Shirin, and Jafar inspire me to try to become a better person each day and remind me to be humble and grateful for what I have.

Two events, taking place thousands of miles apart and separated by several years, impacted me deeply and solidified what I already knew in my heart; that life is too fleeting and we need to grab it with both hands. The first event took place one summer in the mid 1980s. It was an early morning on a Friday and I was visiting my parents in Iran. Iraqi planes bombed Hamadan and many people were killed and injured, including several of my distant relatives. The second event happened in LA on a Saturday in early 90s. I was driving home when I heard a deafening bang followed by an explosion. I immediately realized that I was being shot at. Fortunately, the bullet missed the glass and hit the car. For a few years, I had the bullet in my car as a reminder of how quickly all your plans can go up the chimney.

I have lived across the world in Iran, London, Los Angeles, and Italy, and currently reside in San Francisco. While this city, known for its inherent tolerance and knack for innovation, has been a key influence in my life, all of the places I’ve lived played a key role in my outlook on life. Iran showed me the need for roots, London the benefit of a global point of view, LA the joys of optimism, and Italy the weight and pleasure of history.

You are a globally recognized innovation leader with proven expertise in strategic partnerships, network technologies, artificial intelligence, and solution delivery. Can you share the highlights of your work?

I have been fortunate to work in different areas of technology, performing a variety of tasks and with some really wonderful and bright people. Some of what I have done in the past has found its way into everyday life and when I see people using and benefiting from something that I have had a hand in, it fills me with joy and pride. I entered university at a relatively young age, 16, and graduated with an electrical and computer engineering degree when I was 19. After getting my MS degree the following year I went to work for research institutes, first working in the field of semiconductors and then in robotics.

My first contribution came when I wrote the control software for a tiny robot that could enter a human body and travel throughout it without disruption. That tiny robot that we invented more than 30 years ago has found its way to operating tables around the globe and is used in thousands of surgeries every year. I returned to university and completed my PhD in computer engineering and went to work for one of the most innovative companies of its time, Tandem Computers. It was there that I learned how a mature industrial organization functions and what role quality and timeliness play in the working of the industry. At Tandem I was involved in a few very interesting technical problems where the solutions were far from obvious. But, by persistence and trial and error, we were able to solve them and make a difference in the fortunes of the company. One thing that I was very proud of was coming up with an algorithm that is still in use today, which allows for the perfect synchronization of imperfect clocks long before there was a GPS signal to help you do so.

After I left Tandem I joined Sun Microsystems as an architect to help them build a complex distributed system. Sun, at the time, was one of the most innovative companies of Silicon Valley and I was very proud to be working for them. They not only gave me the opportunity to further my technical skills, but also to learn management and financial skills that became a cornerstone of my later career. Sun also allowed me to move to Europe where I stayed for nearly two decades and experienced life in a different environment. After I had my second son, the burden of managing a large organization that was headquartered in California from London became too much to bear. I eventually left and joined a small group dealing with mobile data for T-Mobile. It was the start of a most exciting transition into the mobile industry where I experienced some of my most satisfying challenges. At T-Mobile, I was able to help establish a global alliance to create an LTE network. I personally wrote the specification document for this new network that is in use by more than a billion people today. In 2010 I joined Nokia Siemens Networks as their Chief Technology Officer, where I helped steer the company away from ruin and into profitability. NSN then did a reverse takeover of Nokia and later also acquired Alcatel Lucent. I consider my years with Nokia as both fruitful and enjoyable. It was during this time that I was recognized as a global leader in innovation and a strategic thinker. Since leaving Nokia I have continued to harness my passion for innovation and have become involved with many smaller companies across the globe.

What is 5G? What’s your favorite example of how 5G will change things? Which industry sectors will benefit most from 5G (e.g. Automotive, Retail, Media & Entertainment, Manufacturing, Energy & Utilities, etc.)?

5G is defined differently by different people; to me, 5G is not just about radio but it also encompasses a set of computer and telecommunication technologies that allow us to achieve goals more effectively. As a technology, 5G will address many key requirements. It will provide us with a capable network that will have very high throughput (more than 10 Giga bits per second), a very low latency (less than a millisecond), very high dependability, and support for many billions of devices. Further, and critically, it will meet all these requirements in an economically viable fashion. 5G and its associated technologies including the cloud, IoT, and AI, will have a fundamental impact on our everyday life just like mobile phones and networks (such as LTE) have done in the last decade.

The impact of 5G will be evident across many industries, but I think that the most interesting and useful applications will be found when several distinct industries take advantage of the new capabilities simultaneously. Examples include autonomous cars and public transport options as well as remote surgeries and diagnostics.

Today we see some early examples of how networks can be combined with intelligent devices and clever algorithms to positively impact lives of people. In a project in a developed but aging society, the network is used to provide very efficient and effective remote elderly care with appropriate alarms and controls that reduce the cost to a fraction of what it used to be. In another project, 3D printing combined with network technology is used to print limbs for victims of war in remote parts of Africa. Finally, we can use the network and its capabilities to manage our increasingly complex cities and the many services that they need to provide to their citizens.

I am very optimistic that we will find applications far and wide that will transform many lives for the better. The industries that will benefit from 5G in the long term will be entertainment (in particular gaming and high quality video), automotive, and manufacturing (in particular industrial automation). While assisted driving and entertainment will be the key early B2C applications of 5G, manufacturing and industrial automation will be the early leading application for the B2B sector.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career? What achievement are you the proudest of?

I joined Nokia Siemens Networks in July of 2010 and attended my first executive committee meeting (the top management meeting of the company) in September of that year (in Europe, summer holidays are rigorously observed so we had no meeting in August). During the meeting our CFO informed me the management team that our financial situation was dire and we would be going bankrupt in the next few months unless we took drastic and immediate action. This plan of action included seeking support from our parent companies (Nokia and Siemens) for significant additional investment.

I think turning around the company from near death to being the largest networking company in the world has proven to be one of the most significant challenges of my career, and is also the one that I am proudest of. The challenge was not only to come up with the right strategy, but also to execute it day in and day out in addition to selling it to a very skeptical workforce.

While creating significant value for the shareholders of Nokia is the business achievement I am proudest of, in terms of impact I consider my contribution to LTE as my proudest achievement. Every time I think about the fact that a technology I helped to create is now being used by billions of people, I get a sense of satisfaction that fills me with joy.

How do you see your field changing? What excites you most about the future of it?

I have spent over three decades in the technology industry and during this time the industry has been through a constant evolution. The most significant changes from my perspective are the ever-increasing importance of technology in our daily lives and the position it occupies in our minds. As we pay more attention to technology, we become better aware of its benefits and potential flaws and learn how best to apply it in order to make our lives better. I am very excited about the application of technology in medicine and environmental sciences. I think it is in these two areas where technology will make the most impact and help us battle disease and environmental degradation.

In your view, what is the biggest challenge with which your field is currently grappling?

The technology sector needs to become more aware of its impact and its responsibilities. The recent events in the social and political arenas have shown that technology can be used as a weapon to divide us as opposed to a force uniting us. I think it is time for the “nerds” to abandon their “ignorance” defense and join the grown up conversation of how we can minimize the misuse of technology so that it can be the force for good that we all hoped it would be.

Can you share your thoughts on your Global identity?

I am very fortunate to have lived on three continents for more than 15 years each. The global perspective that my life has afforded me has both positives and negatives. On the negative side, neither my Iranian nor my American or European roots are very strong, but this lack of deep roots also enabled me to be very adaptable and flexible. It has allowed me to choose what I find attractive in each culture. To me, being a global citizen means that I have global responsibilities, for my European children, my Iranian heritage, and my American future.