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Harald Remmert of Digi International On How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives

An Interview With David Liu

Remote Work and Education: The pandemic has shown us that connectivity is key to be able to continue to live our lives, work, learn and stay informed. All remotely, from the safety of our homes. Technology like 5G will allow more people to have wireless internet access where it’s not feasible to have a wired connection, regardless of financial situation. More access to information means more opportunity to reduce in the digital divide.

5G infrastructure is being installed around the world. At the same time, most people have not yet seen what 5G can offer. What exactly is 5G? How will it improve our lives? What are the concerns that need to be addressed before it is widely adopted?

In our series, called, How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives, we are talking to tech and telecom leaders who can share how 5G can impact and enhance our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Harald Remmert, Senior Director of Technology at Digi International.

Harald Remmert is an accomplished technology leader in the IoT ecosystem with over 20 years of experience in product strategy, design, development, testing and engineering leadership with a proven track-record of introducing successful products to the market. Harald has deep technical knowledge in mixed hardware and software product development. In his current role at Digi he’s on the lookout for new technologies and tools such as 5G, Edge Compute, Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence to innovate and solve business problems more efficiently.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Since I was a kid, I’ve always been passionate about technology and how it’s always changing. Learning new things in the technology world is what gets me up in the morning.

I began my 25-plus year telecommunications career with an electrical engineering background, and then transitioned to working in software. I realized that working in both realms helped me to understand a problem more holistically and at a system-level rather than having a limited view in only hardware or software. I pursued the technical path for around a decade, taking on more responsibility over the years. I then transitioned to managerial leadership roles, where I was initially responsible within Digi for software and system quality and then for over a decade for cellular product development. I really enjoyed this track but realized that while my team was building great products, we were only doing incremental improvements and weren’t innovating enough for truly next generation products. This is when I took on a more strategic role within Digi, venturing back into the technology side — basically building up the research arm of Research & Development (R&D).

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

There have been many interesting stories. Early on in my career, during the 2000s recession and burst of the dot-com bubble, our CTO offered me to relocate to the US and work out of the Digi HQ in Minnesota. I was working in Germany at the time. He invited me over for a week to check out Minnesota and the Digi team. When I arrived, this was in November, the trees had no leaves, it was cold, and everything looked grey and dead, so overall not a very pleasant first impression. The team however was very welcoming and supportive, and ensured me that Minnesota is great and that I should have some faith. When I returned home from the trip, I tried to find my car at the airport. I knew where I had parked it, but it was gone. I later learned that it was broken into and the police had it towed to not incur any further damage. Well, despite all the obstacles, my curiosity won and with a leap of faith I decided to take the offer — and looking back, without regrets.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Follow your passion.” Telecommunications is one of the things I’ve always been passionate about in my life. Every day I wake up and see what’s new out there, and in result, I’m always learning something new. As you learn, you understand, your horizon expands, and you see the world differently. This perspective on life doesn’t just apply to my career, but I apply what I learn in technology to a broader sense. I often wonder, how will this new technology change the world? How can it transform our daily lives — both personally and professionally?

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have been incredibly grateful in my life to have had a lot of people who supported me — early on my family, especially my dad, were very supportive of my interests and career path. My best friend’s dad was a principal at an elementary school, and I learned so much from him. At university I found a good study group and we supported each other through the various course and tests. And throughout my professional career I was fortunate to have good mentors and leaders that inspired me. All the love and support I received growing up is how I got to where I am today — personally and professionally.

Throughout my career, I always had colleagues who helped and supported me in one way or another. It has taught me that this type of support is invaluable, and I like to pay it back to others so they can experience the same growth and success I’ve been so fortunate to have.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

1. Vision: This one is the most important one! Everyone needs a vision of where you’d like to go in your life and career in order to figure out the things you need to learn and the steppingstones you need to cross. Obviously when you set out on a course, there’s multiple ways to get to the destination. The course might change over time, but unless you know where you’re going, you’ll never arrive where you want to go.

2. Curiosity: Being curious has allowed me to keep learning even after being considered an “expert” in my field. By constantly being curious in the next big thing in tech, I can apply these progressive concepts and ideas into my own work and career.

3. Discipline: If you don’t have discipline, you’ll never follow through with ideas and reach your potential. Not every idea will be a winner and it’s easy to give up after a failure. Discipline and a positive attitude will help you to move on after a failure, learn from it and then try something different.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects? How do you think that will help people?

I grew up in a small village in Germany and got my first computer and analog modem at around 14 years old, and I remember thinking that being able to connect to the world — digitally — was so cool.

Fast forward to today. Working with Digi to create its first 5G solutions, the Digi EX50 and the TX64 5G, has been an incredible experience and project for me and my team — and this is just the beginning. Digi’s 5G product suite is growing rapidly for all commercial applications, ranging from enterprise to industrial to transportation applications.

5G has the potential to dramatically change our lives for the better. The benefits that 5G technology brings includes giving people more equal access to the internet. By closing that digital divide, more people will have access to information, regardless of finances.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Like 4G, 5G has many different facets, and I’m sure many will approach this question differently. But for the benefit of our readers can you explain to us what 5G is? How is 5G different from its predecessor 4G?

5G is the next generation of cellular connectivity technology. With 5G, we can overall expect higher speed, lower latency, and higher reliability than its predecessor. It is pushing the limits of wireless technology that previously was only possible with wired connectivity. In essence, it allows to “cut the cord” and provides more freedom and flexibility for many new use cases in consumer, commercial and industrial segments and across vertical markets such as smart manufacturing, healthcare, and transportation.

Previous cellular generations like 2G, 3G, and 4G LTE mostly focused on increasing the communication speed. 4G LTE was then further optimized to support wireless sensors and low-speed data devices. 5G adds a new dimension with its evolution towards lower latency, which is key for new use cases like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), and critical for vehicle applications like autonomous vehicles that communicate with each other and with its infrastructure. Overall, lower latency means more real-time communications between IoT applications.

Can you share three or four ways that 5G might improve our lives? If you can please share an example, for each.

We believe that the combination of 5G, IoT, edge compute, and machine learning / artificial intelligence will transform the world we work and live in. It has the potential to improve our lives in so many ways. I predict these three will have the most impact on our day-to-day lives.

  1. Smart Cities: 5G will allow for even more smart city and transportation infrastructure that will not only enact data-driven policies to improve commuters’ everyday lives, but also will have the potential to save lives. 5G-enabled vehicles and infrastructure will allow for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P) communication which can reduce human error and cut down on vehicle crashes. Additionally, first responders can be predictively rerouted to a safer, quicker route.
  2. Remote Work and Education: The pandemic has shown us that connectivity is key to be able to continue to live our lives, work, learn and stay informed. All remotely, from the safety of our homes. Technology like 5G will allow more people to have wireless internet access where it’s not feasible to have a wired connection, regardless of financial situation. More access to information means more opportunity to reduce in the digital divide.
  3. Smart Manufacturing: Henry Ford’s introduction of the assembly line in the early 1900’s transformed the way automobiles were built. Since then, a lot has changed, but even today, many factories remain “hard-wired” and difficult to adapt to changing demands. Industry 4.0 with its symbiotic relationship between humans and cyber-physical systems is set to transform this industry, and 5G is playing a key role in this digital transformation.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this 5G technology that people should think more deeply about?

Admittedly, I have never seen the show. Still, I think with every great power comes great responsibility. In the context of 5G, when you connect a lot of people, places, and systems, it is important to protect the information that’s traveling between these entities through layers of security. And privacy and authenticity of information are equally important as well.

When you add artificial intelligence (AI) into the equation, you must be careful there’s protection in place so that the AI can’t make harmful decisions that could hurt people, places or the environment. 5G will enable more AI applications, so there must be good limits and fail-safes in place for these technologies.

Some have raised the question that 5G might widen the digital divide and leave poor people or marginalized people behind. From your perspective, what can be done to address and correct this concern?

I don’t necessarily agree with this assertion. The digital divide is certainly real, and 5G is more expensive, at least initially, so poor or marginalized people might not have access to it immediately. However, 5G is not an exclusive technology and 4G will still be around for the next decade.

The footprint and capabilities of the 4G LTE network has increased significantly prior to and even after 5G started rolling out, and the cost of 4G LTE devices has decreased significantly during that time. Both factors give more people access to information and the internet. This is an improvement in my eyes.

To further close the digital divide, it is up to the mobile network operators to offer tiered service, from free or affordable base connectivity at the low end to premium connectivity at the high end. 5G cellular chipset providers play an equally important role in closing the digital divide. Because 5G is still new, these 5G-enabled chipsets have a high price tag. As technology evolves and 5G becomes more ubiquitous, we will see more middle and low-tier chipsets that are affordable and have 5G capabilities.

Excellent. We are nearly done. Let’s zoom out a bit and ask a more general question. Based on your experience and success, what are the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career in the telecommunication industry? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Persistence, networking, thinking outside of the box, surrounding yourself with great people and flexibility are five things I’d suggest for those pursuing a career in the telecommunications industry.

  • Be persistent: Like discipline, it is crucial to follow-through with your vision.
  • Networking: If you want to go somewhere great, you’ll generally need some help along the way. Now if you want to go fast, you can go alone — but you can only go fast for so long.
  • Think outside of the box: This is similar to curiosity. I suggest looking into what might be happening in an adjacent or totally different area of technology and learning how you can apply these insights to telecom.
  • Surround yourself with great people: Spending time with people that have similar goals to you is extremely motivating. You never know what industry knowledge you can pick up on, even in an informal setting.
  • Be flexible: Your career course may change over time. Embracing change in the industry, and in yourself, will make you a better leader, employee and person.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Giving people around the world equal access to education, clean water, food, and medicine is the number one movement that in my opinion would bring the most benefit to our world. Technology available today can play a key role in that: For example, a simple solar light with rechargeable battery can help people without access to electricity extend their learning hours. Access to the internet via satellite can give a remote village access to information and education. A common water filter can provide clean water and reduce water-born illnesses and deaths. Basic medicine and vaccines are often not expensive, but they are not equally available.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can read my regular blog posts on digi.com, where I write articles on new technologies such as 5G, edge computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence. You can also follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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David Liu

David Liu

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David is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication