A talk with the OCA awardees: The banquet panel.


Three OCA winner awardees. From left to right, Randy H. Katz (OCA 2002), David J. Goodman (OCA 1997), and Leonard Kleinrock (OCA 2014).

At different milestones in our career, we should look back and reflect on our successes and failures, to learn from them and continue to mindfully move forward. As we are celebrating MobiCom’s twentieth year, we are honored to have the opportunity to discuss our successes and failures at this particular milestone with three OCA winners, namely Professor Leonard Kleinrock, Professor Randy H. Katz, and Professor David J. Goodman. The moderator of this panel was Victor Bahl from MSR.

Throughout the Q&A, the panel is presented with questions by either Victor Bahl or from the audience. For many of the fundamental questions, particularly regarding academia, research, as well as the elements of success and failure as a researcher and academic, the panel members were in close agreement – so much so in fact that a few of the questions were answered by a single panel member. The panel was also not void of any humor 🙂 It was a fun, humorous, insightful, and informal discussion with three great minds.

The questions directed to the OCA winners covered various topics, from trivia such as their favorite book, to deep questions such as how do they decide on the winning research direction, and whether in their reputable career, they knew that the directions they were going to pursue would be successful. I will start with a few of the trivia questions. You will find that this blogger shamefully forgot some of the trivia details. Pitch in if you have a better recollection of that discussion!

The trivia questions were a fun way to get to know the panel a little informally. They were first asked who influenced them the most. What this blogger was touched by was that Leonard sighted his mother as his greatest influencer (we should all be very grateful for the strong and loving women in our lives and the kind of support that provides us with early on). Professor Kleinrock’s mother allowed him to play around without restrictions. He says this fostered his experimental mindset, where anything can be subject to fun exploration. David in his turn mentions that the person that influenced him the most was in fact Leonard Kleinrock! David says that he read Leonard’s thesis in the library. Finally, Randy says that he was influenced by Isaac Asimov.

The second trivia question was on which book influenced them the most. Randy refers to a science fiction author, which unfortunately this blogger cannot remember 🙂 Leonard was influenced by some book on management, which this blogger does not remember either! To the reader, please pitch in if you remember! (This is turning out to be quite embarrassing, but luckily it ends here)

The panel was then presented with more serious questions, starting with how do they decide on the winning research direction, and whether in their reputable career, they knew that the directions they were going to pursue would be successful. The panel unanimously agreed that a researcher should purse “the directions that are new” as Leonard puts it, or the “low hanging fruit” as David describes it, and primarily to pursue the directions the researcher would feel passionate about. Randy particularly says “you have to love what you do and do what you love.” As for whether they knew that the directions they pursued were going to be successful, Leonard emphasizes that one does not initially know for sure.

The discussion then transitions to the panel members’ thoughts on research today, and particularly the pressures and requirements placed on starting professors. The question is preceded with a question to the audience, as to how many of the professors felt pressure in publishing before tenureship, and there was quite a raise of hands. Leonard then comments and laments that the tenureship process makes research competitive rather than cooperative, which is an unfortunate circumstance. He emphasizes that change is required to make the tenureship process less pressured, but that this change will not happen anytime soon, as it has become part of the working system.

Randy then adds that, “you either do good research, or you do a lot of it.” He emphasizes that despite the pressure, it is still important to ignore the formalities and requirements and focus on doing good research. Leonard particularly agreed on Randy’s point, as that was the approach he adopted in his day, and the one that he recommends to follow.

David then pitches in by describing his PhD process. He talks about how his adviser had given David the complete freedom to pursue the research that he felt compelled to do. He reflects on how this process might be different from the advisor-student experience today, particularly for pre-tenureship professors, and how the professor’s pressure to publish also affects the student’s process of research discovery.

We then ask the panel what was the most challenging thing for them to do, and if there was something that they did that was against the grain. Randy replied that for him, the most challenging thing was learning not to overreach. He talks about a big research arrangement he had with some companies just before the financial crash. After the crash, he spent the next five years searching for funding for about 20 grad students and post docs that he had already hired. He then continues that taking up a job in Washington was something he did that was against the grain, and this gave him a different perspective on how research funding is allocated and could actually influence something.

Finally, they were asked what is their impression on the next big sensor. Leonard indicates bio-sensors, while Randy the Internet of Things.

We then asked the panel what they love most about research. They collectively agreed that it is the family tree: the graduate students. They seem to like the idea of having influenced lives rather than actually making technical contributions of any sort. Leonard then adds that in academia, we can believe that publications are the point of the realm, but in his opinion, it is actually the students that are the point of the realm: how students can challenge their advisers through new topics and the interesting things they bring to the table, and even in how they ignore their advisor’s advice.

This discussion with three extremely successful (and fun!) academics shed some light on their perspectives concerning research and what they believe is important in academia. They also bring up a topic that we do not discuss too often: the importance of apprenticing our graduate students to do good research of their own.


Pioneers of Mobile Computing at the MobiCom banquet, with Victor Bahl from MSR (far right) as the panel moderator.

From grad school to startup acquisition: Keynote speaker Sanjit Biswas


From left to right, Sung-Ju Lee (General Chair of MobiCom 2014) and Sanjit Biswas (Meraki/Cisco)

We welcomed Sanjit Biswas as the first keynote speaker at MobiCom 2014. Sanjit shared his story with us: from graduate school to startup acquisition. He covered the transition from graduate school to startup, and particularly the process of a startup, namely Meraki. Sanjit presented a case study of what it was like to start as a graduate student, from a company like Meraki, which scaled up a bit, and was eventually acquired by Cisco in 2012.

Meraki started as the MIT Roofnet Wireless Mesh Networking Project when Sanjit was in graduate school, pursing his PhD. Sanjit says that the MIT Roofnet project came at a time when people were moving away from NS2 simulations to real testbeds. At the time, there was real industry interest in such systems. It took many years of development and research before papers were published, namely at MobiCom and SigComm in 2005, and the Roofnet project gained much visibility. The main exposure of MIT Roofnet to industry, and the first turning point, started with Google soon after.

Google invited the MIT Roofnet collaborators, namely Sanjit and his colleague John Bicket, to give a talk at the Google headquarters in Mountain View. Sanjit jokes that they had pitched that their mesh networking software could fit on a small chipset, demonstrating the concept using an image that they had photoshopped off of Google, in an easy-to-deploy router box. This was in fact a feat that they had not yet accomplished, but Google was nevertheless interested in this concept and made an order for 1000 units of their final MIT Roofnet product. At the time, Sanjit says that the startup was not the top priority and was not something him and his colleague wanted to do as PhD graduate students. However, their first lucky break was that their advisor was on a 3 to 6 month sabbatical, which gave them the flexibility to try to make their company happen. As it turns out, after their initial efforts, Sanjit and his colleague, John Bicket, decided to quit their PhD and make their picture a reality: Roofnet in a box and focusing their energy on making the router easy to deploy.

The first Meraki team assembled in a rented space in Mountain View next to Google, and at the time, they did not have any outside funding. He was working with talented, smart, and hard-working friends, which he mentions was a very fortunate circumstance, especially as they were all very willing to reason about things, and it was easy to change product direction based on what was beneficial to the company. At the end of his talk, Sanjit emphasizes the importance of working with such people, and recommends to those considering the startup path, to recruit the smartest people they know know and have fun! From his personal experience, recruiting such people would make going to work a fun process, even through all the stress, as the environment would be something you would look forward to go into every day, where it does not feel as much like a job.

He then posits from his experience working with his friends that if you are awesome in graduate school, you will be awesome in a startup. He later builds on this comment by relating to the kind of research a graduate student would do: that systems research is similar to a startup, where one should execute lots of small steps in the right direction. While graduate school requires a 10+ year vision, a startup requires a narrower vision over a 5 year horizon.

At some point in the progress of Meraki, Sanjit and co. decided to raise financial capital. The motivation is that they needed to have an operating or financial buffer to make sure that there was an operating cushion, should something wrong happen. They looked for external funding and investments. Google and Google people were the early investors in the company, and Sanjit and co. were able to make 20M by September 2006.

They then looked for Venture Capitalist (VC) companies, the right investors, that had the right long-term mindset. A question at the end of the talk from the audience prompts Sanjit to elaborate on the choice of a VC company and the role the VC company played in the startup. Sanjit replies that in the Silicon valley, there are different VC firms of different tiers that serve different clients. In the choice of a VC firm, Sanjit says that it is important to reference-check the companies, and him and his colleagues did so by talking to people who were former academics that did the transition to startup. They considered the reputations of the VC companies and ended up working with Sequoia Capital, which in fact did not give the best offer. Sequoia Capital offered less money for more equity, but they had a long-term track record.

As for the kind of control the VC company exercised on their decisions, Sanjit says that the steering wheel was fully in their hands.

In 2007, Sanjit and co. started experimenting with different business models, namely (1) connecting the next billion with $1/month access, (2) municipal-scale outdoor wifi, (3) new hardware platforms for solar and apartment deployment, and (4) ad-supported WiFi with local advertising. He later indicates that though the solar-powered platforms only sold 10 units, it is something he is hoping would take off in a changed market at a different time.

The economic downturn in 2008 affected all companies, including Meraki. The availability of their financial buffer, the 20M investments, allowed them to continue operating, though customers froze their purchases.

Eventually, Meraki began to expand to different markets, such as enterprise markets, higher education, retail, and healthcare. Some interesting large customers approached them, such as California Pizza Kitchen and Motel 6, where the latter is their largest wireless deployment. The benefit of their system is that it is scalable – 10 or 1000 access points can be deployed, which opened them up to different markets.

Throughout the inception of their startup, Sanjit mentions that they were not managed. They in fact figured stuff out on their own: how to run and manage a startup. They were able to figure things out from first principles, without any experience. They got their hands dirty and found ways to test their ideas. He later affirms that running a startup had its fair share of stress and scrapes, responsibilities, and hard decisions with their limited experience and information.

Sanjit is later asked by the audience whether he had any regrets or things he would have done differently, especially since he made the hard decision to leave his PhD. He says that it is hard for him to point out to specific regrets. He adds that he does not have deep regrets, but that his company faced many failed products. The solar-powered node they developed for example, only sold 10 units, and he jokes that the solar power units are still in his office as a reminder. He continues that they probably could have saved a year or two of bringing up their company if they knew what they knew now, but that it worked out eventually.

He is then asked, looking ahead, what’s next for him. He states that he is not compelled to go do anything in particular.

One sound bite Sanjit leaves us with is: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Though Sanjit and co. were faced with many lucky breaks, they were prepared when the opportunity presented itself to them. Sanjit mentions that some of the lucky breaks that they had in their favor are (1) the market dynamics at the time that rewarded simple, easy to use networking products, (2) the presence of great seed population, from talented colleagues to top tier investors, and (3) they had a head start on the product through the Roofnet research project.

Live from Panel 1: Tackling Societal Grand Challenges with Mobile Computing.


From left to right, the moderator Lakshminarayanan Subramanian (NYU), Dina Katabi (MIT), Gaetano Borriello (University of Washington), Prabal Dutta (University of Michigan), Randy H. Katz (UC Berkeley), and Sanjit Biswas (Meraki/Cisco). – Photo by Riccardo Crepaldi

The first panel is composed of the moderator Lakshminarayanan SubramanianDina Katabi, Gaetano Borriello, Prabal Dutta, Randy H. Katz, and Sanjit Biswas.

The topic of the panel covers the role mobile computing plays in addressing the challenges that we face in society today. In this blog, I will cover some of the futuristic perspectives, i.e. the panelists individual views and discussion of what are the next big societal problems that MobiCom as a community should tackle.

I will start with the questions that were targeted to specific members of the panel.

Question to Gaetano Borriello: What worked with ODK (Open Data Kit)? What does it take to move from a prototype of the system, to deploying it at a large scale in developing countries?

Gaetano emphasizes that the success of this transition from prototype to deployment is dependent on the local capacity in the developing countries, and their ability to customize and appropriate the technology in a way that they want to use it. The success with ODK was exactly that, in that his work was able make the system easily configurable, and allowed the people in developing countries the ability to do decision support. For example, they allowed users to easily diagnose childhood illness using an intuitive interface, i.e. a nice graphical environment. The future direction that he wants to tackle in his research is to expand the capabilities of their platform through adding sensors, how do so, and what are the associated challenges.

Lakshminarayanan Subramanian adds: Lakshmi adds on to Gaetano’s discussion and refers to the Pakistan project. The Pakistan project leverages people’s mobile phones to collect useful information. One of the benefits of this project is that it has been found to predict dengue fever spread 40 days ahead. Though the Pakistan project has so far shown to be a success, he adds that the success rates is not always that predictable. He adds that in regions in Africa, the success rate is abysmal.

Question to Dina Katabi: Dina was asked about her research on cracking security and privacy in medical devices. Lakshmi asks how does her work, as well as future potential lines of her work, get to the point where you can get the medical industry to adopt them?

Dina first indicates that the medical industry is not only one industry but is in fact a diverse industry. Related to her line of work is the Implanted Medical Device Industry. She indicates that the first problem with the security in medial devices in fact precedes all her research work. The first problem is the basic availability of medical devices on public locations such as e-bay. Devices that are meant to be implanted into your body to continuously monitor your physical condition/s, should not be publicly available, making them vulnerable to be hacked into. As for the responsiveness of medical industry, she indicates that the industry likes to do things to solve the problem, but do not want to be exposed.

Dina then refers to future directions in medical and wearable devices, which is the transition towards less invasive and more specifically, research into the use of no-contact, wireless signals to diagnose human condition. One example application would monitor sleep conditions by using the reflection of wireless signals off the body to measure heart rate.

Question to Sanjit Biswas: Being a very successful entrepreneur, Lakshmi says that it is likely Sanjit will turn into an investor. Since Sanjit is passionate about healthcare, and healthcare is a very successful industry to invest in, how does Sanjit actually go about figuring out what is the best place to invest?

Sanjit says that healthcare is a hot industry, and that there are many successful and compelling directions within it that are emerging, such as no-touch monitoring that Dina Katabi referred to. He believes that preventative care is a compelling direction. Other directions include improvement in diagnostic, which he indicates is improving at a rate faster than Moore’s law. As for how to choose the best direction to invest in, he says that one has to make 10 investments where one of them works out. He adds that there are currently tons of information now available to us in a less costly and painful manner that are less invasive, and they are fueling compelling research directions.

Comment from Randy H. Katz: Randy then discusses works on home monitoring systems. He brings back a story of when he purchased a house, and to install home monitoring systems, holes had to be drilled in his house in order to run wires for various motion detectors and door and window monitors. Today, you can purchase (and he had purchased) a home security tool kit from the Internet that uses magnetic sensors. Both home monitoring systems he had were hard to set up, though at different scales. The future direction is zero-configuration home monitoring systems, that figure out how to set themselves up, without any configuration required by you, and have long operational life. He adds that such systems are here today, in terms of monitoring and actuating type applications.

Question to Prabal Dutta: As a graduate student, many good papers and research works end up not going anywhere whereas others do. How does he make the distinction?

A punch note from Adam’s response is that you should “Eat your own dog food and see the problems that actually matter!”

Randy H. Katz adds: Randy adds that making the distinction between the research that will go far and the research that will not is in fact not hard. He mentions that today’s universities are gardens of experimentation in some sense. Universities let researchers play in their buildings. This allows researchers to understand the methodology of human-based experimentation, and therefore the impact of their research on individuals.

Open question from Lakshminarayanan Subramanian to the panel: What are the problems with connectivity for the next billion, in terms of wearables, pervasive computing, etc. Where is that going?

Perspective from Sanjit Biswas: Sanjit says that on the connectivity front, one important condition we have today is the proliferation of cellphones, but we still have to figure out how to put cellphones in the hands of the last billion. Sanjit mentions the compelling situation we have where people in developing regions hold onto a cellphone, even when they do not have electricity, travel distances to get a sim card, just to have a phone. He indicates that there is something revolutionary happening there in developing areas, and how it has been outside of our vision as we are well-connected in the USA. People in developing regions go the distance in order to have the ability to make a phone call, just to connect with someone. We can do amazing things there.

Perspective from Gaetano Borriello: Gaetano builds further on Sanjit’s perspective and discusses an article he had read which shows three young Afghani farmers with phones, no electricity, around a fire, sharing music between each other. People in developing regions enjoy sharing music and trading content with friends. He indicates that as researchers, we have ignored the peer-to-peer transfer of information, in exchange for everything going through the cloud, i.e. a business that dominates in our modern world. We have done work in one direction, but should support more research in direction of peer-to-peer transfer for developing regions.

Perspective from Dina Katabi: Dina then discusses her research on network coding and mentions that people are increasingly going to use the physical layer to solve interference problems.

Perspective from Prabal Dutta: Prabal mentions that wearable devices are contingent on these devices being able to tether to our mobile phones. He says that we need to download an app for every wearable device we have, and this introduces a hurdle to the use of wearable devices. Prabal argues that we should provide more seamless connectivity to these devices, which he calls “true connectivity for every wearable device.” Such a system will allow us to get data wearables and sensors to higher services.

Perspective from Randy H. Katz: Randy says that as a teenager, he always wanted a wearable device, which he would dub orgasmatron. On a more serious note, he adds that there are a lot of things that can build a complete picture of your health, by being in close contact with your skin, and that there are a lot of tremendous opportunities there that it’s almost futuristic and science fiction sounding. He mentions that research has shown that high performing teams have their brains synchronized. Human beings have ways to synchronize their brains. Can we find ways to accelerate this synchrony using wearable devices? What if we had sensors that can cause signals to fire in someone’s brain to perceive or recognize input better? He says that further work into neuroscience will allow us to take communicating to other people to new heights. He adds that there are tremendous potentiality and opportunity there, and technologists can come in and accelerate this trend.

Perspective from Gaetano Borriello: Geotano brings up two trends, the first is that wearables will soon be implantable. The second trend is that monitoring need not be constant, and that we should also consider the occasional measurement of bodily functions, and that his research has shown that this can still capture important information. He has worked on ways of appropriating devices into cell phones to provide more physical measurement, for example by using the in-built microphone in a mobile phone to measure lung output and get frequent readings.

Question from audience: The panel was then posed with an excellent question from the Panel Chair, Thyaga Nandagopal, in the audience. Thyaga points out a condition we see in current society, and that is that our ability to automate most tasks is making people with capability and skills less needed or employable. He poses an open question to the panel, and asks how can we make those gainfully employed people, people who have the education to get by, how do we make them successful? Essentially, how do we use the trend of automating tasks to in fact supply new forms of jobs? To this avail, I would like to share a personal link I have enjoyed which is relevant to this topic: a 15-minute clip showing you how robots are going to replace you 🙂

Perspective from Gaetano Borriello: Now that everyone is connected with cell phones, we can look at ways of making use of the individual talents of each person. One example is crowd sourcing using reasonable prices. We are now connected to a lot of people with local expertise and specialized knowledge. We can look into ways of paying the appropriate wage to solve these large problems that we have in mobile computing using crowd sourcing.

Perspective from Sanjit Biswas: In SF, Sanjit has heard of people that drive around and collect information for companies, such as Google, at times that are convenient for them. He says that this concept is going to trickle down: a stateless, soft-state labor. There is no overhead to such a model. In fact, connectivity is going to make it easier to make late-mind decisions. Automation is changing the labor market, and the labor market need to go to a place where we make the world more efficient (through automation) but still create micro-jobs, and connectivity is a big ingredient to that.

Perspective from Randy H. Katz: Randy says that providing connectivity in developing worlds allows farmer’s to know demand for their crops, and this allows them to be empowered by information to make more money.

Perspective from Prabal Dutta: Prabal says that the problem that society faces is that knowledge gets increasingly more valuable and labor work less valuable. The challenge is how do you take the larger labor-force population and make them more knowledge-work-savy? The point is that we might be facing a generational shift, where we know favor the knowledge market. Jobs that might come back, after being taken away by automation, are different. Can we use mobile technology to create a labor force that educates themselves?

As a final note, we would like to thank the panel for their interesting discussion. As for the reader, please voice your comments or opinion of the panel discussion on this blog. We also encourage open discussion and Q&A here!

Sound-bites from the Venture Capitalists themselves.

Have you read about the Startup Pitch Contest taking place at MobiCom this year? If not, read more about it here!

In my previous blog, I promised some words from the VCs (Venture Capitalists) themselves. This Q&A should be a teaser for you into the kind of valuable insight we will gain on this grilling process, from the experienced VCs themselves.

eugene_leeI begin by asking Eugene Lee about his career and experience with startup companies. “In my career I’ve had the opportunity to co-found a startup as well as be “CEO 2.0″ of a startup, been a VP at 3 large publicly traded companies (including Cisco and Adobe), and most recently an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at a venture capital firm.” He says. “So I’ve seen a wide spectrum of business stages, product categories, team dynamics, and leaders.”

I then ask Eugene what are the things that he is looking for as well as what are the red flags that he tries to avoid. For starters, Eugene is looking for:

  1. Passion
  2. Vision
  3. Big idea, big market, with an achievable market entry first offering
  4. Great team with complementary skills, experiences, and personality strengths/weaknesses

As for what are his red flags:

  1. Arrogance
  2. Tunnel vision
  3. Overpowering leader
  4. Great concepts but weak execution

Eugene also shared some startup tips with me. He suggests that, “In addition to having a big idea attacking a big market with an achievable market entry first offering, I also like to ask “Why now?” – in other words, what are the industry, technology, market, and competitive trends that are converging to make your idea the best thing for customers NOW?”

Claire_Portrait2We also received some learned wisdom from VC Claire Chang, who adds on what Eugene has said. She shared with us one personal sound bite of hers. She says, “One, competitive landscape – often times, entrepreneurs are so engrossed in their own ideas that they often neglect to do thorough research on what’s already out there. Once you have understood your competitors then you will have a better understanding of how to create your value proposition and your go to market strategy, which are other things I’d add to this mix of what we look for.”

This is the first time that both VCs attend MobiCom. Claire says, “As first time attendees of MobiCom, we are very much looking forward to attending the conference, learning cutting edge research.” We welcome both Claire and Eugene to MobiCom, and we look forward to the startup contest!

Remember, the startup pitch contest is today, Monday, September 8, from 6:30pm – 8:00pm. Don’t miss it!

Keynote talks and some words with the speakers.

The keynote speakers this year have been specifically selected to have vast experience in productizing research ideas. The purpose, as Sung-Ju Lee says, is to create a closer relationship between MobiCom and the industry. We have four speakers, whose talks are spread out across the three days of the conference. Below we have short Q&A’s with some of the speakers!

JeffGelhlaar1Jeff Gehlhaar is VP of Technology at Qualcomm Research, one of the most successful wireless company, and leads a very innovative team in the company. His talk is titled, “The Future of Mobile Computing.” Here is some Q&A with Jeff himself:

Lara: What is the most interesting technology we will see from Qualcomm Research that you will be discussing in your talk (for example, a technology that will define or influence our experience with mobile devices in the, perhaps, near future, or a technology that pushes what we are capable of doing using our mobile devices)? Can you give an example user application?

Jeff: We are working on a range of technologies to enable Qualcomm’s vision of a Digital 6th sense, where our mobile devices become increasingly cognitive. The newest and most exciting research we are doing right now is in brain inspired computing with neural networks. For a number of years, Qualcomm Research has been engaged in the application of biologically inspired spiking neural networks to perception problems in mobile devices. Now, we have added a focus on applying Deep Learning which are state of the art solutions to a number of perception problems. What makes this so exciting is our focus on bringing these solutions to mobile whereas others believe this is a problem that can only be solved in the cloud. Together, these technologies are going to make our devices increasingly cognitive. An example is something we are calling Cognitive Photography, where your mobile device will understand the scene you are taking a picture of, take it at the right instant to capture the moment, with the correct camera settings, identify people in the picture, and categorize it for you by content so you can later find that perfect picture.

Lara: Briefly, what are some of the biggest challenges (and research directions) towards making the above technology real that you will be covering in your talk?

Jeff: Typically these neural networks take a great deal of memory and performance. Our challenge is to bring state of the art solutions to mobile in a low power, highly efficient way. This will require innovation in the networks themselves and the hardware Qualcomm will bring to our chips to enable these to run efficiently and at low power. Learn more about these and other Qualcomm Research innovative technology projects at http://www.qualcomm.com/research.

Lara: As a person from industry who never attended MobiCom, why did you decide to attend? What are your expectations for this conference?

Jeff: It is an honor to be invited to MobiCom on its 20th anniversary, to look back a bit at where we have been, but more importantly to look ahead to what mobile computing will become over the next 20 years. Qualcomm understands the importance of research in helping to propel technology forward. Sponsoring and Participating in conferences such as Mobicom allows us to help foster innovation. It is exciting to have a chance to gather with colleagues who will shape the future of mobile computing.

KitColbert2Kit Colbert is CTO of End-User Computing at VMWare, one of the leaders in visualization software that has growing interest in mobility. Kit’s talk is titled, “BYOzzzz: Focusing on the Unsolved Challenges of Mobility, An Industry Perspective.”

Lara: As a person from industry who never attended MobiCom, why did you decide to attend? What are your expectations for this conference?

Kit: Academic research has always been a cornerstone of VMware. In fact, VMware was started from an academic research project around virtualization. So we want to continue that relationship across all areas of VMware, especially EUC (End-User Computing). MobiCom has a great track record of innovation in the mobility space, making it a highlight of our academic focus. And, let’s be honest, the location this year doesn’t hurt. 🙂

Lara: What is the takeout message that you want to leave your audience – the academic community – with?

Kit: I think there’re two big takeaways for attendees, both of which I’ll highlight in my talk. First, standards are essential. Academia was absolutely critical in the establishment of open standards that paved the way for the Internet and now we’re faced with a similar situation with the Internet of Things, where siloing could easily kill any widespread interoperability. We’d really like help from the community on driving standards. Second, there are many large unsolved problems in the mobility space that we in industry would love academia’s help with, especially in the areas of security and mobile context. These are very ripe areas for innovation and have tremendous value for customers.

biswas-headshotSanjit Biswas, who published his research 10 years ago at MobiCom, founded a startup that was successfully acquired, and is a VP/GM of Cisco Cloud Networking Group. Sanjit’s talk is titled, “From grad school, to startup to acquisition.”


kleinrockProfessor Leonard Kleinrock, most famously known as a father of the Internet, is also an entrepreneur. Kleinrock’s talk is titled, “Some of My Simple Results.” I asked Professor Leonard if he could share with us any personal sound bite, and he says:

“Two months before the Internet came to life back in 1969, I expressed my vision as to what it might become (link). One of the elements I articulated was that the Internet would become invisible, as, for example, electric service is invisible to consumers – one does not care about how electricity is provided, but rather we just plug into a socket in the wall and expect reliable continuous service with a simple human interface.

Unfortunately, the Internet has not yet reached that stage of disappearing into the infrastructure. It is far too complicated to use. Instead of simplicity, it has grown in complexity as far as the end user is concerned.

Now that we are approaching an era of the Internet of Things and a mobile, wireless deployment, there is hope that the Internet will be available everywhere while at the same time it could disappear into the infrastructure and provide its services with a clean, quiet, simple, powerful and invisible interface to the end user.”

Stay tuned for more one-on-one Q&A’s with the speakers and insight into their talks!

The Tale of Two Panels.

There are two panels at MobiCom 2014. The motivation and inspiration behind the selected topics this year in fact is tightly correlated with this being the twentieth year of MobiCom.

20av“This being the 20th year of MobiCom,” the Panel Chair, Thyaga Nandagopal from NSF says, “the organizers felt that it would be a great idea to take stock of what we have achieved so far, and learning the lessons of what worked and what did not work. At the same time, we need to look at the emerging challenges of the future, given that mobile computing and networking has become an essential part of all of our lives. The past and future motivated the choice of our two panels – one with some of the pioneers in this community to take a look back, and another one with our younger shining stars to take a look ahead.”

The first pgrudge_against_societyanel is on the first day of the conference, Monday, September 8, and is moderated by Lakshminarayanan Subramanian from NYU. The topic of the panel is: “Tackling Societal Grand Challenges with Mobile Computing.”

For this panel, we have invited Sanjit Biswas (Meraki/Cisco), Gaetano Borriello (University of Washington), Prabal Dutta (University of Michigan), Dina Katabi (MIT), Randy H. Katz (UC Berkeley), and the moderator Lakshminarayanan Subramanian (NYU).

jasper_morello_-crew_navigating_in_skiffThe second panel takes place on Tuesday, September 9, and is moderated by Victor Bahl from MSR. The panel is titled “Applying the lessons learnt for navigating the future – a conversation with the pioneers,” and it is specifically prepared in celebration of MobiCom’s 20th year. For this panel, pioneers in the field of computing are invited to share their wisdom and success stories, namely: Professor Leonard Kleinrock, known as a father of the Internet, Professor Randy Katz, who developed (along with his collaborators) the RAID computer storage concept, and Professor David J. Goodman, who has made fundamental contributions to digital signal processing, speech coding and wireless information networks.

To gauge more information on the second panel, I asked the moderator Victor Bahl why he thought the panel is fitting to have this year, and what his expectations are. He says, “MobiCom is no longer a teenager and 20 years is a great milestone point to look back and reflect – to think about our successes and failures. We can learn from both and who better to help us do this than our OCA winners. My hope is that the conference participants will take this wonderful opportunity to engage deeply with our panelist in a open and honest dialog about how we can become more effective in transforming the world for the better – doing what we do best – researching and inventing new life-changing technologies.”

What feedback and response is expected from the MobiCom community, in terms of engaging with these panels and otherwise? Thyaga, the panel chair, responds and says, “I am hoping that the MobiCom community takes an active part in these panels, to better understand the process and motivations that have led us on this trajectory, where we have become influential players in research on mobile computing and networking.” Thyaga then adds, “At the same time, we need grand challenges to provide a focal point for the next 20 years, and by engaging with these panels, I sincerely hope that the MobiCom community is able to collectively identify our next moonshot.”

Similarly, what are we, the community, expected to take out from these panels? Thyaga replies with: “Many of the research contributions stemming from the past 20 years of MobiCom’s existence have impacted society in an highly positive way. I would like the public to understand these contributions and how they have changed society for the better.” He then adds, “At the same time, I want to give them hope that we continue to carry the mantle of being the premier forum for bleeding-edge research in this area, and that they should stay tuned to this arena to get a glimpse of what new progress is coming down the pipe to realize our ideal of ‘information about anything, anytime, anywhere’.”

Find an updated article on the actual panel discussion here!

Workshops at MobiCom 2014: An insider’s look.

workshopThis year at MobiCom, we have seven exciting workshops, divided over two days: (1) Sunday, September 7 with CHANTSWinTech, the student-to-student workshop S3, and VLCS, and (2) Thursday, September 11 with HotWireless, MobiArch, and SPME.

So what’s new about the workshops this year? According to Chiara Petrioli, the Workshops Co-Chair, “This year we tried to stimulate workshop proposals outreaching to new areas and communities. As a result, we received many top quality submissions and have accepted a nice combination of solid workshops.” HotWireless, VLCS and SPME are brand new workshops.

All workshops have shown a good number of registered attendees and quite interesting technical programs. Among the workshops, Chiara says that HotWireless (Hot Topics in Wireless) is currently a real success in terms of attendees, with a lot of attention and interest expressed by the community and a large audience. Petrioli believes that the success of HotWireless is due to the workshop organizer’s open call to a broad range of multidisciplinary and emerging topics, as well as their call for contributions on disruptive technologies and visionary ideas. He adds that “This approach stimulated both submissions from top groups resulting in a good program, and it is attracting many researchers who are interested in hearing discussions on emerging cutting edge fields and new directions.” VLCS, a workshop on visible light communication systems, is also doing extremely well among the new workshops.

As for what you should expect to get out of the workshops, this part is important. The co-chairs and organizers emphasize that workshops provide the ideal place for informal discussions on new fields and research directions. By attending them, one can expect to be exposed to a large variety of new ideas, maybe ideas that are less refined than is needed for paper acceptance at MobiCom’s main conference, but these new ideas are as likely to shape the future of wireless and mobile technologies. Chiara emphasizes that out of his own experience, “I expect to have the opportunity to get a grasp on cutting edge results and have the opportunity to meet researchers from top groups working  on some emerging topics such as VLC, backscattering etc., on which there are papers accepted at the main conference, but whose details and technical challenges can only be thoroughly addressed in a dedicated workshop.”

On that note, we look forward to the research discussions that will be generated through these seven success stories at MobiCom

How good is your startup idea?

startup-pitchMany students, and some professors, are interested in entrepreneurship. We are full of cool ideas, but we rarely get an opportunity to be mentored by people who have entrepreneurship experience. This year at MobiCom 2014, we are bringing the experts to you!

The Startup Pitch Contest is an original and a unique event organized by the general chair, Sung-Ju Lee. For this event, he has recruited silicon valley Venture Capitalists (VCs), Eugene Lee and Claire Chang, and entrepreneurs, namely Prof. Leonard Kleinrock.

So who gets the opportunity to pitch their startup idea? People who submitted the best elevator pitch document are selected to make a pitch at MobiCom in front of the VCs (and fellow conference attendees). “We will follow a similar format as the ones VCs run.” Sung-Ju says. After the pitch, the VCs will provide constructive feedback, as well as grilling. “One could consider this event as a practice pitch.”

What does the winner get? The winner will be invited to the office of Artiman Ventures in the silicon valley to make a formal pitch!

When asked what his hopes are for the event, SJ says “I am very excited about this event and think it will be a lot of fun, not only for the people who pitch, but also for the rest of us witnessing the event.” He also adds, “I hope the winner can share the whole experience at next year’s MobiCom, and perhaps s/he will be a keynote speaker at 30th MobiCom!” Now isn’t that a thought worth considering?

We all have something to gain from this contest. Whether we have an idea but will not be pitching it in the event, or even if we are not interested in the startup path at all, this is an experience we should not miss: to see and understand how our ideas can be challenged by experts and maybe how best to hold our own.

As a last note, have you watched the ABC TV show Shark Tank? This startup contest brought to us at MobiCom will be a “special”, albeit a customized and small-scale, version of Shark Tank that will bring all of us attendees something closer to home!

Stay tuned for comments from the VCs themselves!

A special year for MobiCom: What’s in store for you.


So what’s not to miss and what’s exciting about MobiCom 2014? It is definitely going to be a special year, as we are celebrating its twentieth year of inception! (No pun intended – no illusions – Leonardo DiCaprio [sadly for his fans] does not run this show)

“We want MobiCom 2014 to be a platform where we celebrate our achievements, discuss how we can elevate ourselves even further, and also have some fun, too.” says the general chair, Sung-Ju Lee. And that is exactly what is in store for us.

First, there are a bunch of ways we will be celebrating MobiCom’s 20th year. Other than commitment to excellence in research, there will be more fun activities than usual, such as dancing to [Bollywood] music, contests and competitions, games, and last but not least, cake-eating. Before we get to the entertainment-related events, let’s shed some light on some other highlights and traditions of the conference.

MobiCom has traditionally had a good balance of fundamental, theoretic research and practical, systems research. Our community has generated National Academy of Engineering members, ACM Fellows, and other prestigious award winners, and also had technical transfers and start-ups, one of which had a high profile acquisition by a networking giant company. The technical program this year continues to emphasize such excellence.

The main conference starts on Monday, September 8 and ends on Wednesday, September 10. According to the Ashutosh Sabharwal, the Technical Program Co-Chair, the paper submissions and acceptance this year represent the current hot and burning topics. He says that “The community is moving in new and hot directions due to “market forces.”” He then continues, “That is why we have very diverse topical coverage and the highest number of accepted papers ever: 36.” Stay tuned to this blog for timely information on the hot topic discussions and sessions at MobiCom 2014.

MobiCom 2014 kicks off on Sunday, September 7, with four exciting, co-located workshops: CHANTSWinTech, the student-to-student workshop S3, and VLCS. This is the first of two workshop days, the second taking place on Thursday, September 11 with HotWireless, MobiArch, and SPME. To get further insight into the workshops at MobiCom this year, check out my other blog on “Workshops at MobiCom 2014: An insider’s look.

One highlight and unique event this year is the Start-up Pitch Contest, organized by the general chair, Sung-Ju Lee, who believes that lots of students, and some professors, are interested in entrepreneurship, they are full of cool ideas, but rarely get an opportunity to be mentored by people who have entrepreneurship experience. He gets the idea to recruit a team of Venture Capitalists (VCs) and entrepreneurs to give us the expert advice we need. To get more insight into this competition and read some words from the experts themselves, check out the blog on “How good is your startup idea?

The keynote speakers invited this year have also been selected based on their close ties to industry. “As a person who has been in the industry for 14 years,” Sung-Ju Lee says, “I feel that MobiCom could have a closer relationship with the industry. That is one of the reasons that all our keynote speakers have vast experience in productizing research ideas.” We have four excellent keynote speakers. For more on the keynote speakers and to read some words they have shared with us, take a look at my blog on “Keynote talks and some words with the speakers.

The panels this year have much to offer as well. One of the two panels has been uniquely set up to celebrate 20 years of MobiCom, inviting pioneers in our field to serve as members of the panel. We will all get the opportunity to learn from their success stories and wisdom. For insights on the panels, refer to our blog on “The Tale of Two Panels.

Last but not least, fun in the [Hawaiian] sun? We are bringing some of that to you too! There will be a Sandcastle Competition (yes, you read that right…) on the first day of the conference, Monday, September 8 at 3:15pm. Check out the MobiCom Facebook page for a link to the event, and sign up. There are many other fun games and events in store for us too! Do not miss out!

We hope that your experience at MobiCom this year will be special. Stay tuned!

About this blog: Stay tuned and get engaged!

Hello and welcome to MobiCom 2014’s blog site!

This blog is brought to you by academics interested in engaging you with the happenings and research discussions at MobiCom this year. The main events and hot topics will be highlighted here.

Our blog will start-off with two posts on the new at MobiCom this year – what you should not miss – as well as a few interesting stats to reveal a little more about the conference over the years.

So stay tuned, and we hope that you use our blog posts as another mean to engage with your research community!

Brought to you by,

Lara Deek, your Blogging Chair