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“Bringing academic and industrial research together helps to come up with true innovations, meaning technology advances that actually have an impact on the market”
IMDEA Networks Institute

Interview with Heinrich Stüttgen, Vice President of NEC Laboratories Europe.

Over the last decade, since the founding of IMDEA Networks, progressive contributions have been made towards the advancement of the science behind the extraordinary development of network communication technologies. As a result, one could argue that leading to the information society, the Internet of Everything, now almost a buzzword, is a potential reality ‘not-so-far-off’. One of the world’s top experts in the field, Dr. Heinrich J. Stüttgen, Vice President of NEC Laboratories Europe, joined this week for the first time a meeting of the Board of Trustees and of the Scientific Council of IMDEA Networks to discuss the present contributions and future prospects of the Madrid research Institute. 


1. Dr. Stüttgenin your view, what are IMDEA Networks’ main objectives and scientific challenges?

As I understand it, the IMDEA initiative is composed of centers of excellence in several technology areas. These have a mission to advance the state of the art in sciences vital to the future wellbeing of the Spanish society. In this context, IMDEA Networks works on communication and networking technologies and their applications as well as on communications software, all of which are fundamental technologies to build up a digitally enabled society and a digital economy

2. How do you envisage your role as a member of the Board of Trustees and the Scientific Council of IMDEA Networks?

In order to succeed in R&D in a globalized world, openness of research groups towards other researchers around the world is a must today. It will be my privilege to provide my technical background as well as my international and industrial perspective to support IMDEA Networks in defining and executing a successful research program and to foster cooperation with other researchers around Europe and the world.

3. Most of your professional career has taken place within the ICT industry and currently you are responsible for NEC’s ICT related R&D activities in Europe, how do you think your experience can contribute to enhance IMDEA Networks’ technology transfer portfolio?

In fact I have been leading NEC’s ICT R&D activities in Europe for the last 20 years. At the same time, I have chaired different activities of the IEEE Communications Society, which is, although US based, a truly international research and engineering society. Through these roles I have been able to build up a good grasp of technology trends and markets, as well as to establish many professional connections with researchers around the world. I will do my utmost to support the IMDEA Networks team in addressing those challenges, which are, not only academically interesting, but also relevant for the mid-term development of the communications market and for the transformation of society. Furthermore, I will try to support IMDEA Networks by catalyzing international cooperation with partners from industry and academia.

4. What is the future of network technologies? What will be the dominant aspects over the next few years and how will they impact our everyday lives?

That is a very broad question, so let me mention some of the key trends that I see. In the mid-term, the increasing level of softwarization will create a large set of challenges in network management. For cost reasons, an increasing use of Artificial Intelligence techniques for automation of the management of softwarized networks will be a key challenge. Related to this, but also with a large impact on transmission technologies, energy efficiency is also a major issue to tackle. Considering the quickly growing number of connected devices forming the Internet of Things (IoT), this challenge will become even more important in the future than it is today. In the recent past, security has been a growing concern. As our IT and communications infrastructure becomes more and more ubiquitous, it also becomes more volatile to malicious attacks. Adding security functions on top of the network to fix the most pressing problems will soon not be good enough. A new network architecture integrating security functions at all layers and, at the same time, addressing the challenges of the evolving IoT, will be some of the important research goals for the next 10 years.

5. In your opinion, how does collaboration amongst industry, academia and research organizations impact technology development?

Good research can be done in academic, governmental and industrial centers. However goals and timelines are often different. Whereas academic research centers often focus on the more long term issues, industrial centers generally take productization and large scale deployment issues into account. Bringing both together helps to come up with true innovations, meaning technology advances that actually have an impact on the market.

6. How can scientific work oriented to the development of communication networks bring value to society?

There is no question that the communication needs of society are rapidly growing in multiple dimensions, e.g. bandwidth, volume, ubiquity, security and privacy. If we cannot solve these challenges we will not be able to address the important societal challenges ahead of us, such as sustainability, resource consumption, aging society, mobility, etc. Communications technologies together with general IT technologies are a crucial element in solving these challenges.

7. As you know, IMDEA Networks is growing its outreach and it regularly launches an international call for both aspiring and established researchers, why should they consider working for IMDEA Networks?

First of all, IMDEA Networks has built an excellent reputation among researchers around the world, and the research topics it focusses on are of broad interest worldwide. It is a fact that international experience has become an important career step for many researchers. To this day there are researchers from many different countries working at IMDEA Networks and they form an open and fruitful community actively lowering the barriers for others to come. Last, but not least, Madrid is a great city to live in and enjoy. A lot of good reasons to work at IMDEA Networks, at least for a period of time within the long span of a research career.

8. In your experience, what personal and professional qualities are important for researchers to have in the ICT area?

To succeed in communications research obviously one needs a solid education in mathematics and engineering. Beyond that, curiosity and determination are key characteristics to succeed. Given the speed at which science is advancing today, a good team will arrive at results much quicker than several individuals working in isolation. So beyond the basics, team attitude is the key characteristic to look for. This may not be as obvious as it sounds, because researchers in universities, where individual degrees or publications are the measure of success, don’t always possess this characteristic and experience.

9. Finally, we would like to close this interview on a more personal note: would you mind telling us what led you to pursue a career in science? 

As always there is not one single reason that determined that. Over the last 25 years I have worked in research management. What fascinated and drove me most was the opportunity to bring together teams that were able to come up with new ideas, solving existing problems in a different way and thereby advancing technology.