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The Woman Behind The Tech of YouTube and Netflix

The first tests of the 5G network have already been done in Spain and the lucky ones have been able to see how the download, upload and streaming speed has increased almost 10 times compared to the 4G standard. One of the most interesting applications of this technology is video streaming, whose use extends beyond the possibility of watching videos on YouTube or downloading movies on Netflix, Prime Video or HBO, to name a few platforms. In the era of 5G video, streaming is applied in all kinds of fields, such as education and telemedicine. Every day we see more than a billion hours of video and yet most of us have never heard of Marta Karczewicz, Qualcomm vice president of technology, or its more than 400 inventions related to video compression, the fundamental technology behind high quality video streaming.

Karczewicz has been nominated by the European Patent Office (EPO) for the fourteenth edition of the inventor of the year awards, an award that will be defined on June 20, 2019.

Karczewicz’s work focuses on video codecs, the “funnels” for calling them somehow, that allow large volumes of raw video data to be compressed and transmitted through mobile networks. Her inventions have been decisive in a variety of video compression standards such as AVC and HEVC.

“When I started, more than 20 years ago,” Karczewicz tells us in a telephone interview, “the video was used mostly on TV, there was some streaming, but it was in childhood. At that time I thought it could be useful and made it my research field. In those times we could hardly speak of pixels. We talked about grayscale, blacks and whites, but we assumed that sooner or later we would have color, that mobiles would have more and more functions.”

Given that the dean of streaming, Netflix, was founded in 1997 (although at the time it was a home movie rental service reviled by Blockbuster) and that YouTube started in 2005, Karczewicz is an advance in the field.

“I would not say pioneer,” Karczewicz adds, “but I was in the field from the beginning, before it was popular. I feel very proud that my work has contributed to the development of all that. Today everyone has a streaming service, not just Netflix or HBO; most channels have it. Before the picture did not look so great, the important thing was to be able to send the information. Now there are security cameras, education, medicine, entertainment applications and more. And even in entertainment, it is improved with innovations in virtual reality and augmented reality, services in the Cloud and gaming. It has improved bandwidth but also our compression capacity by at least 80%.”

Even before starting in the field of video compression Karczewicz already stood out for her knowledge and interest. She was among the top 10 students at the Mathematical Olympic Games in Poland, which earned her a scholarship to study the processing of signals and images at the University of Tampere, Finland. That was where she discovered her interest in data compression.

“I like the problems that require analyzing large amounts of data and looking for patterns and that is what video compression is basically,” says Karczewicz from California. “And the future will be even more interesting. 5G technology will bring more bandwidth but also less delay, perfect for augmented reality and for higher resolution. All applications that require real-time image, will change for the better, will be more interactive. The 5G will expand the entry of this type of technology.”

When we ask her what was impossible decades ago and what it is now, she doesn’t doubt it. “By then, 20 years ago, we would talk about 8k and real-time video. Today is different. We talk about completely immersive experiences. In the future each pixel will be a collection of 3D images and that will be done in the cloud, all images will have volumetric details. This can revolutionize medicine, but also the entertainment industry and sports. And that will allow users to decide which camera to watch, all in 3D and in real time. Sports events will allow us to interact as we do with video games. Right now we are working on better color compression. This will allow us to make the screen a whole wall. Our aspiration is that, after augmented reality and virtual reality, immersive reality arrives.”

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