Technology trend analysis is a significant aspect of our work at Ericsson Research, but it’s important to recognize that a single technology trend will not change the world on its own. Rather, it is the combined effects of multiple technological forces that make exponential innovation possible.
I find it so inspirational when I look at the 5G-based systems that are being rolled out today and see the concrete, real-world results of the novel ideas that my Ericsson Research colleagues were exploring back in the early 2010s.
I know from experience that it’s no easy task to try to anticipate all the challenges and opportunities that customers will face 7-10 years into the future and figure out how to address them with emerging technologies, without knowing for certain which ones will be relevant and mature within the given time frame.
To ensure that we get it right, Ericsson Research currently employs more than 700 world-class, future-focused researchers at our facilities located all around the globe. Day in and day out, year after year, these dedicated professionals work closely with each other and with both academia and industry to drive Ericsson's technology leadership forward for the benefit of our customers, our customers’ customers and society as a whole. These researchers have an enormous impact on our business in so many ways – for example, a whopping 50 percent of all Ericsson patents are generated by Ericsson Research employees
Monitoring and analyzing technology trends
Continuous trend monitoring and analysis is a big part of our work at Ericsson Research. Among other things, our findings are used by our CTO Erik Ekudden as the basis for his annual Ericsson Technology Review article highlighting the key technology trends that he believes will have the most significant impact on the future of our industry.
The trends outlined in this year’s article – due to be published on September 9th – also serve as a cornerstone in the development of a common Ericsson vision of what 6G will provide, and what sort of technology evolution will be required to get there. The first iteration of our collective vision for 6G is both broad in scope and deep in selected technology tracks. As it continues to evolve and mature, we will use it to guide and strengthen our ongoing internal work and our cooperation with external partners.
Our way of working: inclusive, collaborative and iterative
One of the most important responsibilities of my team is to develop views on the evolution of a collective set of technologies that will build up the 6G network platform. 6G will build on 5G, of course, so the 5G evolution will set the frame for 6G and a major part of the learning comes from continued research and experiences from 5G. Our approach is to keep the vision broad at the same time that we go deep in exploring the most interesting aspects.
As such, we continuously monitor a wide variety of technological trends and forces in areas such as AI, smart materials, new computing paradigms (towards quantum), sensor technology, robotization, programming, and many more, and consider both their relevance and how they might fit together. This is vital, because we know that no one technology trend will change the world on its own – the real impact comes from selecting the right ones and successfully combining them.
Our “crowd-sourced” approach to strategy development
In my experience, the key to getting the best out of 700+ brilliant minds is to ensure that all of them are involved in shaping our shared vision. I think of this as a “crowd-sourced” approach to strategy development. Working this way, we’re able to bring in insights from all of our researchers from the most junior to the most senior across all technology competence domains. Of course, our approach to strategy development also includes gathering insights from industries, governments and universities.
As part of the digital transformation of industries and our entire society, multiple ecosystems have emerged with requirements that stretch far beyond classical telecom. In the development of 5G, we addressed this by leveraging the quadruple helix model and collaborating closely not only with universities and governments, but also with several major industrial players, including ABB, Scania and Boliden.
5G-Industry Campus Europe – the industrial 5G research network we launched last year in partnership with the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (IPT) – plays a key role in our collaboration strategy. We know that understanding and meeting the requirements of all the new and emerging uses cases on the horizon for 6G will demand a greater degree of cooperation with other industries, governments and universities than ever before.
The evolution towards 6G
Looking ahead to 6G, our starting point has been recognition of the tremendous value that mobile broadband (MBB) has provided in recent years, both in terms of meeting our communication needs and in radically redefining them. With this in mind, it is clear that MBB must continue to evolve to support emerging innovations, particularly in relation to bridging the gap between physical and digital realities.
The internet of senses is one important example. The idea behind the internet of senses is that the experience of digital participants should be identical to that of physical participants, particularly in terms of their ability to interact and use all five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch). Making this vision a reality will definitely require enhanced network support.
Real-time machine communication is another area that is developing quickly and will require enhanced network support. The requirements of machine communication already greatly exceed those of human-to-human interaction, but in AI-to-AI communication scenarios – where the communication occurs between intelligent machines – the requirements are even higher. The human brain and sensory perception capabilities no longer set the limits for the benefits of low latency and high data rates, for example.
Transitioning toward a world where the internet of senses is a reality and AI is embedded in machines and robots everywhere will rely heavily on the existence of highly capable network platform. Our goal at Ericsson is to ensure that the robust 5G network platform that already exists today continues to evolve in such a way that it is able to deliver the kind of extreme performance required by application areas such as the internet of senses and communication among intelligent machines. Our research suggests that increasingly advanced technologies in four areas – non-limiting connectivity, pervasive network compute fabric, trustworthy infrastructure and cognitive networks – will play a critical role.
Driving exponential innovation
While many of the potential use cases and solution proposals that Ericsson researchers were exploring back in the early planning phases of 5G sounded like something out of a sci-fi movie at that time, a significant number of them have gone on to become everyday realities. So many of the services we take for granted today would never have existed if it weren’t for those hard working, highly imaginative researchers, thinking out of the box and continuously pushing the limits of the possible.
I’m convinced that Ericsson’s ability to drive exponential innovation comes from having a diverse team of researchers with knowledge that is both broad and deep, rich imaginations and an unyielding desire to keep learning and developing new insights. By working hard to understand the potential interactions between the overlapping and sometimes even conflicting technology trends that will shape the world in the coming decade and beyond, we will ensure that our innovation will be both exponential and fully aligned with future requirements.
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Read Magnus’ previous blog post on necessity and networks: today’s co-parents of invention.
Discover more about 5G evolution and 6G.
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