Research on the 5G standard will be over for researchers by the end of this year, and it will be commercialised in 2020. Already this winter, the University of Oulu had a great showcase at the Korean Olympics: the first intercontinental, open 5G network in the world was created between Oulu and Pyeongchang, the location for the Winter Olympics.
The G stands for generation. The change coming with 5G is greater than ever before in cellular communications. In addition to communication between people, we are also shifting to data communications between devices, processes and things. This will enable a highly automated, smart society.
“GSM enabled the sending and receiving of text messages. 3G already enabled the transfer of data; mobile broadband came with 4G, so it is possible to connect to the internet almost anywhere. With 5G, wireless access can take place on all possible gadgets, anywhere,” Latva-aho explains.
“Mobile phone standard cycles span about ten years. 3G arrived in 2000, 4G around 2010, 5G will be here in 2020, so it’s not hard to guess what’s to be expected in 2030.”
“With 5G, we’re shifting to a smart society. All things, processes, even people, are wirelessly connected to the web. This means that the range of applications will explode. At the same time, other developments in the ICT sector are vast. With machine learning, smart, self-operating processes and applications will become part of our everyday lives. The internet of things and objects will truly make headway once we develop AI-based applications to better suit wireless networks,” Latva-aho says.
“We’re now at a great watershed. Traditional boundaries between sciences will come crashing down because it must be possible to combine knowledge from different disciplines in the development of applications.”
Professor Latva-aho knows what he is talking about as he has seen the entire development trajectory of mobile technology. Latva-aho entered the field in 1990, and his dissertation on 3G for Nokia was completed in 1992.
A boost for business
“The mobile technology business has been heavily focused on operators. The range of applications, devices and technology are changing, so my guess is that the business models of operators will change and that new players will spring up alongside them,” Latva-aho says.
Today, we have a WiFi router at home that works via a fixed network operator. “In the future, we at the university, for example, will have our own mobile campus network that is possibly installed, maintained and operated by some completely new player.”
“In a country that is as heavily dependent on exports as Finland, the business potential and export market possibilities resulting from 5G should be widely understood. Open-minded thinking that ignores boundaries is required to create new success stories,” Latva-aho says.
“There are ongoing discussions on what should be done for Finland to be able to make an impact in the future. After 3G, the rest of the world beat Finland to the punch as a model wireless country. Of course, some of our positions have been regained thanks to the significant network investments and open-minded data pricing of operators. With 5G, we have the opportunity to change the situation in a considerably more radical manner. We have world-class open 5G test networks in Oulu and Espoo. With them, we’ll be able to reach the world’s leading edge at the commercialisation phase of 5G, if we know how to operate wisely.”
“At the Korean Olympics, we presented a 5G demonstration as an EU research project together with Nokia at a showcase spot. More of similar cutting-edge pilots are needed to make Finnish know-how recognised around the world.”
As the 5G standard is nearing completion, researchers proceed to consider the next step. Now, researchers have already set their sights on 6G. In January 2018, the 6G competence cluster project 6Genesis of the CWC advanced to the second round of the Academy of Finland’s Flagship Programme call. The project involves bringing 5G to the commercialisation phase in large-scale European pilots implemented with a test network. In addition, basic 6G technology is developed in wireless technologies, decentralised AI-based computing methods and the new applications that these enable.
Experts needed for research and product development
“The CWC has about fifty ongoing research projects. We have 140 researchers from 25 different countries,” Latva-aho says.
“The growing ICT industry in Oulu is attracting newly graduated engineers to well-paid jobs, and there aren’t enough young people for postgraduate studies. Now, only one of my doctoral students is Finnish, the remaining 20 are from abroad. Most doctoral thesis students come from Southeast Asia and the Middle East.”
Finnish engineer education has not been able to meet the needs of data communications research for a long time. Furthermore, the average age of domestic employees in the industry has increased, and retirements will lead to a shortage of labour before long. The situation seems to be similar also in other fields of technology.
“Doctoral degree holders with dissertations on 5G topics are being recruited to companies at an accelerating pace, and the next generation of doctoral students will be working on 6G,” Latva-aho describes the academic cycle. “There will definitely be jobs in this field also far in the future, so I hope that young people will focus on studying mathematics and science.”
Original text in Finnish by Satu Räsänen
Profile by Mikko Törmänen/University of Oulu
Main photo by Pond5.com
Academic Professor (2017–2021) Matti Latva-aho is a professor specialising in wireless radio data communications from the University of Oulu. He leads the 5G research of the CWC (Centre for Wireless Communications).