Mon. May 16th, 2022

Tech community must drop silos to unlock 5G innovation

5G Innovations

The 5G Things event at Ericsson’s D-15 lab in Silicon Valley recently brought together the world’s top innovators to talk all things 5G. In this Q&A with Jan Söderström, Head of D-15, we find out what’s happening behind-the-scenes at California’s most advanced 5G testbed and hear why he believes an open innovation eco-system is the key to unlocking tomorrow’s killer apps.

Over the coming years, a hypernova of radical new technologies will explode on to the market – made possible by 5G networks and significant advances in technology areas such as the Internet of Things (IoT), extended reality, AI and the cloud.

At the recent 5G Things event at Ericsson’s D-15 innovation testbed in Santa Clara, world leading technology companies from the Silicon Valley ecosystem and beyond all came together to share insights and open new channels for co-creating the first wave of 5G innovation.

We caught up with Jan Söderström, Head of the D-15 innovation lab, to hear his thoughts on the event, his expectations for 5G and why he believes innovation eco-systems are so critical to unlocking 5G innovation. Here’s what he had to say…


On Ericsson’s D-15 innovation hub in Santa Clara

The D-15 project in Santa Clara is as far as I know, the most advanced 5G testbed of its kind in Silicon Valley and wider California. We actually took the name from the address of our founder’s very first workshop in Stockholm on Drottninggatan 15. There weren’t many cars around at that time, so this is really our version of the Silicon Valley “garage story”.

It was founded in early 2019 and since then it’s become our flagship for ecosystem engagement, something which we see as being critical to unlocking the full potential of the 5G platform. Obviously 4G gave us a great ride with smartphone apps but, as we all know, 5G will enable so much more. As such, it will involve a much bigger ecosystem, with many more devices, endpoints and users including new enterprises and industry verticals. Because it’s a much bigger ecosystem, we have to instrument differently to reach new partners, validate the use cases and begin to build momentum in the 5G market.

Here at D-15 we have a single 5G network that can host multiple partners and cloud-based networking which can offer many virtual slices for different partners simultaneously. What is also unique to D-15 is its location in Silicon Valley. Essentially, much of what you can do with the network sits here in this ecosystem. It all fills a need to do more, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.


On the ongoing projects at D-15

Each project we have at D-15 has its own DNA. For example, for years we have been supporting and enabling 4G voice projects for smart watches, smart speakers and other devices. Today, with 5G, we’re working a lot with flying drones, AI, autonomous vehicles and augmented reality – although I can’t share much more than that. In terms of scale, last year we concluded roughly 30 projects all belonging to various technology areas.

One ongoing project which we spoke about at the 5G Things event is partnership we have with Qualcomm and Nvidia to enable virtual reality on mobile devices by doing most of the picture rendering in the network, not in the device. This essentially makes it possible to realize mobile virtual reality use cases, without needing to have a huge computer on your back or a cable attached to your device. To do that, we are moving computing power away from the terminal to an edge cloud and rendering the picture in the network server before sending it to the use case. To do that requires low-latency, high-speed 5G connectivity – which we can provide, of course.

Together with Qualcomm Technologies and Nvidia, Ericsson D-15 is helping to develop and test new eXtended Reality use cases at its innovation lab in Santa Clara (image courtesy of Qualcomm Technologies).


On taking the industry from tycoonery to community

Right now, it’s an incredibly exciting time to be part of the technology sector. In the coming years, all eyes will be on those early 5G markets, particularly here in the US, but also Asian Pacific markets such as South Korea, to see which use cases are first to emerge and scale.

However, in order to make those use cases fly, the technology sector must work towards more community sharing. That’s why events such as the recent 5G Things can be so important to making 5G happen.

Also, I think that we at Ericsson, both as a telecom player and with our typically Swedish consensual approach to things, are perfect for breaking ground in this area – to guide those “winner takes it all” kind of tech players that are not used to community sharing, yet are so typical of the market. I believe the industry is beginning to see this need, and we have a role to play there in making that happen.


On the importance of open innovation ecosystems

The network is enabling a lot of innovation and many technology players right now are working in stealth mode to be “first” to that killer app. But what happens next? What is the route to market, how can we scale those technologies, and how can we ensure fair competition in future?

The openness that is needed most right now is to get an agreed framework in place for new services, so we don’t get locked into a situation whereby there is only one technology vendor, one hyperscale cloud company, one service provider etc.

The connection between an application, the network platform and the terminals must develop over the next few years, so we have flexibility and scale. For me, this is the core part of ensuring openness.

Then, of course we will also see more openness in the various levels of the stacks themselves – such as the top end of the stacks i.e. the innovation layer, but also ensuring openness within the network platform itself, to enable faster innovation on the basic infrastructure.


On openness in the cloud ecosystem

At D-15, we do a lot of openness work with cloud providers to develop frameworks for network slicing and interoperable services etc. This is the higher-level stack, what we call the innovation layer.

Most cloud vendors have built their business on an internal stack which they have designed themselves. Although they reuse some commercial components from the market and publish some open-source code to get the scale, the nature of the stacks can be very different which makes it difficult to develop and integrate multi-cloud solutions – something which will be critical to building out 5G use cases.

At Ericsson, we are very cloud native in much of our software and we see struggles when we realize that the underlying stacks are not mature enough to handle fully cloud-native solutions. Our efforts right now are very much in trying to combine the orchestration that we can offer from a service provider perspective and stitching this together with the different cloud providers to produce a functioning solution. We definitely foresee this being the model for the early 5G years, to produce a flawless experience for the user.


On the 5G tech race

I believe a lot of what happens next will depend on each market’s ambition to build and enable that critical base of 5G infrastructure, but also the agility and speed with which technology developers and service providers can scale new technologies across the market. To do that, it’s very clear to me that we have to bring the eco-system closer together. We must find new ways to collaborate and co-create.

Digital infrastructure will be the critical common platform for that. If we compare what is happening today with that happened with 4G LTE rollout, we can already see huge parallels. 4G LTE was essentially the platform which facilitated the exponential growth of many of today’s tech giants, for example Facebook, Amazon, Google and Netflix. It is no coincidence that, with 4G LTE, the US was first in building out digital infrastructure, therefore they could ignite their ecosystem earliest. That’s one reason why, today, most of the global tech giants are found in the US.

The same journey will happen with 5G, except it has the potential to be even bigger. Who will take the biggest chunk of the market? The digital infrastructure, of which 5G is the cornerstone, is so important in answering that question.


On the need for more community events like 5G Things

5G and technologies such as AR/VR (augmented reality / virtual reality), edge computing, AI and IoT provide a very broad toolkit for rapid technological transformation. However, to leverage the full potential of what can be developed, monetized and delivered to the market, it’s going to be critical that the tech community work closely together. That’s what has made the 5G Things event – a real first of its kind – so fascinating.

We had representatives from every corner of the technology ecosystem, not only those who are developing the next generation of radical technologies, but also those financing and investing in the new growth markets, those responsible for bringing new applications to the market, and those who will ultimately leverage the 5G technologies on their factory floors, on the roads, in their cities and in their homes.

This open approach is very much aligned with our own philosophy and we will of course continue to be a facilitator for future opportunities like this in the tech community.