Future Tech 2024: An Interview with Håkan Eriksson (Ericsson)
In this Future Tech interview, we’re continuing our discussion with Håkan Eriksson, the CEO of Ericsson Australia and New Zealand about a future where everything is connected. (In Part 1 of the interview talked about how IPv6 enables ubiquitous connectivity, new consumer service scenarios and the beneficiaries of a connected society.).
5G and Connected Cars
Shara Evans (SE): It seems to me that the rollout of LTE networks for 4G networks is a really important ingredient in this networked society. Of course, we need fixed networks, too. How do you see that evolving over time? Do you see speeds getting faster and faster and a move to 5G, even though some people still haven’t quite defined what 5G may or may not mean?
Håkan Eriksson (HE): I think that we will see 5G coming with even higher speeds. Usually what happens when you then go to highest speeds that you cannot go the same distance, at least not in the uplink. There are other things coming from 5G — shorter latency, so maybe as an example, it’s for indoor environments or for outdoor environments such as communications between cars, for instance. Today it’s quite annoying driving a car most of the time, because you can’t do anything in the stop and go traffic — you don’t want to hit the car in front of you. It’s not safe to do anything like email or texting…
SE: Well, you get arrested if you do it and you’re caught.
HE: Yes, it’s not safe, so you shouldn’t do it. Even if you got at high speeds, you set the cruise controller, then at least you can keep at a steady pace going on a highway, but all this technology is there almost to make it possible to not have to drive yourself. Cars can park now. They can do parallel parking for you.
SE: I know.
HE: My car has a camera, and it senses if something is there and it brakes if it has to by itself. In a few years, I think you will not have to drive yourself in many cases. I think we’ll see car-to-car communication, with some infrastructure on the road. It will be very convenient not to have to drive yourself and just be able to legally and safely do your email, with the car driving itself for you.
SE: It’s such a fascinating topic. I was talking to Dr. Dean Economou at NICTA a few weeks ago about autonomous vehicles. As you say, there’ll be likely sensors within cars and also on roads.
SE: I know Ericsson’s also doing work in this space. If I recall correctly, it’s a partnership with Volvo, where you’re doing things to integrate mobile network operating system in with apps into the car to do things like finding parking spots, for example.
HE: You can find parking spots — you can calibrate the software. You can have the entertainment system for the people who are not driving. You can do lots of things.
This is bit more futuristic, and I’m not sure if it will happen, but if you to take it to 2024: Imagine that your home is somewhere in a more residential, maybe rural area, maybe you drive yourself, but as you come to the highway, you basically hand over to the highway for your car and the surrounding cars to handle themselves.
If you don’t have a car that can do all this, you maybe have to park outside the city and take some other means of transportation and then you go in. There’s no reason really to find a parking spot either. You don’t have to — if you have an office, the car should take you to the office, and then basically it’s automated valet parking also because there’s no reason to take you to the parking place and then you walk from the parking place to the office. The car takes you to the office door, drops you off, maybe say bye to your car…
SE: A robot chauffeur driver!
HE: So you will say, “see you at 5 PM” or whatever and the car will see what you’re outlook looks like, and if you’re running late from your last meeting, it’s noticing that also. When you actually leave the office, the car comes from wherever it’s been parked. You don’t even have to know where it was parked. It was parked somewhere. Then the car takes you to this automated system and then you have to take over yourself and drive the last bit home.
SE: Do you think this could really happen by 2024?
HE: I don’t know about 2024, but, yes, why not. It depends on how much infrastructure has to go to the city to do it.
SE: Yes. Where I see the biggest delay in all this is in the government sector, and actually putting in the sensors in the roads and putting together the laws, and passing the legislation that allows this to happen, and then of course consumer adoption.
HE: Four years ago, the iPad didn’t exist.
SE: Very true. If the government got involved, it might have taken a lot longer than that.
HE: It could be incentivised in such a way that you’re not allowed to take your car unless you have this kind of system. There are a lot of incentives for modern people to actually make it happen because you can probably get to the work in 15 minutes, instead of 45 minutes also, if they didn’t have stop-and-go traffic and red lights.
SE: There would be a lot less collisions, too, I would imagine, with the right software. You’d need some pretty good artificial intelligence, and heuristics running the show.
HE: Yes, probably.
SE: What kind of companies do you think would actually run that kind of traffic control?
HE: I don’t know. I think they maybe something that does not even exist today.
SE: That’s what I’m thinking — is that there’ll be a whole new class of service provider out there that can take advantage of this.
HE: It all depends on what existing companies might want to do something with their capital in 10 years, there may be interim steps taken. So, the network and connectivity providers that are today working with the car industry might be one of the groups gradually taking over this in 10 years.
SE: It could be the telcos who are used to running massive networks that also have opportunities in this space.
HE: Yes. Then, of course, when you are sitting there doing nothing — somebody else is driving, that’s when you start doing work and then it becomes more basically your extended office.
SE: I’m also imagining not needing to own a personal car, but basically having a car available as an on-demand “as a service” basis.
HE: Maybe. That is where we’re going to — you never know. People might go there. The reason why we’re still fighting it out like we are is because we want to own our cars. It’s our space. We like the convenience of starting the journey in our own garage, in our own house. That part, I think, people need a choice. You need a car for the weekends …
SE: Unless the car comes to you whenever you want it.
Virtualisation and Software Defined Networks
Just going back to the network, what sort of things have to happen inside of the networks, and in particular telco networks, to make this happen? I think there are three overlapping trends that impact this: one is moving things into the cloud; the second is Network Function Virtualisation (NFV), where you don’t need, let’s say, dedicated hardware; and then the third is Software Defined Networking (SDN). How do you see these technologies fitting into this vision of the future?
HE: Yes, yes. I think basically this is an evolutionary trend or something that’s been going on. It has to start by being able to do things in software instead of only in hardware, and that made it possible to separate out hardware from software. In the beginning it was dedicated software for dedicated hardware. Then it was, “Do I really have to run this software on this hardware? Can I run it somewhere else and use connectivity in between?” Then you start going to cloud concepts and virtualisation.
The virtualisation is the separation of some of the software, for example, and being able to bring it somewhere else. Some things don’t have enough scale to be always running or we didn’t want to invest in that software for the few times we were running it. It’s something that you can readily rent, that capacity. Now we will also see it as a way to manage the complex network, basically hiding each complexity under the organisation. All this is a natural evolution of separating hardware from software.
SE: Is this happening now, or is this more of a future evolution path?
HE: I think it’s both. It’s both happening now and part of the future evolution path. It’s a new way of delivering functionality. When did software start, and when did software happen? It’s still happening. I think that it’s just a way of doing a few things. One is to due to the high complexity of the operational layer. One is — even higher up, you can put in and even hide even the whole network from the application layer. It’s also the way to create scale by aggregating some functionality in certain places. It’s a way for financial operations to turn things into a steady, casual, friendly organisation, instead of making investments in things that will grow older, have somebody else do this — maybe renting capacity. There are lots of things that are making this an attractive model of operating.
SE: It also occurs to me that this whole virtualisation concept allows you to take advantage of idle hardware at times perhaps around the world when it’s in off peak as opposed to peak, where you can start to, if you like, shift the computing load to other locations. I know that’s been happening for quite a long time in the network space, but it seems that these newer models of operation will impact that, too.
HE: Yes, the whole thing creates a layer or a flexibility possibility that you can use in various ways, either for renting capacity or for distributing capacity.
SE: If I look at operators around the world, where would you place Australia in terms of early adoption of SDN, NFV and some of these other new techniques?
HE: Quite high up. Australia is always an early adopter of new telecom and connectivity technology. High up, yes, definitely.
SE: Another question that I had in this whole area of networks is data analytics. The more traffic that we put across networks, the more information that we have about a lot of things, not only people but now we’re talking about 50-billion-plus devices within a very short period of time. Who do you think is going to best capitalise on this kind of information flow?
HE: Well, I think that’s a very difficult question because it depends on, again, how you move ahead in this evolution — and bring the people with you, what you’re allowed, and what you’re not allowed to do. Of course, in big groups, you can analyse things quite thoroughly and see what’s happening. The famous example of why big data started was when Google could trace the spread of flu in the US before the doctors could do it.
SE: I remember that. It was on Google — wasn’t it Google Maps?
HE: No, I think they’re just looking at the search engines to see what people were searching for and where they were. People were searching on the Internet for flu symptoms. They did that before they went to the doctor.
SE: Then somebody put it on afterwards on Maps.
HE: They wanted to see where are people sitting that are searching for symptoms of flu. They could see how it was spreading before people actually went to the doctor.
SE: Really interesting.
HE: There are probably lots of things you can do if you wanted to, and people would benefit from it. A lot of things good for us can be done if you want to.
HE: As long as there are more upsides than downsides for you, you will use it. It’s very convenient to have Gmail, for instance, that you pay nothing for. Then if you write an email to a friend about your latest trip to the zoo where you saw a polar bear, there will come ads about Alaska or Antarctica or something out there. You know that there’s a correlation between your email and the ads. It’s out there. Sometimes you will write about other things, then you have ads about lawyers come in. I think you probably assume that there is only a machine that does that anyway. No person is really looking into it.
SE: There are some scary implications there. There was a study I’ve just read that showed that you can actually get a lot of very personal information just from metadata.
HE: Yes. Everything is basically there. Then if you were texting someone, and you get an SMS from your operator saying, “Given your conversation, we recommend…” Then you’ll say, “What is this?” That is exactly what you’re accepting from Google. However all operators need to comply with strict privacy requirements.
SE: Yes, you’d be really upset. The difference is you’re paying to be able to text and you’re not paying anything to be able to search or use Gmail.
SE: Okay. Let’s just turn to some of the other interesting things that are happening with data analytics and mashing of information. I know that Ericsson is doing a bit of a concept trial with Telstra right now in the public safety area where you’re mashing data about emergency services. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
HE: Yes. I’ve seen the demo. As things happen you can aggregate that data and bring it up to someone who is running a network operations centre and emergency services, who can get a traffic view of the highways. And, you can look at the traffic load on the communications network. You can make sure that the people who need priority get priority.
If you look at the fixed world out there, the police and the fire brigade don’t have separate roads. They drive on the same roads as we do, but they have blue lights to turn on if they need to. They can even block the roads if they need to have even more for themselves. The same thing is logically what will happen also on the communications networks over the radio, or 4G. There will be less and less use of dedicated spectrum for this kind of services. It will be running on this public network but with priorities — the police will get priority when they actually need it.
SE: That’s interesting because there’s a big tug of war right now between emergency services and the mobile operators for use of spectrum. You would see it moving towards the public operators — the mobile operators, with prioritisation given to emergency services only on an as-needed basis?
HE: Yes. Then of course they get as much as they need, instead of having only, say, 5 MHz all the time and there’s only an emergency in that geographic location once every 10 years. Those days when they actually need it, they need 50 MHz. It’s much better to get 50 when it’s needed instead of having 5 all the time.
SE: Are the networks smart enough today to be able to handle that kind of application, or is this something more futuristic?
HE: No, we have had that. Even in GSM networks, we have this kind of priority services today.
SE: Is it something that needs to have manual intervention on the part of the network operator, or can it have an automatic link?
HE: It has an automatic link. When you send a request to call and communicate, if you’re a police officer or a fireman, you can set it with a high priority codes and letters that says, “This is our priority. Hold the others off.” That is possible to do.
SE: Wow. It’s a matter of coverage?
HE: I think it can also be used not only for emergency services. It can also be used to prioritise services within the boundaries of, say, the same ways you can fly, first, business or economy. Plus, in economy, when you’re flying, you can do the same thing, with different services, different priorities, and also different price levels.
SE: One last question for you before we wrap up. It’s going to your research background. What kinds of cool devices or other things that we might be using on an everyday basis in the coming years?
HE: One area is the wearable things that we will have, as we saw in Barcelona. Every phone now comes with a wristband that does something more than just the phone usually does. That will likely spread to other wearable devices.
Then also, as I said before, there will be connectivity in everything you have out there. I have it already in my home in Sweden. I can set the light of my house with a remote control. Every light switch I have has a radio in it. Whatever lighting I want, there’s a program for that. This is programmed so that’s the lighting for dinner. This is the lighting for watching movies. This is the lighting for cleaning the house. I want it a little brighter. This is the lighting for going to bed, so I can close down and light up that part of the house.
I am a very strong contributor to the 50 billion connected devices! Those light switches are two-way communication devices because they have to communicate back and forth. That will expand more and more.
SE: Well, I’d agree that home automation is one of those areas that is set to explode.
SE: It’s not just lighting.
SE: I think we could have a huge conversation about that topic alone!
HE: It’s going to be a scenario — you have been able to remote lock your car for years. Still, you have to run around the whole house every time you need to make sure that the door is locked.
SE: Yes, and you can’t find where you put your keys. You can remote lock the car, but you can’t remote find the keys!
It’s all changing. Well, thank you so very much for taking the time to speak with me today, Håkan. It has been an absolute pleasure.
HE: Thank you.
About the author: Shara Evans is internationally acknowledged as a cutting edge technology futurist, commentator, strategy advisor, keynote speaker and thought leader, as well as the Founder and CEO of Market Clarity.
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