Bolstering the Nordic-Baltic tech ecosystem cooperation in the 5G context

December 13, 2022

One of the main focuses of the recent 5G Techritory event was to discuss how Latvia (and the Baltic region in general) could develop more successful ecosystems to stimulate tech innovation and effective adoption of the latest digital trends. Nordic countries are often recognized as the global leaders in digitalization, and the Baltic region has the potential to benefit from this expertise and potential cooperation in key areas. 

We invited Dr. Heidi Himmanen (Chief Adviser, Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom) and Annika Svensson (Project Manager, Luleå University of Technology) to share their insight on this topic. As part of 5G Techritory, Heidi moderated and Annika participated in the “5G applications in public services: What to envision for Nordic-Baltic cross border collaboration” panel discussion, which is available to watch on YouTube.

The learning curve of 5G implementation

Both Heidi and Annika have been involved in key initiatives and projects related to 5G development in the Nordic region. 

Luleå University of Technology, together with Ericsson, Telia, and TietoEVRY has implemented the 5G Innovation Hub North located in northern Sweden. The hub consists of 6 different 5G testbeds and provides an open test environment for companies, researchers, and organizations. 

Traficom has established the 5G Momentum ecosystem in Finland, which promotes collaboration between industry players by organizing events and offering support to relevant research and development projects. 5G Momentum’s goal is to identify challenges related to the further implementation of 5G and promote Finland’s expertise in this area on the international stage. 

The implementation of 5G is likely to have continuous ramifications. As both examples show, we are seeing the inception of new ecosystems and ways of collaborating. According to Heidi, this likely means new business models, and organizations will have to embrace change in order to find a place in this new order. 

How well-informed and 5G-ready is the general populace? Some people might shrug their shoulders and say that they are perfectly content with 4G. Annika thinks there is certainly a learning curve involved in the adoption process. Research organizations are well-used to the role of being pioneers but shouldn’t forget about the importance of communicating the actual benefits of innovations, such as 5G, to the general public. 

There is good reason to believe that the bar of expectations has been raised with 5G. Users are likely expecting a secure and environmentally sustainable network. Heidi thinks that, as a principle, the mainstream implementation of 5G should take these aspects into account from the very beginning. 

Annika stresses that from the user perspective, 5G shouldn’t be harder to use than the previous generations of mobile networks. So far, there has been a shortage of 5G-compatible hardware products, such as network routers and dongles. The average user will expect the same “plug and play” experience they are able to enjoy with the previous generations of mobile networks. 

That’s why it’s important to thoroughly test the new technology before mainstream rollout. 5G testbeds are crucial for this purpose, and Annika concedes that it will probably take some time to get over the learning curve. 

5G – more than just broadband speed

According to Heidi, 5G technology is essentially a toolbox with a wide range of potential use cases – some of which we can’t even imagine at this point. And there is a good reason to believe this is not just hype. We are already seeing examples of the kind of capabilities the new network can offer. At Helsinki University Hospital, 5G-enabled robots were used to interact with Covid-19 patients, thus minimizing the exposure risk for medical staff. 

Real-life (and potentially life-saving) 5G use case scenarios emphasize that the new technology can offer much more than just “faster” broadband.

Luleå University of Technology is involved in the 5G Edge Innovations for Mining project, which aims to provide a promising new environment for application development, offering higher data rates and dynamic cloud-based software. The project aims to test and develop 5G-enabled drones, AI, and edge-to-cloud applications for use in the mining industry – which could be used to provide features such as real-time video analysis, autonomous navigation, time-synchronized seismic sensors, and AR/VR capabilities. 

Annika thinks that exactly these kinds of projects can get the ball rolling by testing the 5G application potential for specific industries and use case scenarios.

Unlocking the potential of Baltic-Nordic cooperation

Nordic countries are among the global leaders in digital innovation and implementation. Baltic countries have often expressed a similar ambition, and given the geographical proximity and existing economic ties between these countries, it raises the question – how can both regions better cooperate in driving innovation? And what could Baltic countries learn from their Nordic neighbors?

Annika thinks that Nordic countries have been successful in developing the right kind of ecosystems. Collaboration is the key value, and it often begins locally, with research institutions acting as matchmakers, bringing together companies and opening up new avenues of cooperation. 

Heidi agrees that a collaborative mindset is crucial to that end. Finland’s success in digital ventures owes a lot to the country’s historically strong ICT industry. According to Heidi, collaboration is a competitive advantage – a country like Finland, with a relatively small population on a global scale, must leverage its human capital efficiently.

The same principle applies to cross-border cooperation. Historically, the Nordic Mobile Telephone technology (effectively – 1G) development involved cooperation between Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson. 

Collaborative efforts are likely to play a key role in the ongoing 5G development as well. In 2021, the Nordic Council of Ministers initiated the Nordic-Baltic 5G Monitoring tool | Nordregio project, which aims to examine 5G implementation in the region. The idea is to promote cross-border collaboration, which could lead to a better-integrated adoption of 5G technology in the Nordic and Baltic countries. 

To date, the initiative has connected key stakeholders across eight countries and has identified the areas of transport, smart cities, education, health, and welfare as the main verticals of the ongoing development. We can expect the first beta release of the Nordic-Baltic 5G Monitoring Tool in 2023.

5G Techritory: brainstorming the future

The recent 5G Techritory event brought together international industry experts, journalists, and tech enthusiasts to discuss the ongoing trends, difficulties, and future prospects of 5G technology. 

One of the key insights from our conversation with Heidi and Annika is the importance of collaboration on all levels. We hope that events such as 5G Techritory can play a role in bringing people together. And perhaps, even sow seeds for yet unrealized cooperation opportunities between different countries and organizations.