Finland To Facilitate 5G Future

Heikki Hämmäinen of Aalto University

Finland is in pole position to lead the drive towards 5G in Europe, according to a leading professor. Heikki Hämmäinen, Professor of Communications and Networking at Aalto University, speaks about the death of the SIM card, the growth of indoor networking and the role Finland can play in it all.

‘Because of Nokia, the history with Ericsson R&D and now Huawei being here in Finland with R&D, there is a long tradition in radio communications research,’ claimed Hämmäinen. ‘I consider that level of research in Finland in radio communications to be at the top level internationally ’.

“government interest … is high in 5G”

It is not just the major telecom companies that Hämmäinen is impressed with though. The Finnish government is also taking an active role with the 5thGear public funding programme which is helping to facilitate development.

‘5thGear is an example of the government commitment, it has put quite an effort into this,’ said Hämmäinen. ‘If you ask what is the government interest, I would say that it is high in 5G’.

EMERGENT (Excellent Mobile Experience through Flexible Access) is part of the 5thGear programme – Hämmäinen is heavily involved with this particular sub-project. ‘It looks at multi-access network situations where the same device has multi-SIM capability, embedded SIM capability or multi-radio capability so that it can access multiple mobile networks possibly at the same time,’ he explains.

“we are going to see multi-access devices that … will exploit more than one mobile network”

The motivation propelling EMERGENT is that governments in many countries are not giving new dedicated spectrum to public safety and security purposes under the assumption that commercial networks will handle public safety and security needs as well.

Hämmäinen assumes that: ‘we are going to see multi-access devices that for high-availability, high-reliability and high-quality reasons will exploit more than one mobile network at a time. The regulators might be pushing this direction.’

‘The other direction,’ he adds, ‘is of course Google and others who would like to act as virtual operators in multiple countries and they are pushing scenarios where they can make MVNO deals with multiple MNOs at the same time and in the same market.’

Hämmäinen notes the extensive challenges which face 5G, such as increasing the number of devices and changing the typical traffic profiles, but not least the business pressures. One of his major research areas is the techno-economics of mobile and wireless networks, and this clearly influences his thinking.

“the SIM-Card as a removable object is likely to disappear in M2M set-ups”

But, whilst he believes the continuous gradual development of price performance ratio is the main expectation, the Helsinki-based professor also points out the need for some more radical approaches to the way that things are developed.

‘Like I mentioned, one development comes from SIM cards, so it seems for M2M communications especially if operators want to go to lower cost and lower price subscriptions and device subscriptions which create less revenue per subscription, there must be lower cost per subscription as well. For that purpose things like lightweight radio protocols and energy-savings take high priority regarding devices and the protocols, but also management aspects linked to SIM-cards.

‘The embedded SIM basically means that the SIM-Card as a removable object is likely to disappear in M2M set-ups. That has architectural impacts and will most likely later on spread into human devices. This type of approach most likely leads into a situation that the current thinking of having one active operator per device is challenged and this creates this multi-access scenario – this so far has not been looked into in 3GPP’.

“There is pressure to make changes with indoor communications”

Hämmäinen believes this scenario is likely to happen in 5G, whilst a focus on an indoor radio network is also a source of problems but also opportunity for the next-generation network.

‘The question of indoor/outdoor is a huge dilemma and a big challenge for mobile operators because they rely on accessing indoors through windows using outdoor base stations,’ he ponders. ‘There is pressure to make changes with indoor communications; Wi-Fi has been radically successful indoors and there are some estimates that say Wi-Fi traffic is four times or five times bigger than mobile network traffic.’

But if anyone can develop the solutions to these pressures, Hämmäinen suggests that an institution in Finland is likely to be at the heart of it. Not only does he praise a forward-thinking regulator from which many innovations have grown out of into the whole of Europe, but also the manufacturers.

“university involvement is significant in Finland”

‘Finland is a small country and sparsely populated which means that it’s a challenging radio environment’, he concedes. ‘But the manufacturing side with Nokia Networks and some of Ericsson pushing new technologies ahead as well as the universities puts us in a great position.’

Hämmäinen’s past at Nokia is no rarity in his department. Half of the current professors have been employed by the network giant at some point in their career whilst a few also have backgrounds in Ericsson. It’s useful industry experience which he believes puts academia at an even greater advantage in the country.

‘At Finnish universities, we traditionally communicate with companies quite closely and this is considered a strength of universities here – the same applies to us,’ a heritage which Hämmäinen evidently cherishes. ‘Even if universities are not members of 3GPP standardisation, I would say that university involvement is significant in Finland.’

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