Behind-the-scenes look at 5G Evolution: Interview with Dr. Magnus Frodigh, Head of Research at Ericsson

I’ve noticed that most people in the tech community can be divided into two groups. Those who are excited about 5G, and those who are REALLY EXCITED about 5G. I definitely see myself as being in the second group. I talk about 5G to anyone who will listen, whether they know anything about it or not.

Dr. Magnus Frodigh, Head of Research at Ericsson

Most of the articles I've read about 5G focus on what's to come. I agree, it's mouth-watering to write about how 5G will fuel the Internet of Things (IoT), advanced artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, smart cities, autonomous cars and more.

In this post though, I'd like to take a glimpse backwards, and look at the evolution of 5G. It's been a fascinating journey!

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Magnus Frodigh, Head of Research at Ericsson. Dr. Frodigh and some 700 researchers on the Ericsson R&D team have been on the path to developing 5G for 7 years.

They're changing the world by executing their innovative ideas about how we will communicate in the near future. Dr. Frodigh provided a behind-the-scenes look into 5G evolution, and how he views the technological advances we'll all experience very soon. Enjoy!

Diana Adams: Hi, Dr. Frodigh. It's an honor to interview you today! I understand that there are some 700 researchers on the Ericsson Research team. That's a lot of people!

I'd like to go back to where it all started. Can you tell me what your thoughts were 7 years ago when you began this process of predicting the future of technology and the launch of 5G? Have your predictions from back then about how it would evolve come true?

Dr. Magnus Frodigh: Yes, you are right. Back then we thought about higher bitrates, increased spectrum efficiency, etc. We also had a few ideas that we were not able to get into the LTE standard due to backward compatibility issues – the most key feature being what we call "lean carrier" (reduce sending control channel information to increase energy efficiency and future-proofing the standard).

We also put energy efficiency high on the requirement list. Most importantly, we saw a need for solutions that could support all kinds of communication needs, way beyond traditional services, for example, serving the forecast massive IoT market was one of our key requirements. And, in order to really stretch our design, we added support for critical machine type communication, which is now known as URLLC (ultra-reliable low latency communication).

Diana Adams: What do you say to people when they ask if 5G is just another G?

Dr. Magnus Frodigh: I think 5G will be significantly different in the sense that it will open new markets beyond those we see in the Mobile Broadband of today. 5G will also be combined with edge computing and 3rd party applications running close to the devices. On the edge, AI will be able to learn and control most of our infrastructure in smart cities and smart manufacturing in factories. So the transformational impact of 5G will be enormous compared to the previous Gs.

From a technical standpoint, the migration from 4G to 5G will be different since 4G can still run inside a 5G carrier. This will make the migration from 4G to 5G so much easier for operators.

The lean carrier principles used in the 5G design will make new functionality much easier than in previous standards. This future-proofing of the standard will be extremely important in addressing all the new use cases not fully understood today.

Diana Adams: I've written about how emerging technologies will become a bridge into new business. I'd like to hear your perspective on that. How will 5G, IoT, AI and other emerging technologies work together to build new business and change the global economy?

Dr. Magnus Frodigh: One area where I think we will see a lot of changes is in work places – office workers that don't have to commute to the office every day, not wasting time travelling and causing CO2 emissions. Thanks to the possibilities with remote operation using 5G communication for Augmented or Mixed Reality glasses, also other work places will see a shift from more or less dangerous or hostile environments to safer, more comfortable locations and more become efficient, for example in mining, farming, transport, heavy industries and so on. I'm not sure anyone has yet fully understood how this will impact how we work in future, a changed relationship between companies and employees, and the new business opportunities this will bring. With these new components at hand – 5G, IoT, cloud, edge compute, etc., means enormous potential for a good idea to spread into global deployment in virtually no time and with very little investment, compared to the old times when you invented the zipper or the refrigerator and it took decades for them to spread.

Add to this unlimited connectivity as a resource - along with low latency and more powerful computing. No one really knows how this is going to play out, but this might help define the next generation of mobile.

Diana Adams: I'd like to get personal now, if that's okay. How will 5G affect your daily life? What are you looking forward to the most?

Dr. Magnus Frodigh: I'm looking forward to AR use cases and perhaps some multiplayer gaming. I already use a lot of IoT applications in my home. I would like to see an increased usefulness of it with some unified NB-IoT units connected to a managed platform offering some nice features to handle the data.

Diana Adams: Wow, I liked your answer to the last question. When you thought about the future of technology all those years ago, did you know that it would change the world?

Dr. Magnus Frodigh: This might sound strange, but I've worked at Ericsson for 24 years (most of that time at Ericsson Research), so we are used to that! We always strive to create new opportunities for our products and services. But, I did not foresee the trend with edge computing and developments in AI. These things will make the upcoming changes so much more powerful.

Diana Adams: I understand the research team at Ericsson crowdsources the insight they gather, and then they volunteer for which projects they'd like to work on. That's fantastic! Can you tell me more about how the research agenda is created?

Dr. Magnus Frodigh: We are experimenting with new ways of working. We wanted to try something more inclusive to make all of our researchers feel like they are part of the process. We thought the creation of our research agenda would be an inspiring place to start.

The response from our researchers exceeded our expectations. We had a lot of contributions including observations and predictions of trends from our researchers that are located around the world. We used co-creation tools for gathering materials, editing and voting on the trends. Then we opened it up for researchers to join different teams to further detail the research questions.

So far, this process we used for self-organizing teams has had very good results. In other areas, we are still working in more traditional ways. It all depends on the task and the expected deliverables.

Diana Adams: Can you tell me what we can expect to see from Ericsson at MWC 2019 in Barcelona?

Dr. Magnus Frodigh: What will be exciting to see (and even more exciting to experience) at MWC 2019 is the fact that mobile networks are truly becoming critical infrastructure for society at large. Ericsson has some cutting-edge demos that will really push the boundaries of what technology can enable.

But not only that, the infrastructure we provide today is a truly innovative platform. Without it, many of the things we take for granted in our digitalized society would not have been possible.

Our primary showcase at MWC 2019 will be our 5G wonders, which demonstrates the pioneering work behind years of research. And of course, we'll showcase product development across Ericsson. I'm very proud of what my fellow researchers have challenged themselves with, and what they have come up with. They have really pushed the limits of technology this time.

Thank you, Dr. Frodigh, for giving us a whole new perspective about 5G!

We all love the benefits of technology, but we rarely stop to think about all the work that goes into making it a reality. Even something as simple as our computer connecting to our phone's hotspot felt magical when it first happened. Over time though, we take these things for granted. I'll never do that again.

I'll always remember and appreciate innovative and inspiring thinkers, like Dr. Frodigh and his team, who dared to help build the foundation for how we communicate today. It's a wonderful time to be alive, and I'm grateful that I get to experience it all as it plays out!

I'll be in Barcelona for MWC on behalf of Ericsson. If you'd like a front row seat to all the 5G innovations that Dr. Frodigh talked about, follow along on our live blog! I'll be updating it continuously. You can find it at MWC 2019 Live Blog: Watch it as it Happens (Sponsored by Ericsson), and don't forget to follow all the action on Ericsson's MWC 2019 event site.

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