1/2013

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Gather ’round, folks: Ericsson’s new R&D site in Oulu develops a base station for bigger crowds in one place

If you’re older than 30, chances are you are familiar with something now practically obsolete in ordinary households: the landline phone. And, if your house had one when you were young, the chances equally are that the phone had “Ericsson” written on the bottom of it. Much has changed since then, but the ordinary household still has around a 40% chance of using Ericsson: now, they just don’t know it.

When you make or receive a call on your mobile, or you use your mobile network to check your e-mail, post pictures of your cat or visit this site, you need base stations, and chances are you need a lot of them. Base stations differ in size, capacity and range, and with mobile data increasing, new problems have arisen. “I personally believe that we’re moving towards tighter cellular networks”, says Aulis Koivisto of Ericsson Oulu. Basically, problems develop in concentrated packs of people at given times and places when capacity is limited – think about people sharing pictures when they are at a rock concert, if you like.

The future is in the networks

Ericsson’s philosophy is toward a networked society, where not only people but devices are connected. “We talk about heterogeneous networks – a philosophy in itself, where all of our solutions support each other for a seamless user experience.” Meaning, you as the one making the phone call should never have to worry about the jungle of tech behind the scenes.

Which is why Ericsson decided to build an R&D site that would focus on small cell radio networks. While Ericsson Oulu hasn’t released their product yet (nor does Koivisto tell us that much about it), it won’t be too long in coming. “You will definitely hear about it when we release”, he muses.

Oulu’s regional ecosystem is not just a sum of its parts

When a company of Ericsson’s size and history needs a new location for their research and development, the decision isn’t based on a hunch. “What I can tell you is that they thoroughly investigated several geographical locations on a global scale for the best conditions to set up the R&D, and eventually decided to come here”, says Koivisto. Although not involved in the actual launch of the Oulu offices, Koivisto has a pretty good idea of what sealed the deal. “There aren’t that many locations in the world where you can build a base station in its entirety. So there’s talent, a university of top quality and – something that I haven’t seen that often, in Finland or elsewhere – an exceptionally active public sector and business development cluster.”

Several global giants have entered the northern landscape, some with mergers or buy-outs, others, like Ericsson, by starting a new satellite base. Add to that the ongoing start-up scene, and you start to wonder: what if the talent runs out?

“With the way things are set in here – the university, the business culture, the dedication of the people even in difficult situations, all that – I think there are plenty of opportunities for other companies to either emerge or arrive here. I’m not worried about that in the slightest.”