Lars Nielsen is Head of Technology in Ericsson’s Customer Unit Industry & Society. He is responsible for leading the Customer Unit’s overall technological strategy and execution. His special focus is emerging technologies, market opportunities and strategic partnerships. Kyivstar sat down to talk with him at the International E-Governance Symposium.
You often speak about the “networked society,” what is that?
Nielsen: It’s a term Ericsson uses for the era we are entering. You’ll see companies calling it different things, like the Internet of everything, Internet of things. It is when everything gets connected. When your washing machine can talk to the power grid. When your car can talk to the service center and make appointments and move them if the traffic is delaying things. It is an era when things are becoming connected after we have connected houses and people for many years.
You’ve said that everything that can benefit from being connected will be connected. What does that mean?
Nielsen: You can connect anything today. In the US a few months ago there were mattresses that were connected. Technology has become so cheap, small, and low in power consumption that you can put intelligence into anything today. Here though “benefit” is the key word. If there is no business case or societal case behind it then why should things be connected? There needs to be a reason.
When we talk about e-services and citizen verification what do smart phones enable?
Nielsen: Smartphones do not necessarily have anything to do with it. You will see instances where they are bridging and connecting devices to the Internet, but this a world that goes beyond the smartphone. In the car, for example, you might want to remote control the heater from your smartphone in the office before you go to the car, so the car can’t be dependent on being connected to the smartphone. It needs to be connected by itself to the 3G network.
The mobile broadband we are getting that is now being rolled out in Ukraine enables some of these applications. Connectivity is going to be all over the place. Devices are going to be all over the places. The services are going to be in a cloud. I normally say the three laws that guide this whole things are cloud, devices and broadband.
How does the idea of a connected city apply to a developing country?
Nielsen: It has nothing to do with wealth. Of course there needs to be basic connectivity. A country does need to work on that first. One of the examples I usually give is how I have been working with water pumps in Africa in not wealthy areas. There is a benefit to connecting those water pumps. In the good old days an area in Africa would get a water pump for free and then when it broke there was no incentive to fix it. The system we are rolling out right now is using mobile payment for getting water. It is so cheap everyone can afford it. But now when it breaks someone will fix it because there is an incentive and an economy around this water pump. Even developing countries can benefit, but it probably going to be different cases in developed countries. You need to look at what the biggest issues are and how they can be solved with this new connectivity, devices, and cloud.
Does connectivity create accountability?
Nielsen: Yes. There is the example from Seoul. In Switzerland they are always having referendums. Sometimes they even vote on them a few times a month. And they have to physically go somewhere and do the voting. in Seoul they have made voting very easy with a mobile app. The government is not bound by the vote but if they pass something, and it gets 90 percent support from this mobile app it directly shows politicians how they feel. So there is a possibility to create this kind of accountability.
What are the most exciting projects for you in this field at the moment?
Nielsen: For the company we have been developing the last three generations of mobile systems with specific goals. The last one we created was a 4G system for higher bandwidth. Now we see the fifth generation we are working on in the labs right now is exactly tailored to this networked society where things are getting connected. We are making sure those networks fulfill the use cases. One example, self driving cars are around the corner. Two years from now there will be 100 of them driving around in Gothenburg in real traffic. So this is not science fiction anymore, this is happening. But when you have cars that need to coordinate with each other they need be extremely quick and they need to talk to each other directly. They cannot wait to call the central and ask, they need direct communication. And that is a use case built directly into the fifth generation network that we are working on in the labs right now. As a company that is our big focus, getting the fifth generation ready for the networked society.
Me personally, I am crazy about the connection of things and finding the benefit for it. So not as a technology nerd just saying “this can be done,” but because there is a benefit and it isn’t always obvious what the benefit is.
What’s your favorite example of a benefit being different from what was expected?
Nielsen: My favorite example is from Maersk Line. When they first contracted with us we made what we used to call a machine to machine application. We made it possible for the containers to call home and give their temperature. But it turned out we could put other applications on top of that cloud, so not only for the container but for the ship itself. It turned out the real benefit came from making sure that the ship itself was sailing at the right speed. If it was speeding it might have to wait to off load its cargo in the next harbor anyway. So if you can combine information about when it is supposed to be in the harbor, the current speed, you can ask is it necessary to go quickly or can I lower my speed? And the benefit for lowering the speed even a very small amount has enormous fuel savings. That is a side effect from another application we thought was the focus application. You can experiment with new wild ideas and innovate on top of that if you build the cloud solution the right way.