Ericsson and KTH make a hotbed for innovation
The close ties between KTH and telecom giant Ericsson allow for a two-way learning process. And as electrical engineering and telecom move towards digital engineering, the EE school is ramping up its software competence.
ERICSSON COOPERATES with a wide range of universities around the world. But the company’s bond with KTH is of special importance – not least because of their long shared history, but also because Ericsson’s HQ and largest R&D centre are located in Stockholm.
Ericsson and KTH collaborate in a number of established areas, including their centres of excellence, laboratories and joint research projects. A formal partnership agreement has promoted this cooperation to the highest decisionmaking level, making it easier to integrate different initiatives more clearly with each party’s respective strategy.
Professor Mikael Skoglund, the coordinator of the partnership, says: “We gain a lot of valuable insights into what Ericsson expects from us: what kind of competence they need and the direction of their business.”
KTH is part of Ericsson’s “5G for Sweden” initiative, where major Swedish industries and universities are invited to collaborate on positioning the country as a major player in the launch of 5G wireless systems and resulting digitalisation. 5G systems are expected to hit the market in 2020, partly replacing and partly extending the present 4G systems. 5G technologies look beyond earlier telecom technologies’ focus on communication between people. 5G will bring much better and more reliable support for industrial and societal applications and services, such as machine-to-machine communications and the Internet of Things.
“Ericsson can compare our competence with what they see at other universities across the world and also give kth a perspective on Sweden as a competitive industrial nation,” Skoglund says.
SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT has always been important; now it has become a decisive competitive factor for many industries, not just telecom. The rapidly growing significance of the software, rather than the hardware, in Ericsson’s products has produced a shift in the company’s technological focus. Ericsson is now the world’s fifth-largest software company.
“By tradition, the EE school has not been geared much towards software,” Skoglund says. “Other KTH schools specialise in that, but EE needs to get stronger in this area too.” And it’s not just about getting the coding right, Skoglund points out. Increasingly, new functions in products are implemented as software. This is the business strategy for a range of successful companies, from Apple to Tesla Motors, and it demands an end-to-end perspective on competence.
The partnership agreement gives KTH a tool for making long-term plans that also helps to avoid missing out on activities that are hard to predict. One result of KTH’s partnership with Ericsson is a better interface with the development side of the company’s R&D outside of Ericsson Research, where most of the cooperation had been focused in the past.
Exchanging competence is another important element of the partnership. As an example of this, Ericsson currently has several adjunct professors at KTH.
In 2015, a graduate programme began at EE to meet the needs of a digitalized electrical engineering industry. Students graduating from this programme will be highly interesting for Swedish companies like ABB and Sandvik, which exemplify the need for digitalisation and which are also KTH partners.
The Ericsson partnership has triggered activities on many different levels, and Skoglund cites a couple of recent examples. One of these is the Integrated Transport Research Lab (ITRL), which began as an initiative between KTH and truck giant Scania.
“BUT A S A RESULT of our discussions, Ericsson got to know about this basically automotive activity and joined it,” Skoglund says. “It’s an example of cross-industry matchmaking, where our top-level partnership connections show their importance.”
Then there is Digital Demo Stockholm, an Ericsson initiative comprising every kth partner company. The idea is to create a platform to demonstrate different technologies that could be of particular importance to Swedish companies.
In many other countries it’s difficult to do what KTH is doing, according to Skoglund – to have a close cooperation with big companies where you can have roundtable discussions with top management is unique.
“Maybe it’s in some way a Swedish cultural quality. It’s also due to the physical presence that makes personal networking much easier, whether through planned or spontaneous meetings, which are so important for innovation and creativity.”
“I CAN THINK of only a few places in the world – perhaps only Boston and Silicon Valley – that have similar industrial-academic hotbed qualities.”
Sweden is also a special country in that it is home to a range of global companies.
“Here, we have the opportunity to interact with the likes of ABB, Scania, Sandvik, Ericsson and more – all genuinely global companies with the crucial added advantage that they don’t compete with each other,” Skoglund says. “For that reason, they’re inclined to cooperate.”