Petteri Alinikula, Laboratory Director for Nokia Research Center (NRC) in Helsinki, took time out from preparing his plenary speech at the 2009 IMS to tell Richard Mumford, Microwave Journal’s International Editor, about the global reach of NRC and its expansion into emerging markets. He also outlines the key wireless developments that will impact on the future and considers the role of research in the current economic climate.
Petteri Alinikula earned an Engineering Diploma in Radio Engineering from the Helsinki University of Technology in 1988 and gained a PhD degree in Electrical Engineering from Pennsylvania State University, US, in 1992. He joined the Nokia Research Center in 1993 and since then has held several management positions, including Vice President of Core Technology Research and Head of Strategic Research, Wireless Access.
He has worked within Nokia to build a solid strategic research program that has directly impacted the company’s products and technologies. He currently heads the Nokia Research Center Helsinki. This laboratory focuses on breakthrough technology research in wireless systems and implementation of high performance mobile platforms and user interfaces.
MWJ: You joined Nokia Research Center in 1993. Have there been significant changes in NRC’s approach to technology research during that time?
Alinikula: NRC’s focus back in 1993 was more centered on exploring deep technology, for example different wireless technologies. And while deep technology is still a key focus area, recently the emphasis of our research has shifted towards user experience, the user interface and on enabling technologies for services.
MWJ: What are the major technologies that were successfully developed by NRC over that period?
Alinikula: Some of the important developments since 1993 include Ultra Low Power Bluetooth (initially called Wibree) and NRC, together with other Nokia Research and Development divisions, has made a significant contribution to a number of cellular technologies such as LTE.
MWJ: In your previous role as Head of Strategic Research, Wireless Access, you worked closely with parties within Nokia to build strategic research that impacted directly on the company’s products and technologies. What products and technologies were you specifically involved with?
Alinikula: During this time, Nokia was designing Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) and as part of this, Nokia Research Center contributed to the design of several Nokia chips for both handsets and base stations.
MWJ: What are the specific challenges involved in developing leading edge technologies for commercial deployment?
Alinikula: At NRC our research remit looks beyond traditional two to three year R&D unit roadmaps; our challenge is to understand the architecture and deliverables of these roadmaps in order to deliver the most effective technology solutions.
MWJ: What does your current role as Laboratory Director for NRC Helsinki entail and what is your focus?
Alinikula: As an NRC Laboratory Director, my role has many different aspects and responsibilities ranging from overseeing the varied projects undertaken in the Helsinki laboratory to promoting our open innovation partnerships.
The Helsinki laboratory is the centre of radio research for NRC but we also have projects developing high performance mobile platforms. These look into ways to improve the performance to power ratio, extend the platform and architecture beyond a single device and simplify applications development. We also research some aspects of user interface development.
As part of our open innovation partnership in Helsinki we work with TKK, the Helsinki University of Technology, which is a recognized technology pioneer and also VTT, the Technical Research Center of Finland.
By sharing resources, leveraging ideas, and tapping into each other’s expertise we are able to create exciting innovation ecosystems and enhance our efforts, as well as our innovation speed and efficiency. Helsinki is, in fact, a unique environment for mobile wireless technology innovation which is why we have centered our radio technology research here. Our open innovation approach sets Nokia Research Center apart from other research organizations.
MWJ: There are ten Nokia Research Center locations worldwide. Why is it important for Nokia to establish research centers globally?
Alinikula: NRC has systematically built an open innovation network which means simply that we locate our laboratories where the best talent is. We have six labs and 10 sites altogether. The extent of our open innovation network reflects our ambition to foster innovation, tackle key technical challenges and uncover new business opportunities in collaboration with the world's best experts.
MWJ: In which ‘emerging markets’ have you established NRC teams and how are they serving their local markets?
Alinikula: We have nomadic teams in India and Africa, which are managed out of our Beijing laboratory.
So, for example, part of the brief for Nokia Research Africa is to look at how mobiles can support the socio-economic development in low income communities, in particular in micro-entrepreneurship and the creation of new business models which can spark and accelerate the grassroots economy.
In Bangalore our team is investigating how mobile location based services could play a greater role in supporting people’s everyday needs such as personal safety or health and well-being. We already have trials and test projects currently running in both locations.
MWJ: Are their other areas/regions where Nokia plans to expand in the near future?
Alinikula: In November 2008 we announced our newest research laboratory, in Hollywood, USA. The new NRC Hollywood laboratory will research many technologies surrounding the media industry: film, music, games, web and TV. With a strong emphasis on entertainment and associated experiences, research topics include mixed reality, content creation and user interface experiences.
MWJ: What ambitions does Nokia have for Nokia Research Center?
Alinikula: At NRC it is our role to solve complex scientific problems in order to strengthen Nokia’s competitiveness and to drive renewal for the company. NRC drives breakthroughs that reach far into the future and enable new business opportunities for Nokia.
MWJ: At the IMS 2009 you are a plenary speaker on ‘Innovating Openly in Wireless’. Can you briefly give your perspective of the key wireless developments we are likely to see coming to the fore in the next five to ten years?
Alinikula: In radio the research activities that my team is currently focused on are wireless broadband technologies and ultra low-power short-range wireless technologies as well as cognitive radio. We are also working on ultimately flexible multiradio implementation technologies. We also see the platform extending beyond a single device towards smart spaces; in this respect the key challenges include interoperability and power management.
MWJ: From a research center’s viewpoint, what is the value of events such as IMS and European Microwave Week? Is participation in such events valuable to you personally and NRC as a whole?
Alinikula: IMS really is the leading conference in its field; this is where to find out about all the latest developments and also a great opportunity to meet and network with key industry players. Because of our research focus in cognitive radio it really is a valuable opportunity for us. European Microwave Week is also a quality event, which offers really good networking opportunities.
MWJ: In the current economic climate what role does research have to play and can companies afford to invest in R&D to the extent that they have done in recent years?
Alinikula: The current economic climate represents a genuine challenge but research is important and Nokia will continue to invest in innovation to bring consumers the solutions they want and need to stay connected to the people and things that matter most to them.