Joining the dots together: The future of the internet with Joakim Formo

Technoport 2014 will showcase our new Share the Problem workshop format, which will use inter-disciplinary thinking to tackle innovation and technology challenges. In Share the Problem: Ericsson, we will discuss how future ‘fifth generation’ (5G) mobile networks will have transformative impacts on our society, businesses, products and daily lives by connecting people and things in more diverse ways  – creating a more fluent, crowd-based and global wireless network and breaking down communication barriers. Combining this with significantly improved performance means that 5G networks could enable a society in which we feel continually connected to each other in a more profound sense than ever before. Technoport sat down with Ericsson’s Joakim Formo to discuss why 5G development is a truly inter-disciplinary project, and what this all means for entrepreneurs, industry and wider society.

Why is now the time to be interested in 5G?

This is a bit further ahead than most people would deal with. But it is an exciting point in time now – this year – where people can actually influence what we will all be using ten years from now. Which makes it both interesting – I hope – but also difficult, because it’s harder to relate to when it’s that far ahead in the future. There are people working with 5G in different constellations and projects all over the world. My group is mainly looking at the potential user experiences, so we’re the ones trying to work on those questions from a very user-centric point of view, and there are lots of people working on very technical specific stuff as well.

To what extent are you able to influence how technology develops from that perspective?

We don’t dictate what the technologists do – it’s a dialogue where we inspire and influence through creating stories that are seen from the user’s point of view. And this is where we at Ericsson’s User Experience Lab work with different industries and people to get some real-life input into that discourse. It’s a good opening where voices can be heard through us.

In the workshop we’ll be focusing on decentralization. What will 5G mean for how we perceive our connections to each other?

Less need to be aware of the differences between all the different technologies we use today. If we have a standard that can translate between them and unify interaction among them, it can mean a lot less hassle and many new opportunities. It can break down barriers – for example, if we now have lots of technologies that are fairly local and point to point, like wi-fi or bluetooth, those things can suddenly be part of a much bigger and global infrastructure, which you could open up for a lot of different kinds of connectivity methods or set ups. I’m hearing myself saying this and its still abstract, I know that.

So what do we know about future networks in real terms?  How will handing parts of the network over to users actually impact society and communities?

It could make things economically feasible – not just in terms of money, but in terms of power usage and efficiency, those kinds of things. One important goal is to make it possible for things to connect that have a really low power capacity. Very cheap devices that have to last for ten years without recharging. So, in that sense its both to actually make it feasible to have connected milk cartons, keys, etcetera. That has huge potential to better communities. I think that’s a typical, quite general proposal from infrastructure providers – to enable other industries to do these kinds of things within economical boundaries that are really tight.

It’s been a difficult year for network providers, with endless state surveillance revelations and public outcries. How do security concerns impact how the public views internet networks which are controlled by everybody and nobody at the same time?

A lot boils down to trust – trusting that data actually gets through the networks intact and reaches the destination that its aimed at. To guarantee that happening in a partially decentralized network will be a whole different thing than in a centralized network. The perceived sense of safety or trust differ between individuals and between companies, it’s dependent on culture and where you come from in the world as well. The idea of centralizing stuff would be for some opposing the idea of freedom and liberty, but at the same time decentralization would mean for others that you have less control.

Technoport 2014 will host a lot of startup companies looking to develop a long term business model. What could they learn from the workshop?

If I had a startup the most valuable thing to me would be the insight that connectivity should be considered in so many more different ways than it is today. Now you can go to one of the big telecom operators and negotiate a connectivity deal and then your business or product is ‘online’. But if you have a decentralized network and all the things that might be happening within 5G, there could be many more different options. If you could set up some sort of crowdsourced deal for connecting your product or data, that could lower the barrier for very small players to get global connectivity in their products. And if you’re curious to how that might happen, it might be a good idea to participate in the workshop. 

Joakim is Senior Researcher at Ericsson, specializing in end-user experiences. He will be joining us at Technoport 2014, presenting Share the Problem: Ericsson and contributing to our discussion on the technology of the future in Into the Crystal Ball. To register for the Ericsson workshop or any of our other Share the Problem events, register now at

If you have research, study or other interests related to the workshop and feel you could contribute to our discussion about 5G but are unable to attend the rest of the conference, please e-mail to see if we are able to accommodate you.