The future of Swedish comms tech

Urban Explorer, Interactive institute

Breaking down global barriers: the future of Swedish comm tech

By Tatty Maclay


Picture this: you wake from a pleasant dream thanks to an app that allows you to select what you want to dream about before you go to bed, on the way to work your car drives and parks itself at your office, which already knows you’re on your way and has pre-ordered and paid for a coffee just the way you like it, thanks to 5G and micro IP technology. A microchip under your skin allows you to unlock the door to your office without a keycard or pin and once inside you join a video conference call with hologrammed colleagues in China, communicating via a simultaneous translation app.

Some of these technologies already exist, some are in development and some may only be future pipe dreams but one thing is for sure, it’s a brave new world and Swedish companies and individuals are at the forefront of leading us there. It wasn’t that long ago the idea of talking face to face to someone on the other side of the world, cost-free, would have seemed like an impossible fantasy but thanks to Swede Niklas Zennström and Dane Janus Friis, Skype’s revolutionary telecommunications software singlehandedly brought families, friends and colleagues living on different continents closer together.

Swedish companies such as Skype and Spotify – the Swedish innovation that allows us to share and stream music across global borders – have achieved huge international success and Skype was so revolutionary in its inception that eBay acquired it in 2005 and it was later sold again in 2011 to Microsoft for USD 8,500 million. But as the larger Swedish companies go global, smaller start-ups will always be snapping at their heels and taking the original technologies to the next level. Rebtel (see Company File), for example, took Skype’s idea of providing free or low-cost international calls and removed the need for an internet connection.

Others, such as Ericsson, stay true to their Swedish roots and quietly get on with developing world-changing advances such as 5G connectivity. Currently the world leaders in 4G technology, 5G implementation in commercial mobile networks is expected in 2020, but Ericsson has already achieved speeds of 5 Gbps in live, over-the-air demonstrations of the company’s pre-standard 5G network technology.

‘With a whole, connected smart city powered by 5G, there’s no limit to what you can deliver,’ says Jerker Lindsten, CEO of HiQ Gothenburg, an IT and Management Consultancy. ‘We will see an increase in integrated solutions for retail experiences, for example, using beacon technology to position specific services to specific people.’ Developments such as integrated retail experiences and cars that function as infotainment hubs and communicate with other systems such as our homes and offices are major areas that will affect and simplify our everyday lives.

But this interconnectivity also extends to important areas such as healthcare and will result in huge changes in the way we care for the sick and elderly. ‘Within 20 or 30 years, I would not be surprised if healthcare has been moved from hospitals to your own body,’ says Hans Hentzell, CEO of Swedish ICT research institute. ‘The technologies are basically there already. Your mobile phone will function as a central computer for all your monitoring and treatment.’

There are also numerous small Swedish companies and individuals making a difference through innovative ideas such as that of Picture My Life, winners of the Startup ICT award. The company has developed a picture-based timetable and digital diary to help organise the daily life of children with neuropsychiatric diagnoses such as ADHD, autism and Down’s syndrome and function as a communications channel between the child’s home, school and support workers.

While some of us struggle with setting different ringtones on our smartphones, Swedish innovators such as Håkan Lans are busy developing the satellite-guided Global Positioning System (GPS) into the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which has become world standard for shipping and civil aviation, or, as Swedish scientist Adam Dunkels, inventing Micro IP, allowing tiny gadgets such as car keys and credit cards to communicate using the Internet Protocols. 

This communication and collaboration between different services and areas is one of the most important developments within comms tech and opens up a vast vista of new possibilities. ’Sometimes we’re too optimistic about what we can achieve,’ says Hans Hentzell, ‘but often we’re too pessimistic.’ From the first brick-like handheld commercial cell phones of the Eighties, to the smart phones that 73% of Swedes now own (2014), the functionality of mobile phones is constantly improving and developing. ‘Prices of mobile phones will go down,’ predicts Hentzell, ‘while functionality will increase as the mobile phone becomes a router for much more than it is today,’

If we look at what has been achieved in the world of communications technology in just one generation, it’s safe to say the advances we’ll see in the next will be beyond anything we can possibly conceive today and that Swedes will continue to be on the front line of bringing the world closer, one byte at a time.