5G – the fifth-generation mobile networks standards – promises to disrupt both enterprises and the telecommunications world, as it will enable blisteringly fast communications among people and devices with virtually no latency.
Given the broad significance of 5G, the last place you’d expect the center of global 5G innovation to be is Oulu, a city of 200,000 people near the Arctic Circle in Northern Finland.
How Oulu became the ‘Silicon Valley’ of 5G innovation is a remarkable story, as any Silicon Valley wannabe requires three essential elements: talent, money, and an ecosystem of vendors and support services that facilitate rapid innovation.
Oulu has all three.
Oulu’s Mother of Invention: Nokia
Oulu’s role as innovation hotbed owes its heritage to Nokia. While Nokia’s headquarters are in Espoo outside Helsinki, it centered much of its research and development in Oulu, largely because of the presence of Oulu University with its strong radio engineering program.
Nokia also built several factories in Oulu, including facilities for assembling mobile base stations for service providers as well as Nokia’s handset business.
Then in 2014, Nokia sold its handset business to Microsoft, who soon found it didn’t have the stomach for manufacturing smartphones – or perhaps it acquired the business solely for Nokia’s handset patent portfolio.
Regardless of the cause, Microsoft shuttered the handset business in Oulu in 2016, laying off a few thousand top-notch radio engineers and other professionals who quickly swamped the small city’s employment base.
In response, the governments of Finland as well as Oulu stepped in to ease the transition, bringing money and business creation services to the city.
In fact, investing funds in innovation is a strategic priority for the small Nordic nation. “The Finnish government wants to see our country pioneering and being among the first,” explains Anne Berner, Minister for Transport and Communications for the Government of Finland.
For the typical factory town, the shutdown of a major employer quickly depresses the local economy, as the supply of unemployed workers exceeds demand well into the future.
But not Oulu. The combination of government support as well as the high level of training and expertise of the workforce led to a sudden explosion of entrepreneurship.
Intellyx publishes the Agile Digital Transformation Roadmap poster, advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives, and helps vendors communicate their agility stories. As of the time of writing, none of the organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers. BusinessOulu covered Jason Bloomberg’s travel expenses to Oulu, a standard industry practice. Image credit: Jason Bloomberg.