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SS: Hello and welcome to Lørn. This is a podcast in collaboration with Telenor. Our topic is broadly networks. My guest is Runar Harald Rækken, senior radio access network expert in Telenor. Welcome.
RR: Thank you.
SS: I was hoping we could try to explain in an understandable way what networks means for Telenor and about the growth and exploration path that Telenor has had to become one of the leading international positions in networks. Firstly, tell me about yourself?
RR: I'm a senior radio expert working in group technology and services. Been in Telenor for 37 years. Working on mobile network and radio. It’s exciting in the way it’s affecting society and living. Really huge impact since we started with GSM in the 80s until today.
SS: Can you tell us about the journey? 37 years with Telenor, you were here from the time Telenor was a national telecom platform to one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world. How did it happen?
RR: It’s been a journey. Starting in an active role of standardization of GSM, the idea with GSM was to make a mobile system for western Europe and has become the global standard. Which means we did something right.
SS: What was the role of Telenor in the standardization work?
RR: We did technical standardization work together with around 1000 engineers from Europe. On the radio, network and the protocol side etc. Also introduced new ideas like the sim-card could be a separate subscription from the mobile phone.
SS: You mean the idea comes from Telenor?
RR: I don’t know exactly who invented it, but I think it was important and is important to make a standard. Meaning we could use the technology across networks since then we open up a larger market. We got an economic scale, and got the price down which was important to boost the market.
SS: We understood the technology. Norway has some advantages when it comes to sensors and radio technology. We have good radio technology in our country that we don’t celebrate enough. Then something happened where we managed to exploit the knowledge and expertise for international growth. Did it happen?
RR: We got some experience in building radio networks and replicated the experience to other markets. It was an opportunity we took. We had the competence to build networks in different markets.
SS: What was the unique experience we have in rolling out the radio networks. Is it about how we build the mast or how we connect them?
RR: Building the technology, but also understanding how you should bring it to the market. GSM became the global standard meaning we got the prices down, it’s important cause then it was affordable to a lot of people.
SS: Because we had the technology or because once we had the standard everybody could produce the same kind of mobile handset?
RR: Everyone could produce the same phones and you got a large volume. Which means we got the price down. To get the price of a mobile phone down from 20 000 kr until 1 kr was a huge decrease and made the technology affordable to more people. When I started in the game, the mobile phone was a businessman tool, but now it’s everyone's.
SS: And the children as well. I can blame you.
RR: You shouldn’t. It’s 20 years since I bought a mobile phone for my daughter when she turned 7.
SS: What do you do in Telenor today?
RR: I work on new technology like IOT and 5G. I participate in the standardization of 5G. Think it’s exciting because we got even more opportunities in the mobile networks.
SS: What does standardization mean? You mention protocols and networks, but what is a standard and why is it going to be important for standards in 5G?
RR: A standard is telling how the mobile terminals and the (?) should communicate so you can connect terminals from every vendor.
SS: It is enforcing esperanto on the masts and phones. You try to do it with 5G which is a high speed and flexible new network for IOT among other things. Why do we need other standards there?
RR: We need to expand the use cases so you can get broadband with higher speed and more IOT which is connected to the network. Up to 1 million square km because everything is going to be connected in the future. You can get reliable low latency communication that you can use for autonome cars and a lot of new cases coming up.
SS: You’re trying to make sure all of these things speak the same language when they communicate with the network or with each other?
RR: They have to speak the same language to make themselves understand.
SS: An example where I had problems, I’m refurbishing an old house and I want it to be smart. I’ve tried to install lights, locks, heating and ventilation in the smart system, but none of them speak together. You’ll fix it for me?
RR: That’s the basic idea of global standardization that every device should speak the same language. Then it would be easier to do the things you’re trying to do with a smart house, cause then you got a larger amount of products available. Integration it’s easier too.
SS: How does standardization work happen?
RR: Experts from across the world gather up and agree on the functionality that a network should support. To support the functionality we need to do it in a specific way we agree on. Meaning that standardization is a lot of documents describing how the technology should work.
SS: We say mathematicians are tools for convert caffeine to theorems, I guess you guys are tools for converting coffee into standards.
RR: It requires a lot of coffee.
SS: 37 years and you still think it’s exciting. Why?
RR: Because we’re working on new things all the time. Learning everyday at work.
SS: You’re a wonderful example of a guy who was smart 37 years ago and still is. I think when we talk about millenials and the new jobs coming and old jobs disappearing. People are being arrogant towards everyone who’s older than 35. Which is wrong. How do you manage to learn how to create a learning organisation around you, how do you thrive?
RR: I think it’s exciting when you learn something new everyday. One of the driving forces is the knowledge we require to make available across Telenor. Replicated the things we do in one business unit to others. To make unified solutions.
SS: How do you make it practical? You come up with new ideas, solutions, but then someone needs to make a business out of it. Both nationally and internationally, how does it work?
RR: When we work across different teams having different skills and competence, transferring knowledge and understanding opportunities from new technology is a challenge. To be frank we understand the 5G technology and the IOT technology quite well, but the business is still evolving. 5G will be more oriented towards creating business to business and not only customers which we’ve used to do in Telenor. It’s something the whole organisation needs to adapt.
SS: Completely new business models for your customers, but also new opportunities in the society.
RR: Technology is creating this opportunity so we need to grasp to understand it and the opportunities it gives. The different business units have different levels of meauturing when it comes to the business segment. We need to replicate from the best ones to the ones still having a way to go.
SS: You need champions in a way. When you find something that works they need to help the others to understand why it works and why.
RR: I’m lucky I work in a global team meaning we have participants from every business unit. Making this knowledge go around and discuss ideas easier. It’s a good thing.
SS: You were a part of Telenor when it was very Norwegian to today when it’s international. What are the advantages we take from Norway and from the international parts of Telenor?
RR: I think we have the best mobile network in the world that has been played by a third party. We have an advantaged market which means we can replicate the things we do in Norway to other markets. We also have different user patterns in other markets and we see adoption of new services going much faster in a lot of the overseas market we’re in.
SS: Developing countries often have a bigger need?
RR: Yes. I think society will benefit from getting access to the technology and with new opportunities you get connecting marketplaces wherever.
SS: What are the most important use cases you’ve seen internationally that we could spread?
RR: Currently it has fixed mobile broadband. We get a lot of a sensor across the network and you can do a lot of automation also. Monitoring of the environment and water levels etc. A lot of new opportunities are coming up.
SS: Having the digital model of the psychical world through these sensors and the models. Can you explain to us about the importance of fixed broadband? Was that a good case abroad because they simply don’t have enough infrastructure and you’re helping them create it in an efficient way?
RR: Yes. We have a long tradition in Norway where we have had a copper network for more than 150 years. The situation is different in other markets.
SS: WasNorway early in the copper network?
RR: Maybe a bit later than other industrialized countries. But there is still a big difference in the market. The infrastructure is still not good in many parts of the markets we operate in. There you have huge opportunities to provide the services over radio bases solutions.
SS: I think we’re able to do it because Norway have a challenging geography that has made us good at doing this kind of stuff. Where should people go to learn more about 5G and IOT?
RR: You have very strong groups in all the bios(?) coming up now. Starting off in piloting 5G in Scandinavia. But we also see a huge interest in the Asian market like Thailand and Malaysia starting to showcase and piloting 5G. Myanmar also want to pilot 5G. We see adoption is coming faster in some of the Asian markets then we see in Europe.
SS: Do you have a quote? You quoted Ona Fyr Ingebrigt Steen Jensen.
RR: Yes, the future belongs to get good storytellers.
SS: I think Telenor has a lot of good stories and we have to tell them in a less businessy way.
RR: We have a lot of stories to tell. The challenge is that we should be better at telling those stories with pride.
SS: Love and pride. If people should remember one thing?
RR: 5G will have a huge impact on society. It’s really important onwards.
SS: And Telenor has a unique position.
RR: Yes, and we should use it.
SS: Rune Harald Rækken, senior access network expert, with a big title, and a long and exciting experience. Thank you for helping us understand the fascinating history of Telenor and the new opportunities going forward.
RR: Thank you.
SS: Thank you for listening.
Education and hobbies?
Master of Science in Engineering from NTH, volunteering (Foreningen 2 Foreldre, Hadeland Ride- og Kjøreklubb), walks in the woods and fields.
Who are you and how did you become interested in technology?
Dad was a machine contractor, two older cousins got me interested in sound, stereo and electronics.
What is the most important thing you do at work?
Identifies new opportunities for Telenor, sets the direction for technology development.
What do you focus on in technology?
Mobile technology in general, radio, 5G, IoT.
Why is it exciting?
New opportunities, new challenges.
What do you think are the most interesting controversies?
How to influence the suppliers to a technology development we want
Your own relevant projects last year?
5G standardization, IoT, advice and help to Buene to develop common architecture and common solutions, points of view.
Your other favorite examples of your type of technology internationally and nationally?
Has been part of the development from GSM, 3G, 4G, now towards 5G. Fantastic development, great impact on society and how we live.
What do you think is relevant knowledge for the future?
Learn to learn. Understand the development. Identify new opportunities. Communicate and sell the opportunities to those who make the decisions.
What do we do uniquely well in Norway from this?
We have the world's best mobile network and live in an advanced mobile market. This gives us a good position for learning that can be replicated in other markets. We understand the technology quite well, but there is more uncertainty about future uses. We need to partner with other industries to open up the potential that IoT and 5G offer.
A favorite future quote?
The future belongs to the good storytellers. Quote from «Ona Fyr», Ingebrigt Steen Jensen.
Main points from our conversation?
We work with exciting technologies with a great potential to improve society, we just have to understand how we can make use of this.