Home' Technology Review : November December 2011 Contents Feature Story 63
opens options.” Despite the layoffs in other parts of the company, he
says, Nokia hasn’t made significant cuts in investments for its labs.
As head of research, Tirri says he views himself as a kind of ven-
ture capitalist who gets proposals from lab directors based on proj-
ects started by researchers. The lab directors are like angel investors
who authorize preliminary work and then select the few ideas worthy
of being assigned to research groups. Projects that will require teams
of 30 or more have to hold the promise of creating businesses worth
$1 billion or more for Nokia, which had $56 billion in revenue last
year. Tirri says that even though business conditions have worsened
for Nokia, and development—especially for software—has been cut,
its research labs around the world are pushing ahead with work that
may be just a few years away from yielding products.
Tirri once described his main research interest as “reasoning
under uncertainty”—teaching machines to make decisions on the
basis of probabilities. And he will surely need to reason under
uncertainty as he negotiates the tumultuous cell-phone industry,
which in a single 10-day period this past summer was upended by
Google’s purchase of Motorola, Apple CEO Steve Jobs’s resignation,
and Hewlett-Packard’s decision to abandon tablets and its WebOS.
Tirri says that the Motorola and HP announcements made Nokia
look smart for deciding to rely on Microsoft for operating-system
development, because it is becoming clear that Windows will be
one of only three or four main smart-phone operating systems for
consumers and software developers to focus on.
Even with Microsoft producing the operating system for
advanced phones, Tirri says, Nokia has plenty of opportunity to
“innovate on top of the platform.” One main area of innovation is
cognitive radio technology, which he believes could lead to phones
with nearly unlimited bandwidth and lightning-fast response time.
The idea is that even as more and more mobile devices compete
for bandwidth, much of the radio spectrum remains underutilized.
In many places, for example, analog television bandwidth is barely
used because stations broadcast digital signals instead. In some
countries, police and fire departments, and even taxi companies,
have bandwidth reserved for their transmissions. Cognitive radio
would make use of otherwise idle bandwidth by analyzing the envi-
ronment, “dynamically asking whether space is available” on each
slice of the spectrum, and deferring to a preferred user only if that
user needed it at the moment, says Hannu Kauppinen, who took
over from Tirri as research director. As part of a consortium of com-
panies, Nokia has received permission from the U.K . government
to use the “white space” in existing television frequencies for a trial
in Cambridge, England, and Kauppinen is hopeful that broader
use will be approved “if we can prove we don’t cause interference.”
Pushing the boundaries of radio research will be the only way
to prevent future cellular traffic jams, Nokia believes. Kauppinen
says the technologies the company’s researchers are investigating
could “improve the speed of wireless communications up to 10
times.” Nokia researchers have already designed and produced an
integrated circuit that can “sniff ” channels to find unused spectrum.
Regulatory issues block the way to putting this technology in action,
however. “We still have to live in the regulatory era of 100 years ago,
when one channel was allocated to one use,” he says.
Another major research area involves nanomaterials such as gra-
phene, which Nokia researchers believe could enable the company
to redesign and reshape handsets. Graphene is a super-strong,
atom-thick form of carbon that is flexible, transparent, and highly
conductive. Tapani Jokinen, Nokia’s head of design technology, is
intrigued by its potential. He has been working on prototypes of
flexible phones, using graphene for the circuitry, that could be
bent, stretched, or wrapped around a forearm like a wristwatch.
“It’s like a stretchable electronic skin,” he says.
Nokia has also developed technology that would use graphene
in flexible haptic displays, which could deliver information through
the sense of touch. One possibility is “haptic navigation”: a flexible
“at times like this, clever
companies maintain research.
Research opens options,”
Tirri says. Despite layoffs
elsewhere in the company, he
says, Nokia hasn’t significantly
cut investment in its labs.
Nov11 Feature Nokia.indd 63
10/12/11 6:40 PM
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