Innovation hotspots: Canada and 6G

Industry and university collaboration is key for advancing telecoms security in a country famous for its drink mixers and wireless tech.

Lucy Paine

It’s fair to say that Canada doesn’t quite get the attention its southern neighbour tends to get for tech innovation. However, for those not in the know, as well as being home to the once dominant BlackBerry mobile device, Canadians have also come up with the Java programming language, the first internet search engine (called Archie) and the IMAX movie system. 

While this may have little direct bearing on the country’s telecommunications future, it does illustrate that innovation thrives when given the right conditions.

And in that vein, Canada’s commitment to leading the global charge in telecommunications innovation, should not be underestimated. The Toronto – Waterloo innovation corridor in particular has long been recognised as one of the world’s top tech and telecoms startup and innovation hubs. It was home to Blackberry (originally Research in Motion) and now is a leading centre for AI, fintech and life sciences.

So, a collaboration between the government of Canada, Ericsson Canada and a consortium of premier Canadian universities to propel the research and development of 5G Advanced and the nascent 6G technologies, is an interesting one.

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Announced in November last year, this collaboration has earmarked over $470 million towards developing 5G Advanced, 6G, Cloud RAN, core networks, quantum computing, and AI for mobile networks, all over the next five years.

According to Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, the aim is to foster economic growth, job creation, and academic excellence utilising the strengths of government, industry, and academia.

“Canadian workers have the talent the world needs to develop faster and more secure internet connection and other wireless services,” said Trudeau. “As we continue to support innovation, we are creating good jobs, strengthening the middle class, and ensuring Canada remains a global leader in technology.”

The genesis of a telecommunications revolution

By combining the technical prowess of Ericsson Canada with the intellectual capital of Concordia University, the University of Manitoba, and the University of Waterloo, this initiative has some big aims – not least developing AI-based cybersecurity solutions to strengthen future telecommunications infrastructures against evolving cyber threats.

Jeanette Irekvist, president at Ericsson Canada, talked about the project “bolstering” Ericsson’s R&D centres and it being “a testament to the concentration of talent here in the Ottawa-area and in Montréal.”

That’s a key point. The collaboration is not just a venture in technological advancement but also a strategic investment in Canada’s human capital, equipping the workforce with the skills and expertise needed to navigate and lead in new digitally-driven economies.

The universities are pivotal to this, to develop research and innovate in areas that are fundamental to the development of advanced telecoms. The project certainly aims to use this collaboration to unlock novel insights into AI and cybersecurity, in ways that would never have previously been possible. And this can only help to establish ideas and businesses, to build a local ecosystem dedicated to 5G and 6G. 

Towards a 6G horizon

While the immediate focus is on refining 5G technologies, the ultimate goal is 6G. At the end of February 2024, Canada joined the USA, Australia, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, and the UK in endorsing a Joint Statement of Principles for 6G. These shared principles for the research and development of 6G systems will support open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, resilient, and secure connectivity.

François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry said at the time that the government endorsed these shared principles for 6G “to work together with our international partners and industry to ensure wireless communications are secure and reliable in Canada and around the world.”

Building in security from the start is essential, and while the next generation of 5G wireless technology is expected to add over $100 billion to Canada’s economy by 2036, much of the work for 6G starts now. And that demands collaboration. It’s too big a technology to try and go it alone. Public-private-academic partnerships can serve as catalysts for technological advancement and economic prosperity at a time when budgets are challenged and costs can be high. 

Will this redefine the paradigms of wireless communication, cybersecurity, and digital infrastructure? As Canada pursues its vision of being a telecoms leader, it’s certainly one to watch.

Past projects offer future scope

Supporting the development of next-generation networks is an important part of the federal government’s telecom strategy, to ensure Canadians can benefit from the latest technologies. In recent years, the government has supported projects such as ENCQORNokia Canada’s Bell Labs, a new partnership with Nokia, and an EXFO project to create a 5G Centre of Excellence in Montréal, Quebec.