"PhD students never must lose sight of the commercial aspect of their research." That advice comes from István Kerekes, unit manager at Ericsson Hungary, in an interview after the third Industrial Doctorate meetup of the EIT Digital Doctoral School in Budapest on 29 March. Kerekes is responsible for managing Ericsson's university contacts including the industrial doctorates.
Meetup business discussion
At the meetup, students give a status update on research on one of the five EIT Digital action lines of EIT Digital. In Budapest, doctoral students share their work on Digital Infrastructures, specifically on 5G. Three out of the five students conduct their research at Ericsson Hungary.
Kerekes is impressed by the presentations of the EIT Digital students. "The students have remarkably good presentation skills. That is what you might expect from EIT Digital Doctoral students. Just like looking at the business and commercial aspects of their research, even in an early phase. Eventually the end user will pay your salary and that depends on whether he is willing to pay for it. You always need to think about the question: Who is paying for this? In general, researchers intend to think just technical and that is always a problem for Research & Development."
PhD at Ericsson
Ericsson Hungary has about twenty PhD students in total from different universities, like Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME), Szeged University and the more business oriented Corvinus University. In addition, the EIT Digital Doctoral School delivered eight PhD students to Ericsson. Currently there are three new positions open for industrial doctorates at Ericsson Hungary about several aspects of 5G like Network Technologies for Big Data Applications and future networked systems.
"PhD research is strategically important for Ericsson, even if a research cannot be commercialised at the end", explains Kerekes. That is why Ericsson invests a lot in collaborations with organisations like the EIT Digital Doctoral School. "PhD research is an excellent way of exploring possibilities on what the future might look like. It is not by accident that Ericsson Hungary is located close to universities ELTE and BME."
EIT Digital Doctoral School
Ericsson Hungary has been a EIT Digital Doctoral School partner since 2013. As such, it first worked with traditional doctorates and now with the industrial ones of the EIT Digital Doctoral School.
The EIT Digital Doctoral school is a collaboration betweenbetween several top European top technical universities and EIT Digital partner companies. It has seven so-called Doctoral Training Centres (DTC) in Budapest, Helsinki, Madrid, Paris, Rennes, Sophia Antipolis, and Trento. There are further plans to open DTC's in Milan and Amsterdam. Since 2017, the EIT Digital Doctoral School has focused on industrial doctorates. That means that the PhD candidates do research on an industrial assignment under academic supervision and that the industry submits research assignments. atThe EIT Digital Doctoral School puts forward qualified applicants instead to conduct the research.
To Ericsson Hungary the industrial doctorate is useful, explains Kereves. "It gives much less iterations when good candidates are proposed where you can choose from. The EIT Digital DTC heads know what Ericsson is interested in the coming two years. For us, EIT Digital is bringing in talents to help to have an overview of what is going on and how the future might look like. My experience is that the people we get from EIT Digital are very good."
What Kerekes likes about the EIT Digital Doctoral School students is the diversity. "Many of the students come from outside Hungary. They bring in an international flavour. Ericsson is a global company, but Ericsson Hungary is not." Another difference he sees compared to non-EIT Digital PhDs, is the entrepreneurial mindsets that EIT Digital's PhDs are developing. "That is something definitely unique. I do not know of any other Doctoral School that we are in connection with that offers their students such entrepreneurial trainings."
Soft skills are more and more needed, recognises Kerekes. Along with presentation skills, good communication skills are increasingly important. "For us, the reality is that more engineers are meeting customers, presenting to them and getting direct feedback from them. That is valuable information. Key technical people are required to give presentations to non-technical people. They need training for that. There is a constant push on research and development people to understand customers' feelings and needs. Engineers must hear from customers themselves what their pain point is. That is why PhD students should be clever, willing to work on hands-on activities, and of course be technically solid. They should not be just theoretical. EIT Digital students comply with these criteria."
Almost all PhD proposals coming from Ericsson Hungary are about 5G because it is one of the company's top priorities. 5G is in a gradual phase of being introduced, according to Kerekes, ultimately replacing 4G. Right now, operators and equipment providers like Ericsson are running different proof of concepts and pre-commercial trials. "The industrial doctorates who work at Ericsson Hungary now, have the chance to do work on different proof of concepts, for example, on distributed cloud computing and architectures. There still must be done lots of development in this field. The prediction is that when you start deploying something now, it will be commercialised within two to three years. But that does also depends on the geographical area."
According to Kerekes Europe should facilitate European companies to work more together. This industry is very competitive. You need critical mass of people in Research & Development to compete in the quest for 5G for example. Now, not one single European country can manage this on its own. So, European countries have no other choice than to cooperate. Once Europe was successful in GSM. Why? Because companies like Ericsson and Nokia were working together and pushing standardisation throughout Europe. If Europe was stronger, then it would be easier for companies to cooperate. Europe is a must, not a choice."