By Ken Figueredo, Founder, More With Mobile
This second of a three-part series on 6G leadership explores the meaning of leadership and how that translates into levers of influence. It builds on a prior article that sets the context for 6G and the motivations driving leadership aspirations at national and organisational levels.
The Leadership Challenge
A recurring thread across government and private sector industry initiatives is the notion of leadership. Leadership is frequently associated with the notion of top-down mobilisation. This is where an individual or leadership team sets the direction, allocates resources, and expects the rest of their organisation to follow. According to Harvard Professor John Kotter, “Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen.” However, this might not be a suitable approach for 6G which holds considerable promise while containing many unknowns. While a small group of leaders and a larger group of followers might go far, applying best practices from developing prior Gs, such an approach is likely to suffer from an innovation deficit. It is likely to miss contributions from industry outsiders, such as non-technical communities and eventual users of 6G. These are some of the reasons to explore other avenues to frame the ‘leadership’ objective that many alliances and nations strive for.
One approach might involve training multiple spotlights on promising areas for 6G research, solutions, and commercial services. In the past, US firms have led the way technologically through self-organising industry structures. In the case of China, a focus on its 5G rollout is viewed as having accelerated the incubation of industrial innovation and leadership in edge computing, edge AI and intelligent automation through a top-down approach.
A contrasting approach is to foster communities and clusters so that loosely coupled and like-minded organisations can collaborate more easily. These might be geographic clusters or centres built around leading academic institutions or research facilities. These communities can provide users with a venue where to elaborate on their requirements and to tap more easily into expertise and adoption support.
The Growing Landscape of 6G Stakeholders and Relationships (https://kumu.io/thinkmobile/6g-market-development#stakeholder-universe)
Communities and clusters amplify the scale effect that participants experience. Scale and scope successes translate into a form of leadership if the cluster becomes a magnet that draws wider participation. Of course, there are issues regarding cluster leadership. Should the prime mover be government, private industry, academia, or some technology construct? What should be the trade-off between continuity based on established institutions and development models verses rethinking requirements and market demand through other approaches?
There is also a timing aspect to the debate about leadership. Does leadership involve being the first to act? Or is leadership more about building the endurance to capitalize on value creation during the commercialisation phase and as 6G begins to influence everyday living? As an example, long term outcomes feature in the Bharat 6G Alliance’s goals for India. The alliance envisages 6G technologies as having a force-multiplier effect on the Indian economy by 2030, presumably via commercial offerings and digitally innovative citizen services.
Levers to Exercise 6G Leadership
In the absence of a commonly agreed definition, organisations and national leaders can define their own 6G leadership paths. There are no obvious levers, easy metrics, or accountability frameworks to determine outcomes that will materialise many years from now. In the interim and with sufficient vision, it is possible to institute processes that will stand the test of time in ways that amass tangible and intangible assets. These strategies should underpin new and joined-up eco-systems as well mechanisms to sustain member engagement for long term outcomes.
A glance at the authorship of 6G thought leadership publications reveals the presence of established commercial entities from the mobile communication industry. Here is an existing ecosystem continuing to do what it does well. Many of these contributors are starting to weigh in on societal aspects of 6G, which is promising in terms of joining up ecosystems, However, there is much further to go in drawing in non-communications sector expertise and adopters from different industry verticals.
Looking from the outside, however, how can academia, commercial organisations, and governments make the most of their involvement? In all cases, this comes down to long-haul planning, what resources to mobilise and who else to collaborate with. Large and industry-entrenched organisations are at an advantage in terms of strategic commitment, know-how and the scale and span of resources they control; suppliers to the telecommunications industry will not be bystanders. While smaller entities can be more agile and experimental in the partnerships they strike, their challenge is to stay the course to commercial success.
Academia, which includes universities and applied research bodies, can focus on breakthrough and applied research. The academic ecosystem component has several parts. In terms of originating ideas, one is to amass adequate capacity and then collaborate with other researchers for scale and excellence. Research outputs then flow into the commercialisation part of the ecosystem that includes investors and solution providers. As 6G systems materialise, training the workforce of the future is another way for academia to have a longer-term impact. From an economy-wide perspective, the academic sector needs to balance the appeal of ground-breaking 6G research, typically measured by publication citations and research funding, with the need for practical research into solutions that enable scalable adoption.
Commercial organisations face a different set of incentives to academia because product and service providers are governed by business priorities and narrow market needs. Large organisations and coalitions, in the form of industry alliances, can fund eco-system efforts and shape market sentiment. Staff members that attain positions of authority in industry alliance and standardisation bodies are treated as signs of individual and corporate leadership. In open governance bodies, these positions are not granted lightly. It takes strategy and a sustained effort to gain member support in voting procedures. Start-ups and smaller enterprises can be at a disadvantage over these long time periods although there are models to foster the involvement of SMEs in standardisation. For both large and smaller organisations, it takes strategic commitment to stay the course from pre-standardisation work to formal standardisation and eventually to product or service development and commercialisation. This is where a favourable policy environment can play a key role.
The next article of this series examines the political context and leadership role for government agencies.
Long time reader, first time contributor. Love technology and the great outdoors. Looking forward to discussing everything beyond 5G and the future of wireless technology!