Veijo Kontas with colleagues after receiving the Honorary Doctor title from the University of Oulu.

Nokia’s SoC guru Veijo Kontas made Honorary Doctor by the University of Oulu – “6G will launch in 2029”

Hailed by the media as “the man who saved Nokia”, Veijo Kontas has been an important link between academia and industry in the Oulu ecosystem.

Veijo Kontas has received the highest honour a university can grant a person outside of academia. Kontas has been conferred as an Honorary Doctor by the University of Oulu.

Kontas is held in high regard in both industry as well as in university and research circles. His knowledge and expertise on microchips is profound, and he has worked at the helm of Nokia’s System-on-Chip technologies for a considerable time. Over three billion mobile devices carry microchips that were designed by Kontas, and he has been called the man who saved Nokia’s network business by Finnish media. He has strong ties to the University of Oulu and the Oulu region in general: he studied in and graduated from Oulu and has spent nearly 40 years in the area, not including a few years’ stint in Southern Finland.

His expertise is world-class, and he is equally passionate about research and education. Due to Kontas’ initiative, the University of Oulu has two sponsored SoC professorships, one of which is funded mostly by Kontas’ Nokia budget.

Professor Markku Juntti from the Centre of Wireless Communications says Kontas’ achievements in the Nokia ecosystem are incontestable.

“Veijo is well-deserving of the title of Honorary Doctor, no question. He has pushed Nokia’s technology and product lines forward, and he and his team have also recruited many engineers and doctors who have graduated from our university. He is in large part responsible for the fact that Nokia has a major R&D centre here in Oulu.”

Aarno Pärssinen, CWC’s Professor in radio technology worked in Nokia simultaneously with Kontas, but he never worked directly with him as a colleague. However, Pärssinen knew of his reputation and later also learned to know the person behind it.

“Veijo always had a major role in Nokia during the heyday of the company’s mobile phone era. He was a key player when Nokia’s cell phones and networks made the company number one in its field globally. Nevertheless, Veijo is not just a so-called ‘company man’ but a strong advocate of research and education. He realised early on that you can not be complacent with what you’ve got. Instead, you have to keep your eye constantly on the horizon.”

6G development is vital; Oulu is a key site in its development

Kontas himself, the modest man that he is, shrugs off any praise directed at him and his influence. As far as staying on the cutting edge of things, and in fact, having been on the cutting edge himself many times, he is quick to make a self-deprecating joke before going into a serious consideration of where we are and where we are headed as a society.

“Technological progress is a lot like ageing; there is no stopping it”, Kontas says with a chuckle. “The big trends today are digitalisation and artificial intelligence (AI), and these two things will have the most impact on society. This is reflected in research and in students’ interests, but I think it is equally important to put resources in traditional areas such as telecommunications and microchip design so that we will have skilled people in these areas in the future, too.”

The big trends are based on the continued development of telecommunications, which makes Oulu’s 6G Flagship a vital project, Kontas says.

“4G is coming to the end of its capabilities in the large cities of the world at the moment. 5G can carry us to 2027 or 2028, after which we will need much more capacity, which drives 6G. The technological challenges are significant, and the solutions we have today won’t solve them. In Nokia, 6G efforts are going ahead at full speed, and we will hit the market by the end of this decade. The industry opinion is that the commercial launch of 6G will happen mid-2029,” says Kontas.

Kontas believes Oulu will remain at the forefront of telecommunications. Oulu is currently the most important R&D centre for Nokia in mobile networks, and the most tangible evidence of this is the new campus, which is being built very close to the university. And as important as Oulu has been professionally to Kontas, the place holds deep personal meaning to him as well, which makes the honor bestowed to him by the university feel very special.

“I am extremely honoured by this recognition. I think that the people make the place. The skills and work ethic in Oulu have always been at the highest level. People are willing to work hard in Oulu, but they are also relaxed and open, even if they are not always the most talkative. But you can always trust people in the North: when they say they will do something, it is as good as guaranteed.”