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During the 16th edition of the Telecom Review Leaders’ Summit, Leslie Shannon, head of ecosystem and trend scouting, Nokia, shed light on one of the hottest tech trends of today — the metaverse — and how 5G works alongside it.

In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Shannon tackled the key to innovating and succeeding in the digital era, and how and why women should step up and realize the huge potential of involvement in the ICT industry.

You focused on metaverse and 5G in your Telecom Review Leaders’ Summit keynote. Can you give a brief on this and how Nokia is investing in these technologies?

My role at Nokia is as the head of the ecosystem and trend scouting. Over the last five years, the trends have shown how important 5G will be to realizing the full suite of virtual reality and, particularly, augmented reality. This is something that we at Nokia have really been focusing on.

Right now, 5G is playing a very strong role in the industrial and the enterprise metaverses, making it possible to see and control complicated digital twins and to get a better understanding of the underpinnings that we think we understand on the surface, but that require us to go deeper, digitally.

That's what the metaverse is for, and 5G completely enables that. A lot of the hardware for the metaverse runs on Wi-Fi, but if you are dealing with a really complicated digital twin or any other kind of large object, you need 5G to be able to transmit that accurately in all of its detail.

We're also seeing that enterprises are starting with use cases that require them to have these digital objects and to manipulate them, and then that leads them to private 5G. We are ready with solutions in that area.

As one of the prominent women in the ICT field, how would you encourage other women to be involved and thrive in this sector?

I'm lucky to be working for a company that has promoted women within the ICT sector, and Nokia is really a leader in this field. As a signatory to the Women’s Empowerment Principles, Nokia has committed to promote gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community. One of the things we're doing is partnering with the UN Women and launching four pilot projects to bolster inclusion and diversity for equality in the Middle East and Africa region. These pilots aim to address areas such as increasing the number of women employees, promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and empowering gender-based violence victims. In August last year, Nokia in Saudi Arabia launched its inaugural program for women STEM graduates. 

Through forward-leaning initiatives, this is how we're going to bring women into the ICT industry from the corporate side.

On the other hand, as a woman, I personally come from the life sciences; I don’t have a STEM background. Hence, the message that I want to say to women is, “Don’t be afraid of ICT.” Just because you don't have an engineering degree doesn't mean you can't play here. Have the confidence to understand that if computing and telco products are going to serve the entire world, we need to have a representation in creating those products.

Remember that you always have the power, and your voice is needed within this industry. Have the courage to say, “Hey, you know what? I can play there,” and it's only when we women step up and realize that we can — and should — play here that we put ourselves forward for these roles.

As head of ecosystem and trend scouting, you must have been looking at the industry at macro level as well as micro level. What is one of the biggest observations that you would share with our readers?

From my career experience spanning over two decades, it is a must for all companies to never think that you already have the answer to the world’s problems and there are no better solutions. Always be innovative. Always know what the next thing is, because even when you think that you are central to everything, there is something new to be done — some kind of innovation to explore.

We’re never done, so don't think that you are done. Always be looking for the next thing, and give space for the voices in your company that are talking about innovation and talking about what’s coming next, which is what we at Nokia are always looking for.

We're living in a hyper-connected world. What do you think is needed to ensure that there's a sustainable and efficient ecosystem empowered by technologies?

One of the most important things that we're learning about the new era that we're entering, as we move into a much more computer-driven, artificial intelligence-driven decision-making analytics, is that no single company is going to have the answers and be able to provide the solutions of the future.

Partnership is the absolute key to everything. If you're going to create some kind of augmented reality program, for it to be beneficial, you're going to need to partner with companies that can provide artificial intelligence, three-dimensional digital rendering and mapping, among others, and you're going to need to learn to work with companies.

In my experience, when I first joined Nokia, I ran a development lab in application development, and when something fails, it was never because of a technical problem. It was always because of a business problem — companies that couldn't work well together. As companies need to move into developing new products, it's not just about technical innovation; it's about business agility and about establishing good partnerships with multiple partners in creating a single product together. It’s the companies that win partnerships who are going to win in the next decade.

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