Nokia Canada is looking to bolster its Kanata workforce with fresh government funding aimed at developing new 5G networking technologies.
In a Friday announcement made at Nokia’s March Road offices, the federal government pledged up to $40 million in funding for the Finnish telecom giant alongside $12.4 million from the Ontario government.
The money will go towards maintaining existing roles at Nokia and creating 237 new jobs at the company’s Canadian operations, the “vast majority” of which will be in Kanata, according to a spokesperson. Nokia has 2,200 employees in Ottawa, according to the latest edition of the OBJ's Book of Lists.
Nokia will put the money towards technology underlying the development of 5G – or fifth-generation – mobile networks, which will give users much faster connections and provide powerful data capacity to meet heavy demand from new applications such as autonomous vehicles.
Mike McKeon, Nokia’s director of Canada business development, told OBJ Friday that 5G applications will require “more efficient and higher capacity and less expensive” technology underpinning the networks.
“You can't just scale things the way they've been scaled in the past; you have to deploy new intelligent technologies into the network such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data analytics,” he said.
Nokia is also bringing its Bell Labs research division to Kanata. Headquartered in New Jersey, the company’s in-house laboratory has been credited with the development of groundbreaking technologies such as the laser, the transistor and various coding languages over its long history.
McKeon says the work being done in Ottawa in areas such as artificial intelligence is of great interest to the Bell Labs teams. Bringing an outpost to Ottawa therefore makes it possible to integrate R&D efforts with the latest innovations in order to create new products as quickly as possible.
“It makes good sense to have … the linkages into the global Bell Labs now sitting right next to the product development,” McKeon said.
Part of Nokia’s work preparing for 5G will address a growing concern around cybersecurity. The more devices connecting to the internet, the larger the “threat surface,” McKeon explained.
As Nokia develops novel ways to address these threats – the traditional firewall doesn’t scale with the coming advent of 5G – it’s gotten a leg up from an old Ottawa source. Back in 2016, Nokia acquired Ottawa’s Nakina Systems, a cybersecurity software firm that worked with a number of global service providers.
McKeon said Nakina’s contributions have been invaluable to Nokia’s cyber efforts in the past few years, and that Friday’s funding will further the work the Ottawa firm had started.
“We're investing quite a bit in that and this grant from the federal government helps us scale that up.”
Widening and extending the talent pipeline
In order to fill its hundreds of new job vacancies, Nokia Canada plans to deepen its reach in Ottawa’s student talent pool.
Andy Thompson, Nokia’s vice-president of integration and transformation, says the company is planning to widen the pipeline at both ends – attracting students as early as grades 7 and 8 and tapping into Ottawa’s deep pool of graduate students.
In order to prime the pump of Canadian tech talent, Nokia plans to offer more programs for young students, especially girls, to get them interested in STEM careers. The company embarked on this initiative late last year by hosting a full-day tech conference for girls about to enter high school. Thompson says this is the age when girls tend to lose interest in the sciences, and Nokia would rather foster that curiosity.
“If we do a really good job and give these kids excellent work placements, they're going to want to come back here."
The organizers spearheading that conference were two students from Colonel By Secondary School, Neha George and Areena Akhter. Both were among 50 high school interns working at Nokia this past summer, a number Thompson says the company is looking to raise to 100 in the coming years.
Nokia also takes in 200 co-op students annually from Ottawa’s post-secondary ecosystem, a number the company is hoping to boost to 300. To do so, the firm is looking to appeal to master’s and PhD students and entice them to do their research at Bell Labs.
Engaging with the National Capital Region’s student talent pool has proved effective for Nokia in the past. Thompson said 70 per cent of the company’s new hires in Ottawa are former co-op students.
“If we do a really good job and give these kids excellent work placements, they're going to want to come back here,” he explained.
Thompson went on to say that the government money flowing into Nokia is likely to have far-reaching effects for the Kanata tech community, as further investment in 5G research contributes to developing expertise in the area.
“This is good for the community. This is going to drive some good preliminary investment and it's going to drive spinoff,” he said. “This is great news.”
–With reports by The Canadian Press