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Ericsson CEO makes the case for 5G

At Mobile World Congress, Börje Ekholm said new rulebook governing 5G roll out required

Ekholm called on governments to do their part to facilitate 5G evolution
Ekholm called on governments to do their part to facilitate 5G evolution

The principle of net neutrality, though noble, will not work in the 5G era, Ericsson CEO has said.

Laying out the company’s 5G strategy at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, CEO Börje Ekholm said mission critical applications such as remote surgery will have to take priority over other traffic as organisations start to roll out 5G services.
Net neutrality obliges service providers not to discriminate, throttle or degrade performance based on content.
“Not all content is created equal,” Ekholm said. “There needs to have a regulatory regime in place that allows service providers to differentiate traffic based on user experience.”   

The medical field is just one of numerous use cases that will be enhanced by 5G, leveraging the technology’s capabilities for more bandwidth, low latency and long battery life 

Enhanced mobile broadband will be the first use case for 5G, said Ekholm. By 2023, there will be 1 billion 5G devices on enhanced mobile broadband, carrying about 20% of the overall data traffic. “We have seen traffic grow by 65% per year over the last few years and we forecast data traffic will grow by 40% per year up to 2023,” Ekholm observed.

The manufacturing sector will also be heavily impacted by 5G. In places like China, discussions are on for use cases in industrial applications, said Ekholm. This includes factory automation, remote control of machines etc., or what is known as the industrial internet.

The factory of the future will be sprinkled with thousands of sensors. With that density, interference becomes a problem. Wi-Fi will therefore be unviable for such mission critical applications, Ekholm observed.  “We see the licensed spectrum being a key competitive advantage in such applications provided by service providers. By 2026, we forecast a USD 600 billion market revenue opportunity for service providers from the critical and massive IoT applications around the world,” Ekholm said.

Ekholm said Ericsson is addressing three core areas its customers require to succeed. These are; efficiency, which allows service providers get the cost per gigabit down; utilisation which is to improve customer experience while also bringing the cost down; and identifying new revenue source to finance the business. “The feedback we received from customers was the foundation for our focus strategy that we launched last year,” Ekholm said.  

Concept to reality

Last year was a defining year for the industry because 5G went from buzzword to becoming a commercial reality. Ericsson has already signed 38 MoUs with service providers for field trials, as well as several contracts with service providers for 5G deployment, Ekholm revealed.

But customers do not need to wait to roll out 5G services, Ekholm said. “We want our customers to use 4G as the foundation for 5G.”

Being an early adopter has real commercial benefits, said Ekholm. This was true for 4G and will be true for 5G, he added. Between 2012 and 2016, service providers that were among the first to deploy LTE achieved yearly growth of 10% on their market share. And more than 70% of these early adopters kept and even increased their market share gains during this period, Ekholm said. “We believe 5G can offer the same advantage, in addition to the lower cost per gigabit,” Ekholm added.   

Early this month Ericsson announced the completion of its 5G platform with core radio and transport networks. The company also launched 5G commercial software for radio and core networks, enabling operators to launch 5G by the end of this year. “By having the network ready for 5G, we will allow our customers choose when to turn on 5G services depending on use cases in their specific markets,” Ekholm said.

Part of this evolution is making 4G ready for 5G. Ericsson radio products delivered since 2015 are capable of supporting 5G with a software upgrade.

Ekholm called on governments to do their part to facilitate 5G evolution. “Governments need to make new spectrum available in the mid-bands and the high bands. This will be critical for 5G capacity and performance, complementing the current low band spectrum,” Ekholm added.

There also needs to have a faster licensing process to allow for quicker roll out of 5G, said Ekholm. “Governments need to consider mobile infrastructure as a critical national resource and not just as a source of tax dollars. Telecommunications infrastructure is critical for nurturing innovation in a country.”