Ericsson stages big comeback for MWC 2022

This year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is shaping up to be an entirely new experience for Ericsson.

Typically the host of wall-to-wall people at its booth, the Swedish vendor is approaching next week’s show with a certain degree of stand-offishness – and that’s intended as a good thing.

Before Covid, anyone visiting Ericsson’s booth – one that was the size of a football field and then some – could expect to be elbow-to-elbow with fellow attendees. It was a popular meeting place, and not just for the coffee and cookies.

A couple years ago, Ericsson made the decision not to attend MWC due to concerns about Covid-19. Little was known about the illness at the time, and its decision created “shockwaves,” but it was the right decision, said Matthew Smith, head of live marketing for Ericsson, during a recent media briefing.

Last year, MWC was moved to the end of June. Ericsson once again bailed on the event, citing concerns about continued impacts from Covid-19 and the health and well-being of its employees.

This year’s booth space was planned to give visitors room to roam, so to speak. “One of the key things for us is to have health and safety as our top criteria,” and that means minimizing the risk to Ericsson’s employees and their guests, Smith said.

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GSMA, the organizers of MWC22, expect this year’s attendance will be about half it was before Covid, or between 40,000 and 60,000.

Given the lower attendance, there’s no way that the return on investment this year is going to be what it has been in the past, Smith noted. But what’s clear this year is there will be enough of the right people attending to make it worth their while. “We’re going to meet the right people there,” he said.

Make no mistake, Ericsson will still command a mighty presence in the venue. Ericsson’s booth will be 6,000 square meters, which is about the size of a soccer field, he said.

Plans call for using the space to provide the most open, safe environment they can, with an eye toward comfort, according to Smith, who noted the importance of providing the right environment for psychology’s sake. For a lot of people, this will be their first time back to a big trade show, and it's important to make sure they feel OK about it.

What about openness?

Some of the big topics expected at this year’s MWC are open radio access networks (open RAN), virtual RAN (vRAN), edge networking and OSS/BSS.

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When it comes to open networks, smaller U.S.-based vendors point to Ericsson’s market dominance, as well as Nokia’s, as part of the problem rather than the solution. A lot of their motivation comes from a desire to compete with or replace proprietary solutions from the likes of Ericsson and Nokia.

How does Ericsson view openness and specifically, open RAN?

“On the one hand, we believe that operators are already quick with an open network platform for innovation and that’s why all these use cases are really starting to become commercial realities,” said Ericsson SVP and Group CTO Erik Ekudden during the recent media briefing.

“That openness exists and it will be further enhanced with a global network platform where we can actually expose and allow monetization of network assets. So that network openness goes without saying,” Ekudden said.

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“The other one, of course, is in the network, and there we have standardization, we have the O-RAN Alliance work where Ericsson is leading much of the work together with peers of course in the industry. But we continue to really focus on making sure that we drive openness in the wider ecosystem, not just for one specific interface but for all the interfaces that are relevant… That is a commitment that we have, and I think we are making good progress,” he said.