Ericsson: We are switching on 5G around the world in 2019

BARCELONA—With early 5G tests and trials largely in the rearview mirror, Ericsson is focusing on 5G deployments in North America, Australia, Europe and Asia in 2019.

"We are truly switching on 5G around the world in 2019," said Ericsson President and CEO Börje Ekholm during the company’s media and analyst meeting Monday to kick off Mobile World Congress 2019. 

Two years ago, Ericsson started to double down on serving its service provider customers, and it hired 4,000 engineers in R&D to reclaim its technology leadership. At the same time, it aggressively cut costs, he said.

Now it can boast commercial 5G deals with 10 named service provider customers and 42 memorandums of understanding, “so the technology is here, and we have more to come,” he said. (In the U.S., its 5G customers include AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint.)

He didn’t name rival Huawei but alluded to the security concerns that have plagued the company, especially in the United States but elsewhere as well. But he stopped short of suggesting how the situation should be handled.

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Indeed, 5G will be a vital national infrastructure, and in this context, he said, “there is clearly a growing debate about national security,” and how to ensure the integrity and security of the network.

“I would say these are critical decisions for nations,” he said. “Let me be very clear: Ericsson does not have a view on that, neither should we have a view on that. It’s really up to nations to decide” how they drive their national security policies.

One thing is certain: Customers are feeling the uncertainty and they are concerned, he added. They have invested significant capital into the networks, so of course, the current uncertainty impacts them. There’s also been talk recently that there’s a high risk of Europe falling behind in rolling out 5G, “and it’s true, there is such a risk,” he said.

But the reasons for it falling behind are not always accurate, he added. European service providers have access to 5G technology, but the progress in Europe is affected by high spectrum fees and heavy regulation. It’s more of a general investment problem in Europe.

He also spent some time during his address on Ericsson’s spectrum-sharing solution, which he described as “the most economically feasible way” to introduce 5G in existing bands achieving immediate nationwide coverage.

“We can dynamically mix 4G and 5G traffic on the same spectrum,” he said. “Some said this kind of spectrum sharing was impossible. Wrong. Our engineers are truly world class. With spectrum sharing, our customers have a real 5G front-runner advantage.”

Ericsson also announced on Monday that it intends to acquire Kathrein’s antenna and filters business for mobile networks, expanding Ericsson’s capabilities and competences in the advanced active and passive antenna domain. Ericsson will be adding around 4,000 professionals in R&D, production and sales based in more than 20 locations, including Germany, Romania, the U.S., Mexico and China.