Ericsson: The carrier race to be first with 5G

With all of Ericsson's 'pioneer customers' across the globe wanting to be first to launch 5G, the company said it is up to telcos on how and when to implement the network technology it is providing to them.

With Ericsson working alongside multiple mobile telecommunications carriers worldwide on 5G, the networking giant's head of 5G Architecture Joakim Sorelius has told ZDNet that all of its partners want to be first out of the gate to launch.

Remaining tightlipped on who he thinks will be first, Sorelius said it is up to the customers to make use of the Ericsson technology being provided to them in their networks to stay ahead of the game.

"All our lead customers, our pioneer customers, want to be first with 5G ... we have consistently showed over time that first movers with technology tend to get more revenue, better ARPU, happier end users than those that are followers," he explained on the sidelines of Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona last month.

"So the lead customers that we have, of course they all want to be first and we are a network provider to many. So what we do is we provide our equipment to all of them, so basically the hardware is available now, the software will be ready by the end of this year, and then it's up to each customer to decide how and when they want to deploy."

On the first 5G handset developed by Ericsson -- weighing 200kg and the size of a filing cabinet, and unveiled last month at Australian carrier Telstra's 5G Innovation Lab in the Gold Coast -- Sorelius said the networking company has been working with Intel on shrinking this down over time.

He expects the first real 5G smartphones to arrive at the end of this year or the start of next.

"Ericsson is not in the business of providing handheld devices, but because there were none available, we made our own," he said.

"We are working with multiple chipset partners on commercialisation for 5G, and we have a strong indication that they have announced also that the first form-factor chipsets will be available in 2018, which means that form-factor devices, handheld devices actually, will come late '18 or beginning of '19."

Echoing comments by Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm and Telstra CEO Andy Penn that 5G is about improving 4G networks, Sorelius said 5G is becoming "much more concrete" as telcos edge closer to actual launches, with Ericsson predicting enhanced mobile broadband to be the first use case due to the rapid increase of traffic in the networks.

"4G alone we don't think can handle that traffic increase by itself; you need to evolve 4G, add the new technologies into 4G like Massive MIMO but also introduce 5G eventually in order to catch it up to that traffic growth. And from that perspective, it becomes very important that the equipment we provide to the network operators is 5G proof, so they can invest in 4G today and benefit from 5G when they need it," Sorelius added.

Read also: Top 5G announcements from MWC 2018

All of Ericsson's radio system products since 2015 are now 5G-ready thanks to a software upgrade in Q4 this year, with the company pursuing technologies in all three "flavours" of 5G: Millimetre-wave (mmWave), mid-band, and low-band spectrum.

Sorelius said that 38 operators are now signed up for Ericsson's 5G testbed, adding that Australian carrier Telstra is an important customer.

"5G is designed to cater for all possible use cases, so if you think of one network to do everything ... most operators will in different ways address all of those different possibilities through 5G," he said.

"There's not one use case that is the right use case; it's a system to cater for them all, and then different operators will start their 5G journey in different ways. Some will start with mobile broadband, some will start with fixed-wireless access."

If operators go into vertically focused 5G businesses, he said they have a 36 percent extra revenue potential thanks to providing connectivity, platform development, and applications across industries such as manufacturing, automotive, utilities, smart cities, healthcare, and finance.

"[Ericsson] pioneered the concept of network slicing," Ekholm claimed in his MWC keynote.

"We believe network slicing is critical as we move into the 5G world; we performed a joint study with DT that showed a cost reduction in the core of the network of 40 percent, and at the same time creating a potential for revenue increase of 35 percent compared to one large network."

Ericsson last month also announced establishing a 5G research centre in Russia with MTS, with the Innopolis research centre in the Republic of Tatarstan to see the two companies conduct joint research and development (R&D) on 5G, IoT, and smart cities use cases in the second quarter of 2018.

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