Ericsson customers will also be ahead of the pack on 5G, Ekholm said on Monday morning.
"The first [5G] use case is really to cope with the growing data traffic. Data traffic started to grow earlier there in those markets, so you can see that already today that they are a little bit ahead of the rest of the world in their consumption, so that is one of the key reasons -- probably more North America," Ekholm told ZDNet on why those regions are leading.
"China has been very committed to the industrial internet very early on, and seeing industrial applications. So both of those two regions have really pushed ahead to make sure that they get an early deployment, kind of recognising that the sooner you get the network, you are going to get a lot of innovation.
"And those two regions are leading there, and I think we in Europe have been a little bit slower."
However, it is about more than just smartphones on a high-speed network: 5G will be critical to realise the potential of billions of connected devices across the Internet of Things (IoT), he said, while robotics will dramatically transform work and smart cities capabilities will transform cities across the globe.
"Service providers will need enterprise capabilities to be successful in future; it's more than selling SIM cards," Ekholm said.
"Service providers and governments who sit on the sidelines run the risk of being left behind."
In Schwabmünchen, Germany, Ericsson is working with Deutsche Telekom on 5G manufacturing for "5G-grade automotive", for instance.
The networking giant is also working with SoftBank in Japan on artificial intelligence (AI) to reduce network problems and improve customer experience via automated tools with its operations engine.
While saying it is up to each nation to "decide how they drive their national security policy", Ekholm also spoke out against post-development testing across 5G applications and networks, saying the geopolitical concerns of 5G security runs the risk of slowing down innovation.
"We believe post-development testing runs the risk of creating a false sense of security," he said.
"It will cost more, so it will be a tax burden on the industry ... ultimately, enterprises may have to pay the heavy price for testing."
Ericsson on Monday also announced the acquisition of the 5G antenna and filters division including 4,000 workers from Kathrein, which is expected to close in Q3 of 2019. Ekholm said it will increase Ericsson's capabilities in both passive and active antennas.
"With the additional focus on the antenna and filter business led by Kathrein professionals, we will broaden our offering to further optimize site space, which is vital for the introduction of 5G," Ericsson EVP and head of Business Area Networks Fredrik Jejdling added.