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It's time to face the facts on 5G in Europe

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The worst climate for investment is an uncertain one. As the global race for 5G heats up, there has been a stream of rumors, half-truths and myths about 5G in Europe.

President & CEO of Ericsson

Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm speaking on stage

President & CEO of Ericsson

President & CEO of Ericsson


Our focus is on running our business and providing technologies that address our customers’ needs.  However, we have unfortunately become part of the 5G story in Europe. 

We have been extremely clear in our position on this topic:

We are a world leader in 5G, from patent innovation to running live networks.   Yes, Europe is in danger of falling behind in 5G. However, this is due to structural problems, not issues with any particular vendor.

Ericsson is a leader in 5G innovation

We are proud to be the first with live commercial networks across four continents in all frequency bands. Our technology is powering 23 live 5G networks and we have 76 commercial agreements or contracts with unique operators. 

Our hardware has been 5G-ready since 2015. And it can be upgraded with only a software upgrade. This means there is no need for component upgrades or costly site visits to switch on 5G.

We also have more 5G devices working on our gear than anyone else.

As I wrote in a blog post in May, “It’s impossible to be behind in 5G when there is no-one in front of us.”

Leading the way in 5G patents

In the last two years, R&D has grown substantially at Ericsson. As of September 2019, Ericsson has 34 R&D sites globally with 18 in Europe.  We employ more than 25,000 people in R&D, which is about a quarter of our employees, with 60 percent located in Europe. 

Recently, Christina Petersson, our Chief IP Officer and Head of IPR & Licensing, wrote about the true picture of 5G patent leadership based on an independent analysis by law firm Bird & Bird.  

In the study, Bird & Bird stated that when looking at 5G leadership you cannot simply count the number of patents declared to be potentially essential as these are not independently assessed.  As such it is difficult to say whether the patent is “essential to” 5G or simply “related to” 5G, without going through an essentiality audit.

When Bird & Bird looked at 5G patents declared as potentially standard essential, they applied an essentiality filter from a recent court case and found that Ericsson would be in the top position with 15.8 percent of the total with that filter applied.

Another measure of 5G leadership is our contributions to the standardization body 3GPP. In fact, since 1999, we have made more than 55,000 contributions to 3GPP as a whole. No matter how you look at it over time, Ericsson is the leader in 3GPP and has influenced 5G technology more than any other contributor.

Europe must move fast on 5G

Over the last decade there has been considerable public support to promote 5G in Europe. But in actual rollouts, Europe is fast falling behind lead markets in North America, North East Asia and Australia.

As we move forward, we must stop believing fabrications and rely on facts.  And the facts show this: 5G delays in Europe are not tied to the choice of technology vendor. 

Europe instead faces a series of structural problems that hinder 5G development. 

Some structural reasons for Europe lagging behind were laid out in Northstream's recent 5G outlook for Europe report. It highlights a lack of spectrum and a dangerous “wait and see” approach to 5G among some regulators and service providers.

The biggest roadblock relates primarily to regulatory policies.  5G must be viewed as a critical part of European national infrastructures.  This is not the case today.

For example, the spectrum auction in Germany taxed service providers by EUR 6.5 billion. This corresponds to more than 200,000 sites, which would have given Germany coverage that could exceed policymakers’ objectives.

Another key reason is the poor investment climate for European service providers. As an industry, they barely return cost of capital, making it very difficult to justify investments in new technology.

The frontrunners in 4G – largely in the US and China – became the big winners of the “app economy.” The same dynamic will play out with 5G but on a potentially massive scale. 

5G is designed for industrial applications. This means that falling behind on 5G as a platform for innovation will jeopardize the European industrial base. With two global vendors based in Europe, the continent has the prerequisite to lead.  And we are ready to lead the way. 


Related posts and articles:

Börje Ekholm: Europe needs to act fast on 5G or lose out


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