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Podcast: Ericsson Talks 5G at Mobile World Congress Americas

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In our podcast debut, Pam talks to Keith Shank about the breadth of 5G-readiness capabilities that Ericsson is showcasing at the very first Mobile World Congress Americas. Learn about the issues that Ericsson is addressing such as network intelligence, security and edge computing, with concrete example from drones and joysticks to excavators and stadiums.

Keith Shank, Director of Events and Experiences for Ericsson North America 


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Pamela MALLETTE: Welcome to 15 Minutes with 5G, a new bi-weekly podcast from Ericsson. I am your host, Pam Mallette, Head of Customer Engagement from North Americas here at Ericsson. In each episode, we get to talk about some of the big brains in telecom, about the latest developments in 5G and what they mean for consumers, businesses, and society in general. Since Mobile World Congress is right around the corner, I thought we would let Ericsson’s own Keith Shank, Head of Events and Experiences in North America, tell us about it. Welcome Keith and thanks for taking the time to talk to us. I am sure you still have a few things on that to-do list to do for the show.

Keith SHANK: Thanks, Pam, oh my goodness, yes, we are in the insane period now of putting all the parts and pieces together and getting the last bits of visualizations, all the great demonstrations, and concepts that are coming from around the world, and that includes working throughout our shipping. And shipping is a lot of fun when it comes to trade shows because you never know where things are going to wind up. So yeah, I mean, it is typical ‘classic last-minute’, we are going to get there but the show will happen.

MALLETTE: Good news. Ericsson has been taking a leading role in driving developments in 5G and in helping our partners to get ready for the 5G world. As the person who is most familiar with Ericsson’s presence at Mobile World Congress Americas, can you give us a little overview of what Ericsson will be featuring at the conference that maybe would help our listeners to get ready for that 5G transformation?

SHANK: Well the whole message is: “5G is coming, ready or not. Choose ready.”  And that’s what we are going to be showing off in our booth – about the different services and capabilities to get them there. 5G is not going to be a switch; you’re not going to come in one day and say: ‘bink’, it’s all 5G now. It’s going to be just like it was when we moved from 3G to 4G. It’s moving in this evolution and we have to get the operators ready to make that change. Because the networks of the past were built for telco services; they have to be ready for massive capacity and massive digital systems now. And that’s what we’ve got to do; 5G (I am a radio guy in my past history), so 5G, sadly enough, isn’t just the radio part, although to be honest, that’s the sexiest part [laughing].

But it’s not just radio; it is the whole network that we’ve got to get ready. And we’ve got to do it in stages to where operators and service providers can be ready when the radio part is ready. So, it’s a holistic evolution. We’ve got to take the network from a 4G world to a 5G world and that includes the 5G radio access and transport part, absolutely. The part that delivers the end user connectivity – that’s the access part – as well as transport, you know the transport part has to grow. If we’re going to do what we’re talking about – this massive broadband connectivity on 5G when it finally rolls through of gigs of capacity – we’ve got to change the transport part in the entire network. That all has to change.

We’ve got to change the digital services evolution – the digital services are, of course, our core network concepts –the virtualization of the networks, making it more efficient, easier for the operator to deploy, easier for the operator to grow. And that’s a huge jump in taking this network forward.  And that includes making it somewhat automated, so network artificial intelligence has to be buried inside of this, to where the operator makes it simpler to roll out these services and capabilities, and it costs less resources to make this happen.

Because as you have seen everywhere, data is not getting more expensive, it is getting less expensive and if the operators have to do this efficiently, they’ve got to make their network core efficient, they’ve got to make their radio part efficient and the whole operations back-end efficient, to where they can build the customers simpler all the different services apply. So that takes into account, making networks more efficient, and whether we are network slicing, give them the capabilities of different services and different capabilities in the network, not just in 5G but starting now – 4G – getting them out ahead. And our plug-ins that we are going to be delivering – so the 5G plug-in concept.

This includes the security. Now that we are going to be connecting – because what we talk about in 5G – not your mobile phone, but everything around us is connected as we move forward. We’re starting to see that now in 4G: cars connected, devices connected, all these things around us. That requires more security, and higher security concepts of what Ericsson can do to help, to ensure that the entire path is secure end to end.

And then finally 5G is coming, but what’s it going to connect to? It’s IoT, it’s everything around us, that’s where the big growth is going to be. We’ve got to show how these IoT items can be deployed in the network and more efficiently and quicker with more security.

And then the big point: how does the operator make money out of it? IoT monetization is a huge question: getting that service and that capability to the end user, while the operator maintains the financial impetus to make this happen, and then continue to grow. This is where we’re going, whether it’s a connected city where the whole city, end to end, is connected and services happen, or the back-end networks of the operators to deploy services to their consumers.

MALLETTE: Wow, that is a lot to take in, I have to say, and it sounds really complicated. So maybe can we hone in on a few things that are listeners would find particularly interesting or exciting? Will Ericsson be showing any innovative technology, use cases or business models at the show?

SHANK: All three. And I mean, not just in our booth, and I will talk a little bit about that because we are partnering with our customers to do some of these. So yes, in our booth, we are going to be partnering with Intel, to show off some true ‘over the air’ 5G services, that are not just consumer, but we are going to show a fun consumer one.

So, what does 5G bring? 5G brings a high bandwidth and low latency in services that are very fast, but what is the best way to show that? How about an AR/VR game that you are playing against someone else at the other end of the 5G network, with real-time interaction and where you maybe will have to do some battle with creatures that you’ve got to watch out for. This one is going to be a fun one, and that plays end to end.

We are also going to be showing off some network services and capabilities for an industrial view. So, what is industrial? It is rapid control and command of systems. A great way to show that off: we are going to have a table that you have a ball bearing on that has holes and lines. Maybe you played this is a kid. You have to twist the nobs manually [MALLETTE says: oh yeah] to make to ball move around. We’re going to do this over 5G with a joystick and with automated script commands. So, we’re going to show how the table can move, the ball bearing can move, and that requires very low latency and very high throughput. So, this is going to be an industrial view as well as a consumer view of what 5G is bringing, because 5G is going to mean a lot of different things to many different people.

We also have some pretty cool solutions we’re going to show off on – something that sounds rather odd – Cat-M, so very small bandwidth and LTE to control IoT devices.  We’re going to show VoLTE, so ‘voice over Cat-M’, in an instance where you have a firebox. So, say you’re a fire commander, you can hit a button and make a phone call to an emergency number over this Cat-M context for connectivity. So that’s going to be pretty cool, that is a really good visual about the kind of services.

We’re also going to be in, as I said, our partners’ booths. So, we’re going to be in the Qualcomm booth showing off LTE-LAA. So that means you’re aggregating LTE channels with WiFi channels in order to give over a Gigabit of capacity. And one of our operator friends, AT&T, is deploying that at Mobile World Congress Americas. San Francisco is our launch city. So, we’re going to be partnering with Qualcomm, AT&T and ourselves to show this off in the Qualcomm booth.

In the Verizon booth, we’re showing off CBRS [Citizens Broadband Radio Service], the new 3.5Gig spectrum capabilities. They’re going to be showing off carrier aggregation and services on that band as well as a SAS [Spectrum Allocation Server]. The ability to open and close the channels, remember the 3.5 is a shared spectrum, so you’ve got to be able to show you’re using or not using the channels.

And then in the Sprint booth, we’re showing off Massive MIMO concepts, where we’re going to show off multiple devices connected over a large bandwidth on a MIMO system, showing high bandwidth to every device connected to it. These are the kind of concepts we’re showing off, so not just in our booth, but realistic solutions that are being deployed.

Then we’re going to show off, back at our booth, Connected Cities. We’re doing a huge deal with connected urban transport where we’re going to help people like our recently announced city of Dallas deal, where we’re going to manage and operate the traffic management of the entire city. So, these are services where we’re starting to show how network management and network operation can really blend in, to other use cases and other capabilities.

So, we’ve got a lot of really cool applications to show off in the booth. Those are just some of the top ones. There are some real fun ones on IoT monetization, showing off how the fleet management can be monetized, how you can get money out of these different services, down to some work we’re doing with another operator called ‘digital assistant’, where you could have the system automatically group all of your different services into one capability.

MALLETTE: I think I need a digital assistant, but probably for a different reason. You mentioned before Network Artificial Intelligence. How is that going to enable 5G for service providers?

SHANK: That’s a really big one that is coming up. So today, Ericsson Expert Analytics – there is a huge bit of analytics that is going on in the background – so we can drive out of the network massive amounts of information about what’s going on in the network, how the end user sees the services, how the applications are being done. But how do you take all of that and start to make sense out of it? Because it’s just reams of information.

Well, we started to develop a Network Artificial Intelligence system that takes the data from the Expert Analytics and blends it in with the analytical services. So, it’s great that you get the data, analyze it, but then you have got to decide: how do I change my network to make it more efficient. And this is where we’re going to have to see these rapid services solutions. So, if a group of people is at, say a stadium, and want to watch video, how do I change the network real-time, give information to start to modify the services to get better service to that location for specific video content? How do I rearrange the network for CDNs [Content Delivery Networks] to move the content where it’s someplace closer for this group to get to? This is what Network Artificial Intelligence is about.

Now sadly enough, today, we’re still not where you can push a button and the network runs itself.  But this information starts to take the data we’re collecting, how the services are fixed or applied by humans and other people at the time and then starts to merge those together to where it can start to learn the lessons of how that is fixed every time. So, then you can move forward with artificial intelligence. Why is that important for 5G?  Moving from 4G today – it’s very tough network today to operate – 5G is going to be even more dense and more capable-driven, so we have to have this solution available.

MALLETTE: You know Keith, it sounds like we’re trying to raise the IQ of the network.

SHANK: That would be a great way to go – yes.

MALLETTE: [laughing] We’re also hearing a lot about edge computing these days. Will we see anything about that from Ericsson?

SHANK: Yes, we’re showing edge computing, again in our booth, but we’re also showing it in one of our customers’ booths – in the Verizon booth, so we’ll be showing it in both places. The network edge computing is very important.

Today, and this isn’t completely accurate, but the way I like to mirror it: is the networks of today are built the same way a 1950’s Bellcore standards network was deployed. You have a central office and you have remote offices, and the end users call into the remote offices. Those end offices call down to the core office, and then it’s rerouted to another end office to be deployed to another subscriber. That’s a long route for any data to take…  so, what we want to do is to be able to put some of the compute out at the edge of the network.

Let’s say I am sitting on a construction site, and I want to operate a heavy piece of machinery, using virtualization. I don’t need to go all the way back to the central office, I just need to have that edge compute be able to handle that information back and forth between me and that excavator or that heavy piece of equipment. Let’s say I’m an end user in a stadium environment, where I need more and more information in order to help direct traffic or other information.

Again, edge computing can take that information, analyze it and send it back. What we’re going to show off is how we can take a drone, and have the drone non-intelligent, so the drone is very dumb – a very dumb piece of equipment. Edge compute-wise we can control it real-time back and forth between the end user and the drone very fast without having the have the routing go all the way back. And the drone, the key with that it’s got to be able to fly; you’ve got to be able to direct it. So that’s very low latency requirement, very low intelligence in the drone. Intelligence can be in the remote hit.   

MALLETTE: Sounds like the network is becoming a lot more efficient as a result of that.   

SHANK: Efficiency is very high because then you don't have to have transport, taking information all the way back, yes.

MALLETTE: Exactly. So, we know that not every organization is ready to just leap into 5G. Ericsson’s developed solutions so that operators can bring more of an evolutionary approach to their existing networks. Can you tell us about them; are we going to demonstrate any of those types of evolutionary approaches at the show?

SHANK: That’s really one of the key points that we look at, of choosing ‘ready’ for ‘5G is coming’, because we’ve got to get our customers and their networks ready to go in that step. It’s not just going to be a light switch as I said. So, we have got something called 5G plug-ins. And the 5G plug-in concept is: we can start to put things in your network to get it ready for the 5G process. Where is 4G going when 5G comes? Nowhere; 4G is going to stay in place because 4G handles a lot of different services and capabilities that 5G just won’t be ready for, for many more years to come as far as deployment. So, we can, for example, start to plug in Massive MIMO concepts into the network. We can start to plug in a lot of the services for analytics and security. All these different services that need to be plugged in to the network.

We’re going to start to show how you can move from 4G networks today into 5G in the future. If we cannot show our operators how to make this migration less painful, they won’t do it. Because they’ve go to have a cost-efficient network; they’ve got to make money out of what they are doing today. And we have to work with them hand in hand to ensure that stays the same or improves.

MALLETTE: It sounds like managed evolution is definitely the way to go, because as you just said, nothing ever works well, with a light switch [SHANK says:exactly] except the light.

MALLETTE: So, if the folks can’t get to the show, how can they experience the show kind of virtually? 

SHANK: That is something that we worked on several times in the past, on how to make this more efficient. So, social media broadcast: we’re up in our game on social media. We’re going to have more and more social media output.

But what one of the really cool things that we started at CES this year, with something called a ‘skybox’ broadcast. So, in order to bring the solutions outbound, we’re going to put on our social media broadcast points video transmissions from the booth where we have: interviews of top players – that means customers, third-party partners, Ericsson’s team members, show demos live – on videos that we’re going to broadcast out. Take you on tours on the booth, bring top news, our big press release information. These things are going to be done live from the booth in video broadcast to bring this hand in hand to you. So, for example, you’ll probably see a broadcast starting off pre-show even. We’ll walk around the booth to give you an idea of what’s going to happen in the booth, the day before the show opens. And then show you some of the live actions that are going on in the booth, while it is happening.

MALLETTE: Wow, that sounds like there is a lot of exciting things planned for that week. I can’t wait to get there, I can’t wait to see all this and I’m definitely going to play the game with the ball bearing.

SHANK: Well, it is going to be fun. [MALLETTE laughs]

MALLETTE: Thanks. Really I have to tell you how much I appreciate having you here today. I know that you’re so busy, so thanks for spending time with us.

SHANK: Sure thing, Pam, and I’m glad to be here to bring out the message, once again, and we’ve got to make sure our customers choose ‘ready’.

Thanks for listening session today. If you would like to learn more, please visit And if you like what you heard, please subscribe to this podcast. Thanks, and have a great day.