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Börje Ekholm opens Ericsson Mobile World Congress 2024 in Barcelona

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As the pace of change gathers momentum across the telecom industry, Ericsson President and CEO, Börje Ekholm, says communications service providers, enterprises and developers can work in partnership with Ericsson to drive a fundamental change in the industry by building programmable cloud-based networks, and exposing the networks’ capabilities, to fully deliver the capabilities of 5G.

Ericsson President and CEO, Börje Ekholm.

Speaking as part of Ericsson’s Mobile World Congress 2024 Imagine Live broadcast in Barcelona today, Ekholm said Ericsson’s ambition is to put the relevance of the network at the center of digitalization.

“In the five-to-ten coming years, we see some acceleration of some major trends,” he said. “Think about the energy transition and think about how we will deliver health care services in the future or government services. We will automate industries in a very different way.”

Ekholm said this will result in demanding new use cases converging the physical and digital worlds in real time, such as digital twins and safely maneuvering out of line-of-sight drones.  

“What we see here is a convergence of trends,” he said. “We see the AI, we see the cloud, and we see mobility converging. And as I see it, mobile connectivity will actually be the critical underpinning to scale Cloud and AI very fast. This will put demands on the networks. It will require ubiquitous coverage, high performance, flexible and programable networks.”

He added: “That’s a new era we’re entering, where 5G plays a big role because 5G has new features like speed, latency, quality of service, location. All of that will actually be used for enterprise digitalization. I think this is exciting.”

High-profile Ericsson customers and partners contributed to Ekholm’s Imagine Live broadcast segment, including Chris Sambar, Head of Networks, AT&T; Mathew Oommen, President, Reliance Jio; and a chat between Ekholm and Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Technologies.

On open and cloud-based networks, Ekholm said the industry is shifting to a horizontal, cloud-based network architecture.

“The way I think about it is like the network will become a cloud. That’s to offer cloud economics, but also cloud agility when you provide new services. Of course, in this world, we will also see vendor diversity in horizontal layers or across the layers.”

Ekholm said the path to achieving cloud-based programable networks will look a bit different, depending on the starting point of the customer, but also on customers’  priorities.

“The important thing here is we will support our customers, whether they go through a vertical integrated stack or go directly to a horizontal architecture. We will invest in both the vertical stack as well as the horizontal architecture to make sure that we can offer the best hardware and software solutions.”

Ekholm said Ericsson is already on this journey, with more than a million radios installed that are hardware prepared for openness.

Ekholm and Sambar referred to the recent USA-wide, Open RAN partnership between Ericsson and AT&T.

“They chose us because we provide the type of best solutions, the most innovative solutions, and that's why we are honored to be a key partner with them,” Ekholm said.

Sambar said: “We think we’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us to open up the ecosystem, open up the network, and in partnership with Ericsson, do some really neat and innovative things for the industry.”

The rapid deployment of 5G in India was the focus of Oommen’s contribution.

Describing India as a forward-leaning country that is putting 5G at the heart of its digitalization, Ekholm said the unprecedented speed of 5G deployment means India’s networks are already among the best in the world.

“I think we're just at the beginning of a very exciting journey in India,” he said. “We see fixed wireless access being rolled out very quickly. We're going to see new applications being developed by entrepreneurs in India, where they also leverage the capabilities of the network.”

Oommen said: “The continued transformation of India, driven by its digital public infrastructure, and its impact on the new global economy, is at an inflection point. Along with Jio, these would not have been possible without our trusted partners at Ericsson. We look forward to working together with Ericsson and others in delivering higher value and meaningful services to our greatest asset – our customers.”

In addition to mobile network infrastructure, Ekholm addressed the importance of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for accelerating innovation and growth in the future.

"The consumer really digitalized on top of the 4G network,” he said. “We created an app ecosystem. But in reality that was a best-effort network. As we now enter enterprise digitalization, I don't think best-effort connectivity will be good enough, and that's where 5G comes in.”

Ekholm said that 5G features and capabilities such as speed and latency are well-suited to create the type of differentiated network experience needed to digitalize enterprises and harness innovation.

“I think it's not only the capabilities that are needed. It’s also how we expose them and how we make them available to the user of the network,” he said.  “And this is really where the APIs come in. Network APIs are a way to allow the mobile networks and the applications to talk to each other in a standardized way. And by exposing and monetizing those network APIs, we can also create a new monetization model for the CSPs. But we also create a new, exciting way to create new applications, leveraging the capabilities of the network.”

Ekholm said developers will be the entrepreneurs and the innovators who create new types of applications that can only be delivered through the network.

“If you put it very simply, I like to think that with network APIs, we put the power of the network at the fingertips of the developers.”

Ekholm stressed the importance of a strong industry ecosystem and productive partnerships – which was also highlighted in his conversation with Michael Dell.

Dell said: ”We are big on partnerships and certainly having an ecosystem drives innovation faster, combining the strengths of different companies. Leaders like Ericsson and Dell coming together to bring these solutions to life. I think we're on the right path.”

In closing, Ekholm said: “I’d like our CSP customers across the board, our enterprises, and developers to get on this bandwagon to make this change a reality.”

Watch the full Imagine Live Broadcast on-demand via the Ericsson 2024 Mobile World Congress event site.

Feel welcome to join the #ericssonmwc conversation at #mwc24