Ericsson's Vestberg: The U.S. should lead on 5G -- but we'll be leading no matter what

Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) CEO Hans Vestberg said he hopes the United States will continue to lead on the development of 5G network technology and build on the lead it had in deploying LTE. However, he said that as a vendor Ericsson needs to be out in front on crafting 5G networks, which he expects to be deployed commercially before official standards are set.

Some in the U.S. have fretted that the country is not doing enough to retain its leadership role on LTE and is ceding ground to Europe and Asia in the development of 5G networks. However, AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) CEO Glenn Lurie said last week the U.S. "should not be nervous" about public relations blitzes coming out Europe and mostly Asia on 5G development.

Vestberg said that with 5G the entire industry needs to be thinking about ecosystems much more than in the past and that the U.S. has a large ecosystem of Internet companies and device makers that are  "very important" to the wireless world. Ericsson, he said, will be working with all regions on 5G.

"But of course we think the U.S. has had a very clear lead in 4G of the ecosystem in the network," he said. "So we will of course favor that the U.S. continues to be in that lead."

Carriers and other players will need to decide how hard they want to push 5G development, he said, but for Ericsson, it's not a choice. "We have to go for it right now," Vestberg added. "We were No.1 on 2G, 3G and 4G. So of course our job is to be early on to the technology on 5G as well to prove that we can get the robust and the very high quality 5G network in the future."

Most industry observers think that standards for 5G will be agreed to in 2018 and 2019, with standardized networks deployed around 2020 or thereafter. Vestberg noted that with 3G deployments the standards were agreed to and networks were deployed a few years later. With LTE, networks were deployed almost simultaneously with the agreement of standards.

This time, with 5G, "we see that test plans are coming out before the standardizations," he said. That's actually fine, according to the Ericsson chief, because he thinks 5G networks will be different than earlier generations of wireless technology, which were mainly focused on bringing consumers faster speeds and more throughput.

Vestberg noted that 5G will be in part a network architecture designed for machines and sensors and that the industry needs to understand the "types of demands you are going to get on the network in the future," whether those traffic demands come from the automotive industry or healthcare.

"So I think it's very healthy and very important to start working with the use cases," he said, adding that doing so will help create a better set of standards. "From that point of view I think it is healthy. And it also shows how important mobility broadband and cloud have become in order to transform our planet, our society, our industries."

As a result, Vestberg thinks "we are going to see pre-commercial 5G definitely this time." He thinks South Korea will deploy pre-standardized 5G networks for the 2018 Winter Olympics. However, Vestberg said such pre-standard 5G networks will build on LTE and will be "evolutionary" in nature.

Ericsson has collaborated with South Korean operator SK Telecom on a concept known as "Network Slicing for 5G, which is a technique that optimizes a virtualized core network to deliver a different network experience for different kinds of traffic, whether it's video or Internet of Things data.

"We view that as very feasible and reasonable in order to be able to deliver the quality that is needed in the future," Vestberg said of Network Slicing. "We think that's going to be extremely important. That also means that you need to think a little bit broader beyond the radio access [network]. You need a network management system that can handle different types of slices itself, so it's not only radio access."

Vestberg noted that standards are still being developed, but said "clearly we believe in a sliced network for different types of use cases."

Special Report: How ITU, 5GPPP, NGMN and others will create the standard for 5G

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