Carrier action on 5G happening 'much quicker than we thought,' Ericsson CEO says

Wireless carriers across the globe, including in the United States, are moving more quickly than expected toward 5G network technology, according to the CEO of Ericsson, the world's largest wireless equipment vendor.

"The anticipation of 5G discussions, deployments, pre-commercials -- much quicker than we thought. The interest is very high," Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg told FierceWireless in an interview following the release of the vendor's second-quarter earnings. "The U.S. has really ramped up quickly in 5G," he added, also pointing to Korea and Japan as hotbeds of 5G action.

Such comments are noteworthy considering Ericsson's relatively sluggish second-quarter results, and its additional planned job cuts. The vendor is essentially hoping for an increase in global carrier spending on networks – and as a result an improvement in Ericsson's financials – as operators begin moving toward 5G network technologies.

And how does Vestberg see that initial round of 5G spending playing out during the next several years? "It's very much all about the whole network from the radio access up to the cloud," he said. "You can already start doing things around to prepare for 5G, and that's what we're seeing customers are doing. … Clearly we're going to see commercial or pre-commercial deployments in 2018."

Vestberg added that carrier spending on 5G networks won't only focus on new radio access technologies. Instead, he said carriers will need to upgrade everything from their core networks to their routers to their OSS and BSS systems. "You need to change the whole network," he said. "For us, there is potential in the future that we can address."

Vestberg added that Ericsson is working with operators including AT&T, Telefonica, DoCoMo and other carriers leading the move toward 5G.

But Vestberg cautioned that the move from 4G to 5G won't mirror the industry's move from 3G to 4G. "We believe that carriers as much as possible will rely on the current infrastructure. There will be additional capex, but it's probably much less than we are seeing in three year cycles when you're basically taking out a technology like 3G and putting in 4G," he said.

Specifically, he said 5G rollouts will focus heavily on new software and new antennas, as well as network densification options like small cells, but likely won't require thousands of new cell sites.

And how will carriers benefit from the move to 5G? Vestberg said Ericsson is seeing 340x higher speeds from the technology, up to 25 Gbps, and 20-30x improvements in battery capability. "It's extremely powerful technology," he said. "That's why we see the high interest."

Vestberg's relatively positive outlook on 5G coincides with similar comments from the likes of Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and others that are conducting various 5G tests this year, with an eye toward potentially deploying commercial services – likely fixed applications – next year. Indeed, the FCC just last week issued a ruling that aims to release roughly 11 GHz of high-band spectrum, partly for 5G uses.

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