Ericsson CEO: Mobile infrastructure should be treated as critical resource

Ericsson keynote
CNBC Anchor Karen Tso discusses 5G with Ericsson President and CEO Börje Ekholm during a keynote Tuesday at MWC18. (Image: Monica Alleven/Fierce Wireless)

BARCELONA, Spain—It’s important for governments around the world to consider mobile infrastructure as a critical national resource, similar to roads, but actually nationalizing 5G, as has been suggested in the U.S., is going too far.

That’s one of the takeaways from the Tuesday keynote with President and CEO Börje Ekholm and CNBC Anchor Karen Tso at Mobile World Congress 2018. Ekholm was asked about everything from a Trump administration-linked proposal to nationalize 5G in the U.S. to competition with Huawei and Nokia.

“The reality is we’re believers in free market,” Ekholm said. “We think free trade is actually something that has brought a lot of value to the world,” not only in telecom but other sectors of the world.   

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Reports surfaced last month after Axios reported that officials at the National Security Council had put together a memo saying America needs to consider a plan to nationalize 5G to guard against competitive and cyber threats from China. The idea was that the U.S. government would pay for and build the network and rent it to the carriers.

“I think it’s important to start to realize for governments around the world that mobile infrastructure is a critical national resource,” likes roads, but they need to start thinking about the industry in a different way—like longer license time periods to create certainty for operators in Europe to know the costs associated with deployment and simplify the permitting processes, according to Ekholm.

Is Europe in danger of being left behind in 5G deployment? “That’s a strong word to say. We see a number of European service providers investing in 5G in field trials,” and so on, he said, adding that he genuinely believes the time period for operators in Europe to hold onto spectrum should be infinite.

Of course, 5G is a big topic at MWC 2018 and devices are going to start coming online early next year. Ericsson believes 5G is becoming a commercial reality due to the surging data traffic and the desire to bring cost per gigabyte down. By 2020, probably 15-20% of the sites in dense urban areas will need to be 5G just to handle the traffic, he said.

But the 5G devices coming in 2019 are really the early versions. Significant numbers of 5G subscribers will exist by 2023, when it will start to change the way people use devices. Ekholm noted with the beginning of smartphones, people did not think about ordering food or cab like it’s done now, and new applications and use cases will come as the technology changes.

Ericsson is expected to host more than 10,000 visitors to its booth during MWC this week. 

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