Swedish kit vendor Ericsson has anticipated one of the key themes of this year’s MWC and is trying to get ahead of the game.

Earlier this week the company published a special update to its mobility report, focusing on the monetisation of 5G. That was presumably timed to coincide with its traditional pre-MWC event, which was back after a pandemic hiatus at the BAFTA HQ in central London, from where this report was written. Accordingly, the Ericsson execs presenting at the event were keen to stress that 5G investments are starting to pay off.

After a brief video address from CEO Börje Ekholm and a recap of the report from CMO Stella Medlicott (“We do see early indications of revenue growth in advanced 5G markets”), CTO Erik Ekudden set the scene by positioning Ericsson as the company that is building a global platform for innovation and monetisation.

This was essentially a reference to the big bet Ericsson made in acquiring Vonage. It’s all about opening up networks to third parties, allowing them to come up with clever ways of using the network to offer novel services and revenue streams. Ericsson is gambling that the APIs it acquired with Vonage will form the core of a platform on which all this whizzy innovation will happen, eventually creating the ‘killer apps’ of the 5G era.

Ekudden then ceded the floor to Fredrik Jejdling, the head of the networks division. Pausing only to set the scene by noting that Ericsson’s R&D spend has doubled over the past five years, Jejdling had the job of unveiling no less than ten new radios, which apparently represent the company’s major MWC product announcement.

It can’t be easy working on product announcements like these because, at the end of the day, Ericsson makes grey boxes. Very clever ones, no doubt, but they’re not exactly photogenic. The most exciting of these ten new grey boxes is the Radio 4485, a triple-band FDD radio that Ericsson claims weighs half as much and consumes 22% less energy than comparable (i.e. competitor) products. This allows the Ericsson marketing people to go big on the kind of green messaging that is apparently compulsory these days.

“Capacity expansions, energy savings, and sustainability are central to service providers’ RAN evolution plans,” said David Hammarwall, Head of Product Area Networks at Ericsson, in the accompanying press release. “Ericsson’s enhanced portfolio fulfils the key needs of service providers and is leading the industry towards Net Zero while capturing opportunities of data traffic growth. We expect these topics will be the center of attention in our discussions with customers at MWC Barcelona 2023 and beyond.”

Jejdling then moved on to the matter of indoor 5G, which he conceded is both “an opportunity and a challenge.” The opportunity is to render wifi obsolete but the challenge is that the higher frequencies used by 5G aren’t very good at getting through walls. Conveniently for Ericsson, the solution lies in rolling out loads more macro and small cells. And it just so happens that Ericsson has launched a new suite of hardware and software designed to make indoor 5G easier.

“The new Radio Dot System equipment and location services software further increase the flexibility of Ericsson’s indoor portfolio,” said Hammarwall in the PR. “Scalable and cost-efficient, the expanded portfolio offers a one-stop-shop to accelerate indoor 5G rollouts globally, spreading the benefits of premium indoor connectivity. It will also enable a variety of use cases for service providers and enterprises that will boost operational efficiency, safety, and user experience.” We agree that the apparent shortage of monetisation successes several years into the 5G era is one of the biggest themes going into MWC 2023 later this month. As Vodafone conceded earlier this week, 5G is a bit of a slow-burner, testing the patience of all who have a stake in the telecoms industry. The consumer play for 5G still seems weak, although Ericsson insists operator ARPUs are on the rise, but the company thinks a combination of efficiencies and yet-to-be developed innovations will eventually deliver those elusive returns on investment.

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