Ericsson is one of 5G’s most persistent and persuasive evangelists, and this week the company hosted its own industry event to showcase technologies and use cases. Executives from Verizon, T-Mobile, AWS, Microsoft, Google Cloud, Nvidia, Tiktok, Hitachi, Rockwell and other companies spoke about 5G enterprise use cases and consumer applications at Ericsson’s Imagine Possible event in Silicon Valley. The event also included product demonstrations from Ericsson and some of its partners.

The program was divided into two tracks, Metaverse and Enterprise. Although both were open to everyone, attendees were asked to choose their primary interest. The person who checked me in was keeping tally marks on paper and it looked like participants were divided fairly evenly between the two tracks.

Niklas Heuveldop, president and CEO of Ericsson North America, announced that next year Ericsson will rename the show Experience Possible. Afterwards, he sat down with Fierce Wireless to discuss 5G, private wireless, supply chain issues and other topics.

Heuveldop has led Ericsson’s North America business since 2017. He said the North American market’s relative importance for Ericsson has increased during his tenure, adding that the U.S. has always been a “frontrunner market.”

“U.S. operators lean in hard,” he said. “They push R&D harder than others.” Heuveldop said Ericsson has been able to take the R&D it does for U.S. operators into other markets, and added that the vendor’s 5G innovation gave it a head start on its competitors. “We were the only game in town for nine months,” he said. “Now we are the largest 5G supplier to all three Tier 1 carriers in the U.S.”

Heuveldop expects U.S. operators to continue to build single vendor networks, relying on Ericsson in some markets and its competitors in others. But there are exceptions to that rule. He noted the presence of Nokia radios in Ericsson markets for some in-building networks.

In addition, Verizon is mixing Ericsson and Nokia RAN gear in some markets. Heuveldop said this is a testament to the openness of the 3GPP standard. “They can use an Ericsson core with Nokia radios and vice versa,” he said. He explained that this is not quite the same as open RAN, because these deployments use existing open interfaces, while open RAN adds new ones.

“Open RAN adds seven or eight new interfaces to the 100 we have already,” Heuveldop said. He added that Ericsson and Nokia are the two largest contributors to the O-RAN Alliance specifications. He said open RAN will take time to evolve and will benefit Ericsson as well as its customers, since Ericsson will not make a radio for every single use case that emerges. “We will want third party equipment in our network,” he predicted.

Enterprise market

Cradlepoint, which Ericsson acquired in 2020, is the company’s path to market for many enterprise opportunities, Heuveldop said. He explained that he first learned about the cellular router and gateway specialist from one of Cradlepoint’s private equity investors, who invited him to lunch in New York and pitched the acquisition.

Heuveldop said Ericsson’s past attempts to crack the enterprise market “consistently fell short,” but that with Cradlepoint the company has a successful go-to-market strategy. He said Cradlepoint targets large resellers, who then promote the products to systems integrators. He added that Ericsson is “learning to make our technology available to channels” thanks to Cradlepoint, and said private networks are a key focus.

Cradlepoint will handle many enterprise private networks, but not all. The largest deployments, such as mines, utilities or ports, are “white glove projects,” which Ericsson will handle more like it would an operator network, Heuveldop said. He said manufacturing is a very promising market and he expects Cradlepoint will address a growing number of these opportunities, because they often come through systems integrators, and SIs know Cradlepoint.

Global issues

Although Heuveldop leads Ericsson’s North American operations, he spends a lot of time thinking about global issues, including supply chains, geopolitical tensions, labor shortages, and education, which is a personal passion.

Heuveldop said Ericsson was well prepared for recent disruptions to supply chains because it dual sources most components and because it had built up inventories of some products that became hard to obtain during the pandemic.

He also explained that Ericsson has adopted new procedures and hired new people in the wake of an internal investigation the company conducted last year. That investigation identified payments to intermediaries and the use of alternate transport routes in connection with circumventing Iraqi Customs at a time when terrorist organizations, including ISIS, controlled some transport routes. Heuveldop said the problem was related to inadequate “books and records” and that Ericsson has increased its “monitorship” and hired a new general counsel. “All those loopholes are being closed,” he said. 

“As for the Iraq allegations, working with the Department of Justice, we continue to investigate the facts being alleged, some of which date back as far as 2011,” an Ericsson spokesperson added. “We are working directly with the authorities, including the DOJ and SEC, to resolve and address any issues, as needed. We are committed to completing the investigative process and the resolution of these matters.”

Heuveldop believes 5G can play an important role in addressing societal issues such as labor shortages and education. He noted that last year the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported more than 800,000 open manufacturing jobs, and said 5G could have the potential to “gamify” manufacturing through augmented reality and possibly even “make manufacturing sexy.”

“We tend to get myopic,” he said of 5G use case discussions. Heuveldop wants to push the industry to consider the “triple bottom line” (profits, people and the planet.)

Education is another area in which Heuveldop foresees an important role for advanced networks and virtual reality. He said he is engaging with educational technology companies, because he thinks humans learn much faster from experience than from instruction. Ericsson has already partnered with UNICEF to improve global access to education through a program called Connect To Learn.

But Heuveldop believes educators need more than connectivity. He is passionate about delivering experiential learning, which he believes can help children develop critical thinking skills and empathy.

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