Ahead of next week’s Connected Britain event in London, Total Telecom caught up with Marielle Lindgren, CEO Ericsson UK & Ireland, to discuss how Ericsson is helping the UK to continue leading in the mobile network sector
The UK launched 5G on the 30th May 2019, making it one of the first countries in the world to launch next generation mobile network services. How important is the UK market to Ericsson?
Ericsson is a European company and success in the European market is critically important for us. Ericsson’s first global 5G contract was signed in the UK back in 2017 and it is not surprising that the UK is one of the first markets to launch 5G. The focus on early launch of 5G demonstrates how advanced the UK is as a market, driven by tough competition in the telco space which fosters a lot of innovation. The UK has always been a very forward-thinking market, being among the first places to launch 3G and 4G, and UK operators are recognised as technology leaders in other countries. Success in this market breeds success in other markets.
What are the challenges that MNOs will face in the UK when trying to scale up their initial 5G networks?
Over the last couple of months, we’re hearing about operators concerns with the speed of 5G deployment.
In order to achieve Gigabit speeds and cater for the increased capacity and latency requirements needed for advanced 5G use-cases such as 5G gaming, AR/VR services or industrial internet, operators will need to densify their networks, which requires more infrastructure and more sites.
The government, and more specifically local councils, have an important role to play in enabling these infrastructure upgrades. For faster 5G deployment to take place, regulation needs addressing, which includes planning permission for site access, access to fibre networks for 5G backhaul and limitations on mast heights, just to name a few.
On top of this, there are an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 4G radio base stations in the UK which are still not 5G-ready and will need to be modernised to introduce 5G. Whether operators decide to use existing radio vendors or introduce new ones, time and effort to do this modernisation will be similar.
However, there are technical solutions that can enable fast 5G coverage. For example, in April Swisscom launched the first commercial 5G service in Europe and by the end of 2019 they’re planning 90% nationwide population coverage. This is possible thanks to Ericsson technology enabling 5G as a SW upgrade on all existing 5G-ready radio HW that we supplied since 2015. This same technology is available to UK operators.
How good a job has Ofcom done of making spectrum available in the UK?
There is no doubt that in recent years Ofcom has understood the growing demand for mobile data in the UK and enforced the necessary regulations to make spectrum available. The decision to free up the 700MHz band in 2014 is a good example of this.
However, there will never be enough spectrum. We have to work hard as an industry to break down the barriers to deployment of existing spectrum, including higher frequency bands such as millimetre wave that have been successfully deployed in the US.
5G and digitalisation must be viewed as a crucial part of the UK national infrastructure. In years to come, 5G is expected to support critical communications, from smart cities to autonomous vehicles, and its success rests on speed and accessibility. Rather than the traditional approach of spectrum generating high tax revenues, 5G spectrum should be valued based on the potential economic and societal benefits. This is a challenge for all European regulators.
What new technologies are you particularly excited about at the moment?
When it comes to technology, I’m particularly excited about how 5G can improve quality of life and provide genuine benefits for society. One great example is remote diagnostics in ambulances, where the patient can receive specialised medical care like an ultrasound scan and even tactile examination by a remote doctor in real time over 5G – before even getting to the hospital. Based on results of remote diagnostics, patients can be directed to the best and the most relevant treatment center which could save lives. This is a case we developed here in the UK.
Something else I believe will be amazing is 5Gs part in connecting rural communities where fibre might not be economically viable. Improving the access to the internet could lead to economic growth in these places and reduce the gap in comparison with the wealthier urban areas.
As a company we are very excited about the combination of AI/Machine Leaning and 5G and are investing heavily in this technology.
Do you have any predictions for how the UK’s fledgling 5G market will develop over the next 12-18 months?
We have launched the world’s first commercial 5G networks in South Korea, USA, Europe, UAE and Australia, and we’re now seeing the first use-cases including 5G mobile broadband and fixed-wireless access, or 5G for home.
In the UK, operators are also starting with 5G mobile broadband offerings, and in the future advanced services like augmented and virtual reality will be gradually introduced in collaboration with app developers. Our research is showing that in the next 1 to 5 years, consumers in the UK are expecting services like 5G cloud gaming and virtual tactile shopping, and they are willing to pay extra for it. Industry use-cases such as industrial internet will be introduced in the later stage as this market develops. In collaboration with our partners we are working on development of Industry 4.0 5G use-cases such as wireless robots, automated guided vehicles and introduction of AR and VR technologies in factories.