I recently attended and participated in Ericsson’s Imagine Possible event in Santa Clara, California, mid-October. It is a continuation of the 5G Things virtual series from last year, with which I also had the honor of participating. Over two days, the Swedish cellular infrastructure provider brought together its customers, partners, thought leaders, and industry luminaries with a compelling hybrid format. The agenda included main stage keynotes, fireside chats, and separate breakout tracks focused on connected enterprise, mixed reality, and the metaverse. If interested, you can register to watch an event recap here. Consequently, I would like to provide my insights regarding what I found most interesting in attending the first day of the event.
Ericsson’s vision for a network innovation platform
At a high level, Ericsson’s objective with 5G Things, and most recently Imagine Possible, is to expose what I like to refer to as the “superpowers of 5G” (ultra-low latency, lightning-fast throughput, massive device support, and significant security enhancements) to the broader communication service provider ecosystem. From my perspective, the company is employing a clever approach in packaging this initiative into what it coins as a “network innovation platform." The objective is to enable the broader developer community to deliver innovative 5G applications more quickly and easily. Historically, this has been a monumental challenge given mobile network operators' billion-dollar investments almost entirely focused on access. This “dumb pipe” approach slowed innovation and only allowed over-the-top (OTT) solution providers to reap the rewards, but well after mobile networks were fully deployed.
The telecommunications industry cannot afford the same phenomena to occur with 5G. 5G is poised to accelerate enterprise digital transformation, and the benefits are immeasurable in the form of improved customer experience and the creation of new monetization opportunities. Both have the potential to drive incremental GDP and lift the world economy out of the current pandemic-driven recession. To address the challenges experienced in the past, Ericsson aims to open APIs and publish SDKs to fast-ramp developers and unlock 5G’s potential for a host of consumer and enterprise applications that span transportation and logistics, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, mining, and more.
Main stage highlights
With that context set, day one of the event opened with a fireside chat between Ericsson and Microsoft. That discussion addressed how to ensure that the application of AI and the broader acceleration of technology and connectivity is appropriately employed, delivering positive humanistic outcomes. This journey can be delicate, balancing corporate monetization priorities while ensuring digital inclusion. There is no doubt that the digital divide is real; one can point to the statistic that nearly forty percent of the world is unconnected. The pandemic highlighted the need for ubiquitous connectivity as many in rural areas struggled with access to distance learning and telehealth services. What I find promising about 5G is its capability to address the connectivity gap with services such as fixed wireless access (FWA). I would argue that 5G FWA is emerging as the first killer 5G use case, given T-Mobile's success in building a 1M+ U.S. subscribership relatively short term.
I had the honor of moderating the first connected enterprise track themed “when tomorrow inspires today." It was an engaging discussion that included executives from Boston University, Dell Technologies, Ericsson, and Fraunhofer IPT; a German institute focused on production technology. We discussed the intersection of AI and 5G and how it has the potential to eliminate traditional corporate silos, drive sustainability, and modernize industrial applications. My biggest takeaway was that by laying the proper foundation and learning from present and past lessons, enterprises will be in a better position to create new competitive advantages and revenue streams while delivering on the promise of sustainability and digital inclusion.
Other tracks focused on augmented and virtual reality as well as the metaverse. I’ll admit that I find the metaverse somewhat of an esoteric concept, but its potential is poised to be disruptive. I did not have an opportunity to attend these sessions, but I would encourage watching the event recap because I received overwhelmingly positive feedback.
I finally had the opportunity to meet, in person, with Ericsson’s North America President and CEO, Niklas Heuveldop. I found him incredibly engaging and well-informed on the need to do things differently in a 5G world, starting with the developer community. In my mind, the true promise of 5G will come in the form of disruptive service delivery within the enterprise, and developers must have early access. To that end, there are concrete examples that exist today.
The marriage of augmented reality and 5G will unlock efficiencies in field service, allowing technicians with a modest degree of training to quickly troubleshoot and remediate issues supported by remote subject matter experts. Seattle-based Taqtile is an excellent example of this use case’s potential. During my breakout session, Fraunhofer IPT spoke to the potential impact of 5G in manufacturing environments, which I believe may represent nearly half of the addressable market for 5G deployment within the enterprise. Coincidentally, Ericsson is demonstrating its capabilities in manufacturing as evidenced by its 5G Smart Factory in Lewisville, Texas. If interested, you can find more details here. Finally, Dell Technologies also spoke about its involvement in enabling the digital transformation of manufacturing during my panel session, speaking to the power of digital twins in accelerating time to market and enabling agility.
5G may be one of the most hyped technology platforms in recent history, and expectations were likely set too high initially. One of the biggest challenges for some mobile network operators' was a lack of critical mid-band spectrum on the front end of U.S. deployments. For the uneducated, mid-band and 5G Standalone will unlock 5Gs true promise, balancing the need for coverage and performance. I hope the FCC will do a better job moving forward with spectrum pipeline planning. Still, Ericsson's Imagine Possible event is an excellent example of exposing a network innovation platform to a broader 5G ecosystem to accelerate innovation.
Disclosure: My firm, Moor Insights & Strategy, like all research and analyst firms, provides or has provided research, analysis, advising, and/or consulting to many high-tech companies in the industry, including Dell Technologies, Ericsson and T-Mobile, cited, or related to this article. I do not hold any equity positions with any companies cited in this column.