Stepping into the age of 5G

Will 2023 be the year when 5G comes of age? Katherine Ainley, CEO for the United Kingdom and Ireland, Ericsson, shares her view with Comms Business.

Two years back, Katherine Ainley took the role of chief executive officer for the United Kingdom and Ireland at Ericsson to push forward 5G.

The company saw the rollout of 5G networks as an opportunity to rebuild following the impact of the pandemic and increased demand for connectivity and digital transformation.

At the time, Ericsson was the only 5G vendor in the UK to have commercial agreements in place with all four major mobile network operators, and its sights were set on upgrading 20,000 network sites by 2024 to boost UK connectivity.

Today, Ainley continues to be excited about the huge potential of 5G to transform the way we live our lives and carry out our jobs.

She said, “As you would expect, we’re super excited about 5G and this year is going to be a big turning point. 2023 will be the big coming of age year. We’re going to be in a position where, by any measure, all operators will be at or above that 50 per cent population coverage mark.

“We’re going to see standalone 5G growing over the course of the year, and we’ll get to the stage where we’ll see the impact of 5G really taking shape.”

Ainley added that we’ll see the coming of age of 5G in two forms: from both a consumer perspective, as well as within enterprises.

She said, “The device penetration of 5G-ready devices is now so much higher, so we’ll see consumers really getting to grips with it. Use cases and apps will then be created off the back of that. But the exciting potential for 5G is on the enterprise side.

“Particularly in a world of inflation and rising energy costs, there is an opportunity for enterprises and businesses to use 5G to really make a step change.”

Joint innovations

Building the ecosystem in which 5G can thrive and deliver on its potential, Ainley explained, will help 5G become accessible to every business and every person. Businesses will use 5G to create new services and products.

She added, “Who builds those apps? Who builds that connectivity? Who builds the functionality? We play a part in that, but we’re certainly not the only people. Having that network of partnerships is key.”

There is a huge opportunity to build new use cases for 5G within enterprises. Ainley said innovators within the ecosystem can explore how to use 5G to improve efficiencies, such as in factories with tracking and the operation of machinery, as well as helping businesses change their relationships with their customers. These opportunities have been unlocked because 5G has moved beyond the limitations of the past.

Ainley said, “The issue with wireless, in the past, was that you would have to make a performance compromise. With 5G, you don’t have that anymore. In fact, arguably, in many cases, you could get a better performance on mobile or wireless than you would get from fixed. That opens up so many possibilities.”

Stepping into the 5G era raises questions about how much longer 2G and 3G services will be available in the UK, with all mobile network operators sharing plans for the sunsetting of these older networks. When asked her view on this, Ainley said whilst this transition will need to be managed, there is a “huge pull” towards 5G. New ideas are emerging every day as people become more familiar with its capabilities.

Creating future businesses

Looking ahead to the future, Ainley expects technology to become even more ubiquitous. She pointed to the reality that technology is no longer optional, it is foundational to the future success of every business.

She said, “Every company now needs people who understand technology. It’s no longer viable to just go to a technology organisation once every five years and ask them for a new strategy. If you want to make your business successful, you’ve got to have technology built into the DNA of your business.”

What’s more, those that embrace emerging technologies quickly are likely to get ahead of their competitors. Ainley added, “The opportunity is huge. If you choose to ignore the potential of 5G, you risk waking up one day and realising that everyone else has [done something with it]. [They could have] automated some processes or be able to offer real-time information to their customers, and you’ve been left behind.”

What is at stake, Ainley explained, is the opportunity for future innovative businesses to be founded here in the UK. She said, “We have got to roll out 5G as quickly as we can and we’ve also got to connect not just the cities. We’ve got to make sure that we’ve got really good – ideally mid-band – coverage across as much of the country as possible. Because those who don’t have it get left behind.

“They will suddenly find that they can’t do things that will increasingly be built for that level of connectivity. And who knows what else is coming? There are and there will be the business ideas – the next generation of Uber and Amazon – that we don’t even know about yet.

“5G can help develop those new business ideas and, if we’ve got the coverage in the UK, we get those businesses first!”

This interview appeared in our June 2023 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.