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09 April 2016

Ericsson's Hans Vestberg: the Clean-Cut Swede with a Need for Mobile Speed

Mr. Vestberg has been in the top role since 2010.  He said:
"We cannot even imagine how the world will be transformed
with all this connectivity".
"Ericsson started life 140 years ago as a telegraph repair shop in Stockholm and quickly expanded into all forms of telecoms equipment. It finally gave up on phones four years ago, which it had latterly made in partnership with Sony, to focus on mobile kit - base stations, routers and masts — which it sells in 180 countries."

Ericsson's Hans Vestberg: the clean-cut Swede with a need for mobile speed
by James Ashton, The Telegraph,
3 April 2016

Never mind 2020, Hans Vestberg has already mapped out his 2025 vision. It is a world of microchipped medical implants, connected homes and remote-control working – all made possible by lightning-fast internet speeds.

“I am certain that 10 years from now you are going to have a chip inside your body that is going to tell you what is going to happen in the next 24 hours,” says the clean-cut Swede who runs Ericsson, provider of the infrastructure over which 40pc of the world’s mobile traffic is carried. “We cannot even imagine how the world will be transformed with all this connectivity.”

It sounds like a fantasy, especially for thousands of homes and businesses in rural areas that still struggle with patchy mobile reception. David Cameron vowed last month to change the law so that more mobile phone masts could be built. In the Budget, George Osborne revealed that his National Infrastructure Commission is working on a plan to make the UK a leader in 5G technology, the next wave of infrastructure to be built.

There is a lot of catching up to be done. Mobile phones using 4G only went on sale in the UK in 2012, years behind the United States and parts of Asia. Once again, South Korea will be at the forefront of the next revolution. It is expected to launch 5G services in 2018 as it hosts the Winter Olympics.

What is all the fuss about? Vestberg, tall with slicked-back sandy hair and sporting a trendy grey cardigan under his dark suit jacket, raves about the speed. At 25 gigabits per second, 5G is 2,500 times faster than the 10 megabits per second that users can get on 4G today, “if you are super lucky”.

That is enough to power 1,000 households all watching 4K high-definition TV at same time - without requiring a fibre connection to the home. But rather than simply bringing consumers the latest blockbuster movie, Vestberg is focused on 5G’s industrial uses to boost productivity.

“I optimise my life for the work I have and whatever information I need I get people to help me. If I have time over I spend it with the family, I don’t read a book.”

“Society is going to be changed by using our technology. That is why governments like the UK are interested and should be interested,” he says. Sat in a hotel lobby by St Paul’s Cathedral close to the headquarters of key Ericsson customer BT, Vestberg waves a hand to the street outside.

“You cannot have more cars in London. If you don’t start to digitise the transport system it is going to be impossible to be here.”

That means a proliferation of driverless cars – another Budget pledge said they would be trialled on British motorways next year – and internet-enabled parking meters so motorists don’t have to circle endlessly hunting for a free spot. Vestberg gives the example of Estonia, where the president asked citizens to let him track the movement of their cars for two weeks so he could improve traffic flows in the capital Tallinn. It sounds Big Brother-ish, but 80pc agreed.

Then Vestberg the salesman rattles through all the other applications that 5G could support. With the help of virtual reality, nuclear decommissioning could be carried out at a safe distance. Imagine a remote control device that vibrates when the drone you are flying veers too close to a wind turbine or a building a mile away.

And think of the possibilities for a surgical glove for key-hole operations, which is being developed in London by Ericsson in partnership with King’s College. Vestberg’s vision of patients implanted with microchips for distance diagnoses “will happen first in countries where you don’t have a fairly good healthcare system. If you don’t have a doctor you would happily take advice remotely.”

It all depends on how comfortable consumers are about sharing their personal details. Vestberg predicts a time when the Facebook generation will become more guarded about posting their innermost secrets online.

“There is going to come a moment in the next 15 or 20 years when people say: “This is my data, I want to give it to you because you can do something good for me and I don’t want to give it to you because you put advertising around it.””

“You cannot have more cars in London. If you don’t start to digitise the transport system it is going to be impossible to be here.”

Ericsson started life 140 years ago as a telegraph repair shop in Stockholm and quickly expanded into all forms of telecoms equipment. It finally gave up on phones four years ago, which it had latterly made in partnership with Sony, to focus on mobile kit - base stations, routers and masts — which it sells in 180 countries.

A large part of its £21bn annual sales now come from services such as distributing TV channels for broadcasters. Ericsson bought Red Bee Media, the BBC’s former broadcasting arm, and has more than 5,000 UK staff.

Vestberg might come across as happy-go-lucky, but he can clearly mix it with the technology big boys. The 50-year old was a leftfield candidate to succeed Steve Ballmer at the head of Microsoft five years ago. And only a few months back, a high-stakes battle with Apple over licensing fees was heading to court.

“You cannot make a phone without our patents,” he explains. “The industry works like that.”

Because Ericsson has been developing mobile standards for so long, latecomers such as Apple, which brought out its first iPhone in 2007, have to pay royalties to take advantage of the 2G, 3G and 4G technology the Swedish giant developed. When their initial seven-year deal expired, the pair fell out over a replacement.

“They felt that they didn’t want to pay it. After nine months we made an agreement before any court or anything and now we are fine.”

There has also been a spat of sorts with Facebook. Its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, had a dig at the mobile industry recently, suggesting it should focus its efforts on connecting people to the internet, not things.

Vestberg’s answer is that they are getting there. By 2020, 1.7bn people will still not be hooked up to the internet, but for 1.4bn that will be because of affordability (“that’s not the network, it’s the cost of a handset”), illiteracy or power shortages. The remaining 300m “might not want to be connected, they might be in middle of the Amazon”.

In preparation for a fully digitised world, since 2008 Vestberg has organised his time with robotic precision. Half of it is spent externally, talking to customers, shareholders, at conferences or with the media; a quarter on strategy and talent; the remainder on board meetings and related governance.

“I am just afraid if you lead a company of our size you get carried away and you work with something that is not most beneficial for the company,” he says.

Like the best internet connection, it is an always-on existence. Vestberg spends just five working days a month in Sweden and the rest jetting around the world. Wherever possible, he returns to Stockholm by 6pm on Friday to spend the weekend with his family. Then, Vestberg, who has little time for watching movies and gets book summaries sent to him by his staff, might even switch off his phone.

“I optimise my life for the work I have and whatever information I need I get people to help me. If I have time over I spend it with the family, I don’t read a book.”

However, even if he goes off-line, his home does not. Vestberg’s surveillance system is plugged into the internet, so he can monitor it remotely.

To wind down, he plays handball, a Scandinavian sport similar to basketball but with goals and goalkeepers. It was Vestberg’s ambition to make a career out of it and he still coaches his son, 14, and daughter, 16.

On a break from university so he could play full-time, he only took a job at Ericsson in his hometown of Hudiksvall, processing travelling expenses, to give him something to do in the mornings. Fast forward 25 years and he has worked in China, Brazil and Mexico on his way to the top role in 2010.

“It has given me opportunities I never thought I could get,” says the man still living in all our futures.

http://www.nyteknik.se/digitalisering/ericssonchefen-tror-pa-inopererade-chip-6538094

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