Ericsson CEO Ekholm could be set to step down – report

Anonymous insiders have told Swedish financial paper DI that Ericsson plans to replace Ekholm with the departing Saab CEO sometime next year.

DI is both Swedish language and behind a paywall, so we’re relying in Reuters’ account of the original report here. Some handy unnamed sources have told DI that the plan was always for Ekholm (pictured) to only be in charge for as long as it took to steady the ship after the rocky conclusion of Hans Vestberg’s time at the helm. Ekholm is, after all, an investor rather than a company CEO, so maybe the feeling is that his strengths lie more in executing short-term tactical objectives than setting and implementing long-term strategic ones.

Someone more cut out to dictate Ericsson’s direction for the foreseeable future may be Håkan Buskhe, who has been CEO of Swedish engineering company Saab since 2010, but who announced he was calling it a day earlier this month. He has a six month notice period and the DI report would have us believe that the Ericsson board has already tapped him up to replace Ekholm any time after his gardening leave is finished.

“The reason I choose to leave Saab is that I would like to face another operational challenge in my career,” said Buskhe after handing in his resignation. “Until a new CEO is in place, I will continue to have full focus on Saab to ensure a smooth arrival for my successor, with the priorities being the implementation of the major projects together with our customers and the continued work to achieve Saab’s financial goals.”

The report notes that Investor AB, of which Ekholm was the CEO before stepping into the breach at Ericsson, is the biggest single shareholder in both Ericsson and Saab, with 40% of the voting shared in the latter. So Buskhe is presumably well-known to both Ekholm and the Ericsson board. It’s certainly not inconceivable that they will have discussed this move over a luxury pickled herring or two at some time.

Ericsson hadn’t responded to our request for comment at time of writing, but since it wouldn’t give one to Reuters either we’re not holding our breath. Ericsson’s shares were down a couple of percent at time of writing, which isn’t bad considering the positive effect Ekholm has had on the company. Alternatively it could equally be a sign that most investors don’t take the DI report very seriously or that they don’t think Buskhe would be a bad replacement.

Nokia taps Telia for new head of strategy

Finnish network vendor Nokia has decided its strategy should be directed by Gabriela Styf Sjöman, formerly of Swedish operator group Telia.

Sjöman (pictured) will replace long-time Chief Strategy Officer Kathrin Buvac, who isn’t leaving Nokia, but will now focus entirely running Nokia’s enterprise division. This move would appear to signify that the enterprise business group, which was only created at the start of this year, requires Buvac’s undivided attention. Whether or not this is because it’s going well or badly remains to be seen.

It seems like a good idea to have operator expertise in a networking vendor strategy team and Sjöman is presumably up to speed on the techie side too, her most recent role at Telia being at the head of its networks division. Nokia is also making much of the fact that she has lived all over the world, having grown up in Mexico and got an MBA from Durham University in the UK.

“We are delighted to welcome Gabriela to Nokia at a pivotal moment in our 5G journey,” said Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri. “She brings a wealth of international knowledge and a deep understanding of our industry, its customers and technologies. Her insight will be critical in refining our strategy for the future. I also want to thank Kathrin, who has continued to lead our strategy organization in addition to her role as President of Nokia Enterprise since January this year.”

“I am excited to join Nokia at such a pivotal time,” said Sjöman. “With its broad portfolio and innovative technology, Nokia is well positioned to help its customers realize the full potential of 5G, and I look forward to being part of further strengthening Nokia in this 5G journey.”

Back in Sweden Nokia rival Ericsson has unveiled its replacement for Rafiah Ibrahim, who decided to call it a day back in March. Fadi Pharaon is being promoted from his current position as VP of networks and managed services in the Europe and Latin America group. He is an Ericsson lifer who seems to have had executive roles for the company in every part of the world.

“With the introduction of 5G we are at an exciting time in the industry,” said Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm. “Our customer relationships are key to build a strong company position in the market for this next phase of industry development. Fadi has the right background, experience and capabilities to lead this work in this Market Area and I am very pleased to see him stepping up to this role.”

“The mobile industry is transforming countries and industries and with 5G becoming a reality, we will see new business opportunities and innovations across our markets,” said Pharaon. “I really look forward to taking on this exciting new role in Market Area Middle East & Africa and work together with both the team in the Market Area as well as the Executive Team. Our abilities to work closely with our customers in our market areas are key to leveraging our technology leadership in 5G.”

We can probably expect every significant announcement from either company to be framed in this ‘now that 5G has arrived’ way. The commercial opportunities presented by 5G are far more diverse and complex than by any previous mobile technology generation, so strategy maybe more important than ever when it comes to capitalising on the 5G opportunity.

Telia CEO hands in his notice

Johan Dennelind, CEO of Swedish telco group Telia Company, had decided to call it a day after six years at the helm.

Dennelind has a 12-month notice period, however, so he’s going nowhere in a hurry. But he’ll presumably be hoping they find his replacement sooner rather than later so he can have a nice big chunk of gardening leave and get some serious sauna time in.

“It is a true privilege to serve as President and CEO of Telia Company, one of Sweden’s oldest and largest companies,” said Dennelind. “During the last years I have, together with the Board and my team, implemented a transformation and re-alignment of Telia into a company that is well-positioned and well-equipped for the future.

“Telia Company is now entering a new phase with several opportunities for value-creation and with strong commitment from all our more than 20,000 employees. And it is after careful considerations that I now have decided to leave Telia and take on new challenges. I will continue in my role to drive our current agenda forward with full focus and commitment for as long as the Board wants.”

“During his six years as CEO, Johan has vigorously worked with the repositioning of Telia Company,” said Marie Ehrling, Chair of the Telia Board. “The culture and strategy of the company have changed fundamentally and Telia is today a company with strong business focus that truly represents responsible business. Johan’s strong and brave leadership has been crucial for this transformation. The Board and I regret that Johan has chosen to leave the company, but at the same time we respect his decision to take a new step in his career.

“I also want to emphasize the very strong cooperation we have enjoyed during Johan’s tenure as President and CEO. We have had several difficult and tough situations to address and the fact that Johan has always acted with strength and wisdom has been of great importance for the development of Telia. Johan has assured the Board that he will continue in his present role with full force as long as it is needed during his notice period. This secures continuity and focus on several important projects and processes in the company.”

It’s not known whether the new challenges Dennelind alluded to extend to more than sitting in small, hot, humid rooms, but if he does feel the need to get another job it looks like he can count on a good reference from Telia.

Europe wants another look at Telia’s move into broadcasting

Swedish telecoms group Telia wants to buy Bonnier Broadcasting but the European Commission reckons that might be bad for telly in Sweden and Finland.

Last summer Telia announced it was getting its cheque book out once more to buy Swedish company Bonnier Broadcasting, which runs TV channels in Sweden and Finland. At the time this seemed like a classic multiplay move, in which operators get into content in order to offer more complete communications bundles to their customers.

This sort of thing has taken place all over Europe for years, but the European Commission’s current mood seems to be hostile to such moves. “The in-depth investigation we are opening today aims to ensure that Telia’s proposed acquisition of Bonnier Broadcasting will not lead to higher prices for or less choice of TV channels for consumers in Finland and Sweden,” said Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

The niggle is that Telia already licenses TV channels from broadcasters to put into bundles. “The proposed acquisition of Bonnier Broadcasting by Telia Company would create a vertically integrated player in the audio-visual industry in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden,” said the EC press release.

This could mean that Telia won’t let its telco competitors license Bonnier stuff, won’t let them advertise against Bonnier stuff and could even deny access to streaming applications to customers of its competitors. Those are all reasonable concerns but surely they apply to most M&A. Furthermore you’d think anti-competitive behaviour by a telco would be a matter for national regulators.

Telia has responded by saying it figured this would happen. In a press release headlined ‘Investigation into acquisition of Bonnier Broadcasting moves into phase 2 in line with expectations’, Telia indicated it had been in the loo-p with the EC’s concerns from the start and will use this phase to put its concerns to rest. It will presumably promise to be really, really nice to its competitors if the EC let it have this one tiny little acquisition.

“A phase 2 investigation into the acquisition of Bonnier Broadcasting is fully in line with our expectations and we now look forward to continuing the constructive dialogue with the European Commission,” said Jonas Bengtsson, General Counsel at Telia. We’re confident that any concerns following the in-depth investigation will be resolved.”

Telia bags a big NB-IoT gig

Swedish operator Telia is going to connect nearly a million smart meters using narrowband IoT technology.

The deal has been signed with technology services company One Nordic, which is going to connect approximately 900,000 electricity meters for Swedish electricity distributor Ellevio using the low power wireless protocol. This is Telia’s biggest NB-IoT deal to date but the company has been keen on the commercial potential of the technology for a while.

“NB-IoT is opening up a lot of new use cases for us,” said Björn Hansen, Head of IoT at Telia. “It provides deep indoor coverage, which is ideal for connecting utility meters underground or inside buildings. It also lets us deliver economies of scale that weren’t previously possible. We’re really pleased to be able to support One Nordic on this rollout and are excited to be part of the next generation of smart metering solutions for Ellevio”.

“ONE Nordic needed a flexible, future-proof solution that was economically competitive,” said Anders Malmberg, MD of Smart Metering at One Nordic. “When connecting meters across large geographic areas, economic considerations go far beyond the connectivity alone. Telia is able to provide a high performance fully-managed network that support us in our ambition to focus on delivering first-class services to Ellevio.”

“NB-IoT technology gives us broader and deeper coverage, which is ideal for rural and deep indoor locations,” said Johan Svensson Program Manager at Ellevio. “This allows enhanced machine-to-machine communication that fits perfectly with our smart grid development. It will also allow us to develop and deploy a wide range of new IoT devices and services for our customers in the future.”

While Europe is lagging the US and East Asia in many aspects of 5G the Nordics are doing their bit to drag us along. Telia seems to be conflating NB-IoT with 5G, as indicated by its Estonia launch late last year, while Ericsson is doing its best to further develop NB-IoT. In many ways the two technologies are independent of each other but their development and adoption seem to be happening in parallel so maybe this is an area in which Europe can claim some 5G leadership.

Is telecom losing Europe’s next generation employees?

Telecoms companies did not feature in the top employers’ lists chosen by the current and potential young employees in a recent multi-country survey.

The Swedish consulting firm Academic Work recently published the results of a survey on current and future young employees in six European countries, which asked the respondents to choose their most “aspired” employer, hence the title of the survey “Young Professional Aspiration Index (YPAI) 2018”. Among the three Nordic countries where it broke down the details of the employers the young people most like to work for, Google came on top in all of them (it tied with Reaktor in Finland, the consulting firm behind the country’s big AI drive). None of the telecom companies, be it telcos or telecom equipment makers, made to the top-10’s.

 YPAI 2018

The survey was done in the four Nordic countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark) plus Germany and Switzerland. Nearly 19,000 young people, a mixture of students (22%), current employed (59%), as well as job seekers (15%) answered the survey. The majority of the respondents came out of Sweden, while just under 1,000 respondents were registered from Finland and Norway. Presumably the sample sizes were not big enough in the other three countries to break down the top-10 company lists.

YPAI 2018 respondents

In addition to asking the respondents to name their preferred employers, the survey also asked them about their most important criteria when choosing a place to work. “Good working environment and nice colleagues” came on top in four out of the six countries (chosen by 60% of the respondents in Sweden, 78% in Denmark, 73% in Germany, and 66% in Switzerland). It tied with “Leadership” in Sweden. In Finland coming on top was “varied and challenging tasks”, chosen by 60% of those who answered the survey, while in Norway 64% of the young people surveyed chose “training / development opportunities” as the most important criterion.

Once upon a time (i.e. around the turn of the century), telecom was THE industry to work in. It has been losing some of its old lustre to the internet giants. If they “aspire” to re-take the top spot of the young people’s mind share, the Ericssons and Nokias and Telenors of the world may want to refer to these criteria when promoting their corporate image, as a starting point.

Ericsson and Telia hit go button on Sweden’s first 5G network

Telia and Ericsson jointly switched on the first 5G network at KTH the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, with plans for a commercial launch across Sweden in 2020.

The partnership between the pair will see 5G applications tested at the university campus, creating a new innovation centre for the country. Interestingly enough, the pair claim network at KTH is permanent and constitutes the first building block in Sweden’s future 5G network.

“To have access to Sweden’s first 5G network here on campus is an amazing opportunity,” said Professor Jan Gulliksen, VP for Digitalization at KTH. “It gives our researchers, teachers and students a head-start when it comes to understanding and developing this new technology ahead of its wider launch. This is exactly the kind of partnership we believe helps stimulate research-driven innovation.”

“Two years ago, we promised to bring 5G to Helsinki, Tallinn and Stockholm during 2018,” said Johan Dennelind, CEO of Telia. “So, I’m especially proud to launch the first 5G network in Sweden at KTH today.

“This is going to be a truly dynamic test environment where not only large businesses and entrepreneurs from our partnership program but also researchers and students can continue to develop solutions for the connected society so that Sweden can remain at the forefront when 5G is launched commercially in 2020.”

For Sweden, this partnership demonstrates why the Nordics are often the envy of Europe when looking at connectivity and the digital economy. With two of the world’s connectivity heavyweights calling Sweden and Finland home, it should come as no surprise the local telcos play a key role in the development of future technologies.

According to Opensignal’s latest State of LTE report, Norway consistently features as one of the top performing countries worldwide, while Sweden and Finland are not too far behind. With 5G on the horizon it would be a fair bet to suggest these countries will be one of the best performers, though perhaps not realising the dream as quickly as countries such as South Korea and the US.

Ericsson gets multinational 5G core network win with Telenor

Swedish kit vendor Ericsson has got a nice lot of fresh 5G work from Swedish operator group Telenor.

The win is all about 5G core network transformation, featuring a nice lot of NFV goodness. Since the point of issuing press releases about deal wins is to generate a sense of commercial momentum, this is a pretty handy one for Ericsson as it implies an endorsement of its NFV offerings.

Since this still a relatively new, unfamiliar field, any show of commercial faith at this stage counts double. Furthermore the deal encompasses Telenor’s core networks in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, so in terms of publicity, Ericsson gets three for the price of one.

“Ericsson’s portfolio of VNF enables Telenor to become more agile while reducing costs through improved operations,” said Morten Karlsen Sørby, Telenor’s EVP and Acting Cluster Head for Scandinavia. “This transformational deal is an important step towards future-proofing our core network as we look towards 5G. It provides us with state-of-the-art virtual core applications that serve mobile and fixed access and extend the lifecycle of our legacy network.”

“Ericsson is a long-term partner to Telenor in Scandinavia, supporting the company across multiple engagements in fixed and mobile networks in the region,” said Arun Bansal, Ericsson’s Head of Europe & Latin America. “This deal strengthens that partnership by evolving Telenor’s existing network to the cloud, ensuring continued exceptional services to their customers. As we move together towards 5G it also opens up new opportunities in the IoT space.”

In other Ericsson news, the company has quietly launched a new division called Edge Gravity. As Light Reading reports, it seems to be a semi-autonomous unit within Ericsson that focuses on edge computing and “operates a global edge cloud network that links together a core network of data centers with the last-mile networks of more than 80 partners that include cable operators, telcos and mobile service providers.”

Telia finds cause for optimism in its latest numbers

Swedish operator group Telia has a spring in its step and decided to upwardly revise its outlook following better than expected Q3 earnings.

Adjusted EBITDA rose 1.8%, in the third quarter, with margin up slightly too. In his accompanying comments Telia CEO Johan Dennelind said the company’s cost reduction programme is going well and that he’s confident whatever financial objectives they set for the year will be achieved.

“We are clearly on track to deliver the net cost reduction of SEK 1.1 billion that we have set out as a priority for the year,” said Dennelind. “Our operational free cash flow continues to be strong, having generated SEK 10.2 billion over the last 12 months. Our adjusted EBITDA is growing in six out of seven countries, with Finland, Norway as well as our central units being the main drivers. The performance is a combination of strong execution of the cost ambition as well as delivering synergies and stronger propositions to customers from the acquisitions we have done in recent years.

“No doubt comparisons will continue to be tough in the fourth quarter, especially in Sweden. Still, given the performance so far, with adjusted EBITDA having grown by 4 percent excluding currency effects, we up our full year EBITDA guidance from ‘in line or slightly above the 2017 level’ to ‘slightly above the 2017 level’.”

Telia seems to be on a similar journey to its compatriot Ericsson, which also expressed cautious optimism when it announced its Q3 numbers yesterday. It’s early days but if vendors and operators continue to sound so chirpy we might be inclined to start drawing hasty conclusions about a 5G-fueled uptick in the telecoms cycle.

Telia Q3 2018

Europe approves merger of Tele2 and Com Hem, Kirkby will move to TDC

The merger of Swedish MNO Tele2 with Swedish cableco Com Hem has been approved but Tele2’s CEO Allison Kirkby isn’t hanging around.

Europe had a look at the merger, as it invariably does with any telecoms M&A on the continent, and concluded it raises no competition concerns. The resulting creation of a multiplay operator doesn’t take any players out of either the mobile or fixed markets and therefore there’s still enough competition to allow the EC to sleep soundly at night. It has also concluded a general investigation into the Swedish telecoms market with not further action required.

“We are nearing the closing of this merger and my ambition to create a leading integrated connectivity provider in the Baltic Sea region will soon be realized,” said Kirkby. “I am immensely proud of the Tele2 team’s efforts throughout this process, as well as our incredible achievements the past years.”

“I will leave a Tele2 that is stronger and better positioned to act as an integrated customer champion in an ever more digitalized world. Once the merger is closed, I feel confident that the Tele2 team, including its new colleagues from Com Hem, will continue to challenge the status quo and fearlessly liberate people to live a more connected life.”

Scandinavia seems to have left a strong impression on Kirkby, who has been poached by Danish telco TDC Group to be its new CEO. Right now TDC seems only to have made the announcement via a Danish press release, but we trust Google Translate enough to run with it. Kirkby will start her new gig in December, right after the merger closes.

The CEO of the merged company, which looks like it will be called Tele2, will be the current CEO of Com Hem, Anders Nilsson. “As one company, we will be able to offer a portfolio of truly integrated services, with significant benefits for Swedish individuals, households, businesses and our shareholders as a result,” he said.

“My main focus now is our preparations for a rapid and efficient integration, to the benefit of both our employees and customers. Together with the new Leadership Team, I will also make sure to draw from the strength, knowledge and spirit of both the Tele2 and Com Hem organizations, as well as the Tele2 Board of Directors. When closing comes, we will be ready to kick off the integration.”

The only other thing worth noting is that Kirkby had been one of the people thought likely to be in the running for the BT CEO job. The search continues.