Swiss operator Swisscom has signed a network transformation deal with Ericsson, which the latter claims is the world’s first commercial 5G deal.
More than any of its competitors Ericsson is all-in on 5G. While Huawei and Nokia have quite diverse interests, including major fixed-line businesses, Ericsson is increasingly looking to narrow its focus on mobile broadband and that, of course, means 5G. It is therefore vital that Ericsson make itself synonymous with 5G in the eyes of operators and the wider world.
At a recent event apparently created to achieve just that Arun Bansal, Ericsson’s regional boss in Europe and Latin America, claimed Ericsson Radio System is the only 5G-ready baseband platform currently available. Nokia and Huawei subsequently begged to differ, but regardless of the technological details, Bansal’s claim showed how aggressive Ericsson’s 5G strategy is.
With that in mind it wasn’t surprising to hear that Bansal was doing a bit of a press briefing drive in support of what could easily be dismissed as yet another deal win story, the likes of which the Telecoms.com inbox is usually saturated with.
At the start of the interview we challenged Bansal to convince Telecoms.com readers why anyone outside of Ericsson or Swisscom should care. “Because it’s the world’s first commercial deal for 5G,” he replied. Of course every other press release these days has 5G plastered all over it in the time-honoured telecoms industry tradition of over-exploiting the next big thing, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see that claim contested too, but there it is.
“5G is moving from hype to reality,” insisted Bansal, explaining that Swisscom asked Ericsson to make its network 5G-ready, specifically with industrial use-cases in mind. Primarily this seems to involve Machine Type Communication (MTC), via NB-IoT and critical MTC via LTE Cat-M1. This in turn will require the main technological leap associated with 5G – network slicing – so there’s a fair bit of virtualization work being done to prepare the Swisscom network for all that.
The more immediate boost to the Swisscom network from this deal will be ‘gigabit LTE’ via a cocktail of carrier aggregation and massive MIMO cleverness, starting next year. This is more about capacity and network reliability than trying to give end-users 1 Gbps MBB, but Bansal regerred to it as ‘enhanced LTE’ which seems to imply a distinct stepping stone towards the eMBB promised by 5G.
“We would like to offer the best network to our customers in Switzerland – today and in the future,” said Heinz Herren, CIO and CTO at Swisscom, in the canned comments that came with the press release. “That’s why we invest massively in the latest mobile network technologies such as Gigabit LTE and 5G. Ericsson is a true leader in 5G technology and I am convinced that together, we will achieve our goal to deliver greater innovation and provide customers with the best experiences.”
This 5G bullishness is a welcome sign of life from Ericsson, which is still struggling to demonstrate it has turned the corner following years of redundancies and executive purges. Bansal insisted that the Swisscom deal is a ‘proof-point’ of his claims and, while it’s vital that Ericsson reminds the world what a strong player it remains in mobile broadband, but it would be well advised not to labour the ‘first to 5G’ angle too much or it will start to dilute its significance.