At its recently concluded Networked Society Forum (NEST), Ericsson brought together its senior leadership team, many of its customers, and a fair number of deep thinkers who make their living as “futurists.” The goal of the event was to stimulate some out-of-the-box thinking regarding future challenges that will face society as the world’s population becomes increasingly urban; one stat thrown around at the conference, for example, was that by 2050, 70% of the earth’s people will live in cities. Of course, as part of this discussion, Ericsson took care to cultivate the message that ICT networks are going to be at the center of many solutions aimed at maintaining and, hopefully, increasing quality of life as we will increasingly be forced to live our lives while encroaching on each other’s personal space.
After much of this high-minded thinking – stimulated, in part, by a private performance from Katy Perry – was wrapping up, a group of journalists and analysts were invited to show up and interact with Ericsson’s execs and a few of the futurists who remained on-site. As part of the media/analyst program, Ericsson talked a bit about its vision regarding the structure and performance requirements for future telecom networks. Boiled down, the Swedish vendor’s message focused on two key themes:
- 5G – Unlike their 2G/3G/4G predecessors, “5G” will not be solely defined by advances in radio access technology, but rather by the ability of operators and their equipment suppliers to seamlessly integrate all manner of access technologies to serve a number of use cases (think fixed/mobile/WiFi integrated to serve the diverse needs of enterprise, consumer, public safety, etc.).
- Network Slices – Future service delivery will not be about selling access technologies and throughput (i.e., fixed broadband, mobile broadband, etc.), but rather about ensuring application performance by allocating the appropriate level of network access to satisfy a varied mix of service delivery requirements (think a “slice” dynamically allocated to deliver a mobile video chat session at a cell edge, another “slice” allocated for an HD voice call, another “slice” allocated to enable an M2M transaction, etc.).
From an event as intentionally unstructured as NEST, key takeaways can sometimes be difficult to come by. Of course, there were some far out propositions, including – ready for this – transportation-as-a-service: fleets of automatically piloted vehicles that people jump in and out of willy-nilly in order to get where they are going. However, what struck me was the way in which Ericsson presented a credible view of future networking requirements and then subtly, but unambiguously, pointed out that it is the world leader in most, if not all, of the key functional areas that will need to come together in order to make this vision happen.
Obviously, Ericsson will be challenged by a multitude of very large, mainly rich, competitors including Accenture, Amdocs, IBM, Oracle, HP, Huawei, Cisco and many more. However, if the goal of NEST was to get a big group of stakeholders thinking about high-tech solutions to a raft of future challenges and position Ericsson at the center of these solutions, then I came away thinking that the company pulled it off.