Deploy 5G early and grab a share of the new $1.2 trillion market—Ericsson VP

Sri Lanka’s telcos have the capacity to quickly upgrade from 4G, but the regulator must move fast to give companies an early bird advantage

Fifth generation (5G) mobile networks will create new business opportunities valued at $1.2 trillion by 2026, and Sri Lanka should deploy 5G early to benefit from global opportunities, says Magnus Ewerbring, Vice President at Ericsson and Chief Technology Officer for Asia Pacific.

The number of internet connected devices will explode when 5G mobile networks rollout in a couple of years heralding the fourth industrial revolution.

“The main operators here have the technology to quickly transition to 5G, but regulators need to be proactive,” Ewerbring says. “5G will globalize the world more than ever before. The next Uber or Google can come out of Sri Lanka if you have the infrastructure in place, and the will to succeed,” he says.

Ericsson, a $28 billion revenue company that provides ICT infrastructure, services and software to the global telecom industry, estimates there will be 29 billion connected devices by 2022, of which 18 billion will be related to Internet of Things (IoT) and less than seven billion smartphones.

Headquartered in Stockholm and traded on NASDAQ, New York, Ericsson employs 110,000 people and has offices in 180 countries, including Sri Lanka. It predicts 5G will make data rates up to 100 times faster, network latency lowered by a factor of five and mobile data volumes 1,000 times greater. Video will account for 75% of mobile traffic. Battery life of remote cellular devices will last 10 years or more, and 5G networks will consume less energy and be more cost efficient through
automation. Ewerbring and Vinod Samarawickrama, Ericsson Country President-Sri Lanka and Maldives, spoke to Echelon about 5G and what it means for Sri Lanka.

Excerpts from the interview are as follows:

What’s the business potential of 5G?
Ewerbring: We looked at ICT spend across eight global industries that included manufacturing, energy, and healthcare, and estimated that 5G will generate new business opportunities worth $1.2 trillion by 2026. Of this, telco operators can track $580 billion and the rest is spread across the ICT industry.

Samarawickrama: We estimate 5G will generate $1 billion in Sri Lanka. If the telcos get half of this, that still leaves a considerable amount of business that can be captured by other industries. There is tremendous opportunity for start-ups here. We estimate opportunities arising from 5G and IoT will come in the areas of agriculture, automation, finance, manufacturing, power, and transportation. Who will be the biggest player in this space, who knows? What’s certain is that once 5G comes, people will find a way to make money. When 3G was launched decades ago, no one imagined there’d be businesses like Facebook or Uber. 5G is bigger. It brings greater opportunity, and with that comes greater disruption all over the place.

Magnus Ewerbring, Vice President at Ericsson and Chief Technology Officer for Asia Pacific

Ewerbring: This disruption is for the good. 3G brought the internet to our palms and changed the world. 5G will do the same by taking the internet to industries.

The opportunities will come fast, so Sri Lanka must be ready. The main operators here have the technology to quickly transition to 5G, but regulators need to be proactive. The government must allocate spectrum, get operators interested so business and startups can have a good spinoff in a few years. 5G will globalize the world more than ever before. The next Uber or Google can come out of Sri Lanka if you have the infrastructure in place and the will to succeed.

What benefits will 5G bring, apart from faster internet speeds?
Ewerbring: We started R&D on 5G applications around 2010, even before 4G was launched. We always take a long term view. I believe 5G will rollout mid-2019 or early 2020, when that happens, it will precipitate the next industrial revolution.

We’ll have internet that can support applications that are more real-time critical because connections will be dependable, and fast. 5G can be an alternative to last-mile fibre connectivity to homes and offices.

In terms of speed, 5G will deliver up to 100 times more speed. Data volumes will be 1,000 times more and latency will be down by a fact five to 10, that’s bringing down delays to 1-2 milliseconds. Last year, 1.7 billion smartphones were sold globally. This kind of scale is pushing down prices and they become affordable to many people. The reason why all this is possible is because of standardization. A smartphone is the same wherever in the world. Standardisation for 5G is expected to be finalized by mid-2018, and this will result in an explosion of new technology in the IoT space from wearable tech, television sets, cars, and buildings.

The application and potential of 5G is enormous and we’ve been working with our partners for nearly ten years on how to exploit this potential of having blazing speeds.

We are working with 34 telco operators from around the world apart from governments and industries sharing ideas about 5G and collaborating around science, technology and testing.

We’re developing and testing IoT devices that allow doctors to read vital signs, make diagnosis and perform surgery without having to be anywhere near their patients.

In transportation, we’re experimenting with devices that allow trucks to communicate with one another. If we can get trucks to travel single file in close range without causing an accident, it can save an enormous amount of fuel because it cuts wind resistance. Cyclists do this all the time, it’s called drafting.

Agriculture is another area with tremendous potential. In Malaysia, sensors monitor how much water that crops consume. In the US, sensors measure pH value and oxygen levels of rivers over long distances. The possibilities are endless.

Has there been any progress on standardizing frequencies for 5G yet?
Ewerbring: There’s no decision yet. Many countries are interested in the 3.5Ghz region, which is where China and Europe will be. Some countries are proposing much higher bands up to 39Ghz. Lower bands allow signals to travel a long distance, the problem is most of these are occupied. There’s plenty of free space on the higher bands but the signals are weak.

What can Sri Lanka do to prepare itself for 5G?
Ewerbring: The regulator should go with the flow and pick a frequency band that’s gaining traction with most countries. This is why standardization is critical because electronic and mobile device manufacturers need to supply compatible products globally. If a country allocates a spectrum that no other country has, the chances are few devices will work, or none at all. This has happened to some countries. So, the regulator needs to identify the patterns and make sure the spectrum is freed up early, even if it means you have to move a private company or government institution already occupying that space.

Vinod Samarawickrama Ericsson Country President Sri Lanka and Maldives, says 5G will generate $1 billion worth of new business opportunities in Sri Lanka

Not just in Sri Lanka, but regulators everywhere can give their industries an opportunity to get in early and gain valuable insights about 5G. For businesses this makes sense because they are more likely to adopt the potential when they’re in early. For consumers, the technology may be expensive at first because there are few people buying new devices, but volumes will soon grow and push prices down. By 2022, we predict 530 people will subscribe for 5G connections and a majority of them will be in China, South Korea, and the US. Sri Lankan consumers may be slow to adopt 5G, but businesses getting early will be able to tap into global markets where consumers are ready.

Samarawickrama: We’re carrying out trials here with major operators on two different frequencies. It’s too early to know what the standard frequency would be, but we’re trying to find what kind of internet speeds we can achieve here.

We’re creating awareness about what 5G can do for Sri Lanka. Ericsson will set up a 5G Lab in collaboration with Mobitel and the Ministry of Telecommunications to give businesses and startups opportunity to test an IoT device, software, app or even a game in a real-world 5G setting. We’re working with Dialog to test IoT applications around 5G in the areas of healthcare and smart cities. In Sri Lanka 80% of doctors serve 20% of the patient population so there’s tremendous potential for remote diagnosis and surgery. Smart parking and transportation are areas in city planning that we will look at. There’s opportunity to use IoT to automate our ports.

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