Ericsson’s Long View: A Networked Society

With the Mobile World Congress still fresh in the mind, we've heard a lot about connected cars, consumer devices, and cities. To steal a line from post-punk band Timbuk3, “The future's so bright I gotta wear shades.” (Did I just completely date myself with that reference? That's OK, I'll own it. It makes a relevant point.)

That's something Hans Vestberg, CEO of {complink 1879|Ericsson AB} is thinking about, too. Up on the MWC stage, Vestberg dropped a few salient points that will get tech lovers' hearts beating faster as they think up new business opportunities and innovative solutions:

  • Today, 85 percent of the world's population has mobile coverage.
  • By 2016, three times as many people will have broadband access as do today.
  • Only 10 percent of all mobile subscribers in the world have a smartphone today, a number likely to change very quickly in the next few years.
  • For every 10 percent of broadband penetration, you get 1 percent of sustainable GDP.
  • US smartphone users spend only 26 percent of their phone-time doing voice calls. Three-quarters of their time is spent doing other things, many of which involve Internet-related activities.
  • Last year, an Ericsson study found that about 40 percent of all smartphone users use their smartphones before getting out of bed in the morning.
  • By 2020, Ericsson believes, there will 50 billion connected devices.

“Anything that benefits from being connected will be connected in the future,” Vestberg told the crowd. “We are just at the beginning of creating a networked society. The limitation of what we can do is how much we can imagine.”

Obviously, though, all these connected things will only be possible if communication networks can support the load and perform efficiently and effectively. To this end, Ericsson employs 22,000 R&D employees and spends about $5 billion annually to improve networking performance, capacity, and data traffic management, he added.

Additionally, the Swedish company is looking at other growth patterns that will have a significant impact on the tech sector and many other industries. One of them is the trend of global urbanization.

“Every hour, 7,500 people are moving into cities. That means, every week, a new Stockholm or a new New Orleans is created,” he said. “By 2016, 30 percent of Earth's population will be living in cities [covering] 1 percent of the Earth, creating 60 percent of all the data traffic. How can we support this trend?”

According to Johan Wibergh, executive vice present of Ericsson Networks, part of the solution will depend on how well networks are managed and expanded to handle latency and capacity. Taking the conversation further, Wibergh suggested that the industry take the following steps:

  • Optimize
  • the micro network to get the most capacity and performance from existing systems and to support smartphone growth.

  • Add
  • lower-power cells in the network to handle traffic in smaller, denser areas such as train stations, sporting venues, and shopping centers, since 80 percent of data traffic happens indoors.

  • Build
  • efficient heterogeneous networks and support systems to better handle the load and capacity while reducing interference.

See what I mean? Even if only a fraction of this happens in the near future, we're all going to be spun into the networked society, whether we want to or not. I guess I'd better get myself a new pair of sunglasses. The future's so bright, and all that.

2 comments on “Ericsson’s Long View: A Networked Society

  1. Cryptoman
    March 12, 2012


    Ericsson is approaching the problem under the assumption that all wireless data traffic will be routed via trunked networks that have base stations. This is one area where Ericsson makes money; by selling wireless infrastructure equipment. The future will surely bring alternative wireless data routing possibilities that are cheaper and more efficient.

    The expected growth in number of wireless devices suggests that there will be sufficient devices per square meter to establish reliable ad hoc wireless networking in the near future. If each wireless device is seen as a mini gateway, then each device can become an active node in a huge mesh network that provides global coverage and can participate in routing data it receives from many other wireless devices.

    Three obvious issues with such ad hoc networking are:

    1 – Security: Would we feel comfortable routing our data through other unknown wireless devices in the vicinity? Maybe if the data is segmented first and each segment is routed via a different wireless mini gateway (like in an IP network), security may not be a big concern.

    2 – Latency: The number of hops from source to destination in the ad hoc networking scenario will limit the type of applications such technology can be used for. For example, routing an email or a file via this ad hoc network could work whereas real-time voice communication can fail very miserably.

    3 – Participation: Some users may not wish their mobile device to participate in this global ad hoc mesh network due to reasons such as privacy, battery life, and device performance concerns. As the level of user participation drops, the ad hoc network will inevitably become less effective and capable.


  2. stochastic excursion
    March 15, 2012

    Something like that analogous to the internet in the wired world would definitely have advantages.  You mention battery life as a limiting factor, but depending on the density of devices that are participating, it might take less power to get a signal to the next hop. 

    Worst case if yours is the only device in the area, you're back to the standard we have today.  I wonder how you'd handle going from one topology to another.

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