Fourth Industrial Revolution

How 5G's innovation potential will lift digitalization to the next level

5G is a platform for exponential innovation.

5G is a platform for exponential innovation. Image: Ericsson

Börje Ekholm
President and Chief Executive Officer, Ericsson
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Fourth Industrial Revolution

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • High-performing 5G networks are needed to support the next stage of cloud- and AI-based digitalization.
  • A new initiative giving software developers access to 5G network capabilities aims to democratize innovation.
  • With technological advancements key to confronting global challenges, forward-thinking governments must implement the necessary policies.

Imagine a world where you can utilize any government service seamlessly with an intelligent digital identity. Or a world where remote technicians have guaranteed levels of connectivity and video access to do their jobs safely in real time over AR. Or a world where we can pinpoint the exact status of international shipments at any time, guide drones beyond line-of-sight, and build and explore enhanced 3D maps.

All of this is possible with the power of the network. To make it a reality, we need to both build high-performing networks globally and redefine how people can access and consume network capabilities.


How is the World Economic Forum fostering a sustainable and inclusive digital economy?

Over the past three decades, mobile connectivity has transformed the world in ways we couldn't have imagined. Today, we have near-ubiquitous connectivity globally, with 8.6 billion mobile phone subscriptions. And over the last 30 years, data speeds have increased at a rate faster than Moore's Law.

4G networks gave rise to the app economy and digitalized consumer life. Digitalization become a crucial tool for solving society’s biggest challenges, including the climate crises and social inclusion. But to take the next step in digitalization, the “best effort” connectivity of 4G for consumers is not enough. We need faster speeds, reduced latency and improved quality of service to achieve complete digitalization in both enterprises and the public sector.

Previously, satisfying those demands required fixed connections. That has all changed with 5G networks, which are 10 times more powerful than previous generations.

Over the next five to 10 years, we see the development of a mobile-first world supported by cloud and AI, as well as the acceleration of major trends such as electrification, resilient supply chains, net zero emissions and industrial automation. Mobile is especially important because we can't deploy cloud or AI at scale without connectivity.

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A network platform for exponential innovation

5G is a platform for exponential innovation. And we are making advanced 5G network capabilities available to the world’s developer community using open interfaces known as network APIs.

These APIs allow application developers to call up specific network resources, such as quality of service, speed, latency and location. Network APIs are a key stepping stone for exponential innovation as developers can create enhanced services without needing to understand complex network technology.

We started offering network features on-demand several years ago with a speed-on-demand trial in Hong Kong. However, commercialising that trial globally would have required developers to contract individually with every single operator worldwide. This is simply not viable.

We needed to make it easy for the developers to access advanced network capabilities for all networks, not just one or a few. And that’s what we’re creating through Ericsson’s Global Network Platform.

Last fall, we announced the first commercial partnership with Deutsche Telekom, in which they will offer communication and network APIs to developers and enterprises using Ericsson's platform. This was a giant first step towards our digital future – making it possible for developers and enterprises to get easy access to the network's advanced capabilities to create entirely new use cases.

Making network APIs globally available will allow innovators and entrepreneurs to develop new applications wherever they are on the planet, as long as they have access to the digital infrastructure. This can democratize the creation of new companies and make it less centred on established technology hubs like the American west coast.


Looking to 2024 and beyond

Strong digital infrastructure is already critical for a country's competitiveness and will become even more so in 2024 and beyond. Policy-makers must play a key role in encouraging and supporting these advancements. Countries with forward-leaning governments – such as Singapore and India – have already developed advanced digitalization plans built on 5G and are excellent models to build on, with China and North America also global leaders.

We are already working with frontrunner customers in places like the US to build cutting-edge 5G networks. These are built using the latest cloud technologies based on ORAN-standardized interfaces. This kind of open architecture specifically acts as a springboard for developers to drive use and business cases.

By contrast, Europe is at a crossroads. It has fallen behind in job creation, losing out on digitalization due to a lack of infrastructure. It’s time to change this, or Europe risks being an industrial museum without digital technologies. It needs a functioning and healthy digital single market to drive economy-wide digitization to boost productivity, reduce the amount of energy required per unit of output to achieve the goals of the European Green Deal and provide a training ground for digital skills.

The digital future will happen; it's just a matter of how fast and where it happens first. With exponential technologies at our fingertips, we don't want to settle for just incremental change. We want to strive for total digital reinvention. Together, we can enable connectivity in every aspect of society, from cars to clothes to building materials to areas we haven't imagined yet. Are you ready to join us?

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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