Future Tech 2024: An Interview with Håkan Eriksson (Ericsson)
In this Future Tech interview, we’re speaking with Håkan Eriksson, the CEO of Ericsson Australia and New Zealand about a future where everything is connected. Håkan has been instrumental in building Ericsson’s technology leadership across many technology standards during his 25+ years in the company.
Shara Evans (SE): Today, it is my absolute pleasure to be speaking with Håkan Eriksson, who is the CEO of Ericsson Australia and New Zealand. Håkan has an impressive background as the President of Ericsson Silicon Valley, the Group Chief Technology Officer at Ericsson, and the Head of Ericsson Research. Today, we’re going to talk about the telecom and services world in the year 2024.
Håkan, welcome to the Future Tech interview series!
Håkan Eriksson (HE): Thank you!
SE: Let’s start with Ericsson’s vision that in 2020 everything that can be connected will be, perhaps even 50 billion devices. Can you tell us a bit more about your vision of a networked society?
HE: Yes. Well, first of all, 50 billion is not even a question mark. I think that’s probably even underestimated if we go to 2020. The next thing you have to ask yourself or maybe the first thing is even: what is the definition of a connected device? In my definition, anyway, it has to be something that has some kind of two-way communication; otherwise there will be lots of devices that you would see being connected somehow.
We are already up to 6.8 billion [mobile] subscriptions in the world. By 2019 it will be 9.2 billion subscriptions. When you think about all the other things that you have that will be connected, your car and other things that you have — maybe you have a few devices yourself, your phone, your tablet and your TV — there will be lots of things. We only have to have about 5 things each, and then we’re up to 50 billion. I think there will be lots and lots of connected devices.
One way to start the whole thing is to look at: what are the key criteria driving connectivity? Then it’s the evolution of reasons for connectivity, how can we get higher and higher speeds, how can we get connectivity available in more and more places? In Australia, for instance, we now have 3G coverage for 99 percent of the population, and we have 4G coverage for up to 85 percent of the population.
SE: And growing!
HE: And growing. And then with the NBN, we will have high bit rates basically everywhere through fibre, through fixed wireless and through satellites. There will be nowhere, basically, where you will not have connectivity. When you have connectivity somewhere, people will have the convenience to use it. If not they will ask, “Why can’t I do here what I can do when I’m at home?” That will drive the need for connectivity to be available and the speed of the connectivity. Then we come to also reduce the latency in connectivity to make it possible to do things that we haven’t done before.
SE: I’d like to ask you a question on one of your comments regarding the need for two-way communications with devices. I’m thinking of things like sensor networks, for example deployed in agriculture. Do you think those types of devices will need two-way communications? Or are there devices that will simply be emitting signals, perhaps individually transmitting small amounts of data, but that collectively get collated into massive amounts of data, as well? And are you considering this type of device in the 50 billion connected devices count? Or, might there be even more devices connected by 2020?
HE: The reason why I excluded them was because, as soon as you start introducing them, 50 billion will be a very, very small number. If you take one example, you have barcodes today on everything you buy. Actually, everything is in barcode, not only products in the stores but your boarding passes and basically everything around the world.
SE: Yes. And, we’ve got QR codes on our phone.
HE: Yes, that is going from barcodes to QR codes, from one dimensional to two-dimensional. In a while, it will become RFID tags — they will be radio mirrors, and if you send a signal to them, they emit the signal back to the device or the tag. Then maybe we’ll come also to image-recognition products, and the consumers basically are taking pictures of something, and then you’d know what it is. You don’t have to have a barcode on it to identify what it is. All those things, if you combine all those, then 50 billion would be a very…
SE: It would be a tiny number, wouldn’t it?
HE: It would be tiny. That’s why I said 50 billion are the ones that have two-way communication.
SE: Right. That makes a lot of sense.
The Importance of IPv6
HE: Then the amenities. If you consider just the IP addressing space needed. We went from IPv4 to IPv6 because we’re running out of address space. With IPv6 how many addresses would you need? I think there are enough IPv6 addresses to have one IPv6 address for every square centimetre on Earth, including the oceans and everything.
HE: In theory, everything ever produced could have an IPv6 address—every tile, everything. So if you have lost your phone somewhere in a shopping mall that has of over a million tiles, you can know exactly where amongst all those tiles. It’s your phone that’s communicating with the tile and back. If that is also included, that 50 billion will of course be a very small number.
SE: That’s the first time I’ve heard it mentioned that anything manufactured could have an IPv6 address. The more that I think about that statement, the more interesting it becomes and perhaps more realistic in the very short-term future.
HE: Yes, because then you can track everything ever produced. If you have a product fault or whatever …
SE: It’s got this unique address.
HE: It has a unique address. Then you have to consider, “How do I get from that to get something out of it?” That’s where connectivity comes in.
HE: Then connect into the cloud where all the information is. Then you can actually know exactly where it was produced, how it was produced — even the sock that you’re wearing. Check the IPv6 address, and you know exactly who produced it, where and when.
SE: And then it unravels in the washing machine.
HE: More importantly, where is the other sock that belongs to that sock so you can have both of them?
SE: That’s really funny!
Drivers For Change
Let’s turn back now to some of the factors that are driving the development of all these new technologies and services. In your view, what are the main drivers?
HE: I think it depends on which level you put it, but I think it’s just a constant interaction between what is possible and what people want to do. That has to happen in not small steps, but in these repeated steps.
SE: So, it’s a cyclical thing.
HE: If you ask somebody in 1995, “Do you want a 4G network,” they would say, “Why would I need a 4G network?” But then when you give them at least a 2G network, then you can see what they can do with it, but they say, “That’s all great, but it would be nice if it was a little bit faster than that,” so it has to happen in steps like that.
New Consumer Services
Shara Evans (SE): Lets continue on with broadband and connectivity in 2024, and the new services connectivity would bring.
Håkan Eriksson (HE): When you think about what greater broadband and connectivity means — there’s more and more online shopping. What has happened to the old, say, Australia Post store, or whatever mailing service around the world, as people started to email and this business is going away. So you might not have a mailbox in the future. Basically, what I get in my mailbox just goes straight from the mailbox to the paper-recycling bin. I don’t even bring it into my house because my blue bin is between my mailbox and my house.
SE: You throw out your bills?
HE: No, I have the bills electronically sent to me also. I’d rather have it auto-deducted or I get an email or a notification from my Internet bank but I don’t get any physical bills. That’s me. I’m practically avoiding papers. I don’t have paper.
SE: I try to avoid it as much as possible, but for company records you need to have the printed paper or go back seven years in time…
HE: Maybe in Australia — probably not in Sweden.
SE: Yes, maybe it is different there. Personally, I still need those printed things, at least for the company.
HE: Yes. What I think what will happen is that in fact the mailbox will get bigger because half of the big mailbox will be a fridge.
SE: A fridge in the mailbox?
HE: Yes. Where you have your mailbox today, you’ll have a big mailbox instead of small one, and you’ll actually have a fridge there.
SE: Your groceries will get delivered to you?
SE: You’d better hope nobody takes your groceries.
HE: No, this is locked.
SE: Okay, got you.
HE: You have to give a PIN code for the guy that delivers to open the mailbox door.
SE: Yes. Otherwise, everybody will take your groceries!
HE: Before we had cars, you went to the stores where you live. Then that became too expensive. Then you got the car and you drove out to the stores. This is the main distribution warehouse that you drove to, and did your weekend shopping, and then back. Now people don’t have time to do weekend shopping anymore. They don’t go every day, and they don’t go every weekend. Maybe they want to go back every day but don’t want to spend the time. We go online, and we actually see much better online what it is, some of the details. And, you buy the same things every day, every time, anyway — your favourites.
You know your favourite cereal or milk or whatever it is. With everything you have RFID tags, and you have the scanner in the fridge at home. As soon as you go below your set quota of always two litres of orange juice, it will just send a message. It will sit in your fridge. When you come home, you will never run out of that kind of thing. It’s either in that fridge or the fridge in the mailbox outside.
You can see the trends first happening in the US today. Amazon did not have any distribution centres in California because of the State laws in California — if you don’t have a brick-and-mortar office in the State, you can buy it GST free. If you have physical facilities, you have to pay GST. So, Amazon located in States without any GST and sold to all of the US.
HE: But it took two days to get it. Now for about a year, they have changed their strategy completely. They’re building these warehouses around Los Angeles. Their strategy is that if you can wait four hours for a product, you should do it online. They will deliver in four hours.
SE: Well, they’re also announced Amazon Air Prime, which is set to launch next year, which is drone-based delivery, where they’re talking about 30-minute delivery.
SE: And, it may not be a human who delivers it to you.
HE: Exactly — it might be those driverless cars that come to deliver to your fridge.
SE: Or a little drone that just flies it to your front door and has the right signal to unlock your fridge box.
HE: Depends on the weight of what you’re buying. Probably not something heavy with drones, but if it’s something more expensive and light, like food or an emergency like flowers or something.
SE: Yes, (laughing) when you’ve done something wrong to your partner.
HE: I think that would then come back to who will benefit from all this connectivity. These companies will benefit from it. Of course they already do. You will save time because you don’t have to go out to do your weekend shopping or just the basic things that you know that you need anyway. Maybe you want to buy a nice dress, you’d still go out and do that because that’s a different thing.
SE: Yes, it’s very much about what you’d like.
SE: In Ericsson’s labs, are you looking at consumer trends in deciding where to put your research dollars? Do you also tap into your telco, enterprise and government customers for consumer insights?
HE: Yes. The Ericsson ConsumerLab is doing these kinds of surveys and studies all over the world to see what people are doing and what they think is important, what they think is less important. One thing that comes up clearly in those studies is that network quality is extremely important — reliability. When you get used to something working, you want it to work everywhere and you get very frustrated if it doesn’t. Things that you didn’t need many, many years ago — you didn’t even have it — now it’s absolutely essential that you have it.
SE: Mobile would certainly be a big, big part of it. People just want to be able to have their smartphones work.
HE: Yes, and connectivity in general. It’s quite amazing. A few months ago, there was one of Ericsson’s offices that had a power failure, and the decision was taken for staff to go home. The WiFi and connectivity was down and the air conditioning was down. The obvious conclusion was that they had to send people home to work from home. If we go back 20 years, I think most offices didn’t have WiFi and they didn’t have air conditioning. It was perfectly fine to work there anyway. Now, suddenly, if you don’t have connectivity, then you might as well go home because you can’t even work.
SE: That’s right. If you don’t have access to information you can’t work. And, so many of us are knowledge workers that we just can’t do our jobs — full stop.
HE: That sort of thing will end up more and more in the cloud because even if you had printed out something—if you have the latest version, the latest revision, it means you need to keep it updated, so if you don’t have the connectivity, you don’t know if what you’re working with is the right document.
Who Will Benefit From Ubiquitous Connectivity?
SE: It really goes to the ubiquity of network connectivity. One of the questions that I had looking into the future is: who is going to benefit from this? Is it going to be the telcos, or is it going to be perhaps other over-the-top players? Who do you see actually being able to monetise this connectivity?
HE: I think it’s going to be all of us. Everybody is going to come on board. The evolution over the last few hundred years have gone through phases. I mean, we’ve, first of all, had people sailing on the oceans. That was one way of connectivity. It was too difficult to go through the bushes, through the forest. Then we asked that maybe we can bring the oceans inland by digging canals. We’ve been digging for some time, and then came the railroads, and then came the more flexible highways that cars could drive around instead of having trains, almost like going from circuit switched to packet switched in communications. Then from the highways came telecommunications.
Of course, people building the connectivity network, they benefit from it and may profit from that, but then a lot of benefit comes from just people using it.
HE: There was a study released by the ACMA, which showed how much mobile broadband had contributed to the Australian GDP, and I think it was around $34 billion dollars.
SE: Yes, I remember that speech. It was in that order of magnitude. It’s a massive amount.
HE: Basically, the first beneficiary of the connectivity is society as a whole. That is what we mean by a networked society that everybody is benefitting.
SE: It benefits the whole gross national product, full stop.
HE: Yes, and people’s health, and lower CO2 emissions, and everything. Then of course inside the industry we can start looking at the value chain, and it will look different to different parts of the industry. We’re working with Maersk for transport. Basically, every container has one radio.
If we go back to what I said before, everything that has ever been produced gets some kind of tag and an IPv6 address. You put that on the container. Somewhere in that container is a radio, and then we put that radio on the ship, and that ship has another radio that can talk to its containers, and the ship can talk to the satellites to somewhere else. Then you can track exactly where this product is right now. You can put other sensors on. You can also track what temperature it has been, how much it’s been shuttled around, and where that happened.
SE: That has huge implications for the manufacturing and transport industries.
HE: And the insurance industry and for me as a consumer also. Maybe if you want to see the different tiers of food products: how is it being produced, where is it produced, what are the sources, what are the standards?
SE: That can even help with spoil dates and things of that nature, too.
About the author: Shara Evans is internationally acknowledged as a cutting edge technology futurist, commentator, strategy advisor, keynote speaker and thought leader, as well as the Founder and CEO of Market Clarity.
In Part 2 of the interview with Håkan Eriksson we continue our discussion about ubiquitous connectivity, including connected cars, 5G, virtualisation, software defined networks, and data analytics. As well as how all of this can be mashed together into applications, for instance, to enhance public safety.
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