Interview with Andrés Vicente, President and CEO of Ericsson for the Iberia region
Taking advantage of Ericsson’s 100th anniversary, in 2022 in Spain, we, at 5TONIC, have taken the opportunity to have a conversation with Andrés Vicente, President and CEO of Ericsson for the Iberia region.
We were interested to learn more about the importance of institutions such as 5TONIC in different innovation initiatives, as well as the role played by Ericsson as a permanent member of the lab, its trajectory in Spain as an innovation company and its forecast for the future of the telecommunications industry. Undoubtedly, having the opinion of an expert like Andrés has been very important to reveal a little more about how the collaboration between Ericsson and 5TONIC works through different projects.
Who is Andrés Vicente professionally and personally?
On a professional level, I have developed my entire career in the telecommunications world, mainly at Vodafone, where I have worked for 25 years, always in very commercial roles, in charge of marketing and sales and different market segments for companies and individuals. However, it was more than a year ago that I decided to turn my career around to come to Ericsson and it is a change I am very happy about.
On a personal level, I am a father of three children, which is the greatest thing I have done in my life, and I am a person who, I think, has common interests: traveling, playing sports and enjoying life as much as I can. I am also passionate about gastronomy, because my parents had a restaurant, so it is something that I also enjoy very much.
How is Ericsson positioned in Spain?
Ericsson is a great company that has just celebrated its 100th anniversary in Spain last year and that arrived in the country in 1922 with the vocation of connecting people. One of the most remarkable things is that its mission has not changed, as it has a long history of focusing on helping to improve people’s lives through connectivity, redefining business, giving them more opportunities and achieving a more sustainable future. And even today, this mission remains as relevant as the first day we arrived here.
This vision is supported by the company’s commitment to innovation, articulating it through the successive changes that occur in the market and technology. I think it is important to highlight this adaptability and resilience within the market, because in the end, Ericsson in Spain has done a multitude of things. It has worked for defense as well as in areas that have nothing to do with telecommunications, such as the manufacture of automotive components or the manufacture of electrical components, but mainly, it has made its career in the world of telecommunications.
Ericsson is today a company that works with all telecommunications operators, but it is expanding its services to work with the entire telecommunications-related ecosystem, and this, as mobile generations advance, is increasingly relevant because, as we have seen, it has been mobile networks and mobile terminals that have made consumer digitization possible, and in this context, the innovation map is expanding enormously because it requires a very broad ecosystem. An ecosystem of companies, application developers, service generators, and so on. So, Ericsson has the ambition to be represented in all these areas.
Why does Ericsson collaborate with 5TONIC?
We have been members of 5TONIC since it was founded in 2015, because we believe that 5G, more than a technology, is a platform that will allow us to do very different things and that will transform the world beyond what 4G has done, which has already brought social networks and permanent Internet connectivity to citizens. 5G is going to enrich all this, and to do it well it needs an ecosystem of meeting points that really connect all of us who are part of the sector: From equipment manufacturers, operators and application developers to the different business verticals that will enrich the use cases, and that is 5TONIC.
Therefore, 5TONIC is an ideal complement to our investment in innovation. To give you a little background, why has Ericsson managed to become a global technology leader, with a very, very important market share in mobile technology? Because in Spain the private sector invests less than 1.5% in R&D innovation. In Europe that figure jumps to 3.4%, but Ericsson invests almost 17% of its revenues, on a recurring basis, in R&D, and in the last 3 years it has invested more than 11,000 million euros in R&D alone, with a staff of more than 26,000 engineers dedicated exclusively to R&D.
Ericsson also carries out distributed R&D because it tries to enrich it with diversity components. In fact, in Spain we have 3 R&D centers, which bring together almost 1,000 professionals. To give some references, more than 50% of the innovation of the network cores, which are the ones that manage all the intelligence of a 5G network, has been done in Spain, specifically in the R&D center in Madrid. Ericsson’s 5G networks deployed in Korea, the United States and Europe have also been made with technology developed in Spain, and this Madrid R&D center serves more than 300 operators around the world deploying 5G networks in up to 180 countries.
And not only Madrid is one of the most important components of our innovation centers. We also have Malaga, which is a center dedicated to artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data technologies, which work to make networks increasingly cognitive, predictable and automated in the detection and prevention of their own operation. In addition, we have another R&D center in Barcelona, dedicated to mission-critical networks and push-to-talk technology.
Our goal is to connect all this technology with those who can bring it to the different segments: enterprises, verticals, operators, and even the end consumer. That’s why we need partners like 5TONIC, and we are very proud of our participation as members.
What are Ericsson's areas of action and research in 5TONIC?
One of the things we do, being one of 5TONIC’s technology partners, is to provide 5TONIC with cutting-edge technology, many months in advance, for its availability in commercial deployments within the operators themselves.
To give some examples, we have deployed in 5TONIC, in a pioneering way, technologies such as 5G Standalone and Network Exposure, which facilitates the opening of operators’ networks to the developer community. Technologies such as Edge Computing, which enable ultra-low latency for certain use cases, and technologies such as end-to-end Network Slicing, which is what makes it possible to split a telecommunications network to enable different and highly customized use cases depending on the business or consumers that will receive it.
Ericsson’s second role in 5TONIC is the direct involvement in research, development and innovation. In this context, we are involved in multiple projects, mainly focused on Industry 4.0, cloud gaming, smart tourism or emergencies. In addition, we try to focus on things that we believe are going to be profoundly transformative, such as Massive Network Slicing, which is basically segmenting the network into as many layers as necessary to cover all use cases; Flexible Edge Computing, which means making the most of this ultra-low latency, or Time Sensitive Networking.
Therefore, our role is mainly focused on these two layers. Firstly, as a technology partner, where we provide the technology before there is commercial availability, and secondly, where we get involved in specific projects, helping the community to move from end-to-end.
Are there any specific cases in which Ericsson has been involved in conjunction with other 5TONIC members and partners?
There are many, but I would like to highlight one that I think portrays very well the role played by 5TONIC from the point of view of the union of ecosystems, because it is a project that we have done with a multitude of partners.
It is very focused on Industry 4.0 and the application of 5G and Edge Computing in logistics environments, specifically for autonomous guided vehicles, which are the complement that logistics centers need to automate their processes almost 100%. This is a project that we have developed with a multitude of partners, such as Telefónica, which acts as a teleoperator, ASTI, which is now ABB, as a leading manufacturer of this type of vehicles, Yerba Buena VR and Fivecomm, as startups specialized in Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Computer Vision, and also Carlos III University, as a university partner.
What we have done is to extensively validate the remote operation of these autonomous vehicles through 5G and control them from the Edge. The advantage of this is that it greatly simplifies the deployment, maintenance and operation of these vehicles from the logistics centers themselves, while optimizing their utilization and performance. This is where the importance of the Edge and 5G come to the fore, as ultra-low latency is required for this remote operation to be successful. After all, these are vehicles that transport packages simultaneously and whose control is critical, because if not, they can stop the logistics center, so they must have surveillance and a real hub component.
We have not only theorized about this, but we have also experimented and validated these use cases, working directly with the companies that have to put them into operation, and in this case, deploying them in factories such as those of Gestamp in Bilbao or Ford in Valencia.
What are the trends the industry is moving towards and which technologies do you think will have the greatest impact on society?
I think network exposure is something that is going to be a game changer, because if we really believe that 5G is a platform, the thing to do is opening up that platform to the ecosystem as soon as possible so that application developers and startups can create new use cases.
I don’t think there is a «killer app» already defined that is very easy to implement. There must be 100,000 or 200,000 different use cases, of which some will come out with a very relevant market share, but what is very important is to call on all those people who are generating innovation on a permanent basis, who are creating new ideas, and to facilitate the implementation of those ideas in order to generate products with a new type of connectivity.
What is your vision for the evolution of 5G into the future?
The first thing to do is to accelerate deployments, because that is what will later enable the different use cases to be implemented on a massive scale. For example, there are already many companies that are already investing in the Metaverse, but, for the Metaverse to be really credible and effective, it requires ultra-low latency and what is called the Internet of Senses, which will be able to reproduce smells and sensations that so far are only in the physical world.
If this is possible, and it will be, the opportunities are manifold. One example is the possibility of scaling your business globally, developing it digitally, but with a sense of purchase, attention and service similar to what you have in the physical world. So, indeed, I think it will be a fundamental change in the way we relate and the way we scale different businesses or different services globally.
How do you envision Ericsson's projection in our country for the next ten years?
Ericsson’s projection is obviously linked to the country. I see Spain as a technology platform. I think Spain has done a great job in the deployment of fixed and fiber optic networks. In fact, we are one of the most envied countries in the world for the penetration of fiber optics in Spanish homes, and this has to be complemented with 5G, because we have to bring many use cases to dynamic environments and mobility environments, which otherwise would not have coverage in ultra-rural environments, as they would not be viable, such as autonomous cars continuing to operate also in ultra-rural environments, or drones performing prevention and surveillance activities in sparsely populated environments.
That is why it is very important that 5G is deployed on a global scale. If that happens, Spain will be a technological platform, and if that happens, I am convinced that it will also be very attractive for Ericsson to continue installing more R&D projects in this country, because we already have a very successful track record, due to the qualification of Spanish engineers and their creativity, so, I imagine that Ericsson will bring more innovation projects, but I also imagine that this effort will be complemented with a richer ecosystem, in line with what we are doing now in 5TONIC, but also with other initiatives.
Recently the startup law has been approved, which for me is a fundamental step to make entrepreneurship in technology more attractive, and that effectively gives many advantages in conjunction with the large deployment of infrastructure, both in fiber and 5G that exists in Spain.
The investment of companies like Ericsson or other multinationals, bringing R&D investment here, because there is a technology platform and a rich ecosystem, allows the possibility to expand this use cases and segments. That’s where I see Ericsson and Spain in the next 10 years.