Outlook 2021: Investments Will Continue in 5G, AI, IoT, EDGE Computing and Cloud

Wojciech Bajda, Vice President and Head of Ericsson GCC, speaks about 2021 opportunities

How was 2020 for the industry and your company?
Mobile networks proved a critical backbone amid this pandemic. Cellular, fixed broadband, and wireless technologies are all essential for helping businesses of all sizes keep things running remotely. They also allow us to check in regularly with family members from afar and to catch-up with friends, albeit virtually. Many telecom providers have recognized that their services are proving an essential lifeline now more than ever.

What sort of opportunities did 2020 bring along?
Recent events have emphasized more than ever that ubiquitous connectivity, underpinned by pioneering innovation, is a must for ensuring the wellbeing of businesses and societies as a whole. In this spirit, countries are expected to recognize next-generation mobile communication as one of the key drivers of digital transformation as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. Such recognition should also aim to preserve industry-led standardization efforts to develop this technology – which will lay the foundation of a more connected, sustainable society.

Did you face any challenges in 2020?
This year will go down in history as one which saw widespread global disruption, caused by a pandemic that has shaken every economy and significantly impacted everyday life. It has been a big strain on everyone, no matter where in the world you live. While countries may have differed in their approaches to containing the virus, all face a future with irreversible changes in the ways that we live and work. In retrospect, 2020 will probably also be known as the year when society as a whole took a giant leap forward in our digitalization journey.

What were your key achievements in 2020?
As the demand for capacity and coverage of cellular networks continues to grow, 5G is no longer just a novelty. Instead, it is entering the next phase, when many new devices and end-user applications make the most out of the technological benefits it provides, while communications service providers worldwide continue the build-out of 5G.  By the end of this year over 1 billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, will live in 5G coverage areas.

What promises does 2021 bring along?
LTE will remain the dominant mobile access technology by subscription – projected to peak in 2021 at 4.8 billion subscriptions and decline to around 3.9 billion subscriptions by the end of 2026 as more subscribers migrate to 5G. Significant 5G volumes are expected in 2021 and the MENA region is likely to reach around 130 million 5G subscriptions in 2026, representing around 15 percent of total mobile subscriptions, according to the Ericsson Mobility report

In addition, deployment of the first modules supporting Critical IoT use cases is expected in 2021. The first 5G NR-capable IoT platforms have recently been released. Modules from several vendors are available, as well as tailored platforms for PCs and advanced wearables. In the second half of 2020 and during 2021, this is expected to expand to include use cases involving personal and commercial vehicles, cameras, industry routers, and gaming.

Do you see opportunities in the regional markets with new markets opening up?
5G is expected to reach 130 million subscriptions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region by 2026, representing 15% of total mobile subscriptions. These forecasts are included in the November 2020 edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report, along with projections for data traffic growth, and regional subscriptions.

Commercial 5G deployments with leading service providers have taken place in the region during 2019 and 2020 with 5G subscriptions forecast to reach close to 1.4 million by the end of 2020, mainly in the Gulf countries. The MENA region is expected to have the highest growth in monthly mobile data usage during the forecast period, increasing total mobile data traffic by a factor of almost 7 between 2020 and 2026. The average data per smartphone is expected to reach 30GB per month in 2026.

According to you, which technologies will be in demand in 2021?
The time-critical communications ecosystem is starting to develop from 2021 with end-to-end network slicing and edge computing. Major functionality growth for time-critical communications is expected over standalone 5G networks beyond 2021. Cloud gaming represents the full potential of 5G for both consumers and businesses – gamers benefit from enriched experiences, including lighter and more affordable gaming devices, longer battery life, and new immersive gaming experiences, while communications service providers get a wide range of new business opportunities.

What will be your key focus areas for 2021? 
Addressing customers’ needs and ensuring proactive customer care is one of the key business priorities for operators today. A satisfied user is generally less likely to switch operator, adding considerable competitive advantage and eventually leading to higher operator revenue. In 2021, we aim to continue excelling in delighting our customers and delivering the best-performing networks.

Globally, Ericsson will keep investing in new technologies like 5G, AI, IoT, EDGE Computing, and Cloud. Our goal is to unleash the creativity and innovation to fully leverage and propel 5G in the region – this will not only help develop new 5G-based applications and business models but also contribute towards achieving economic prosperity and Industry 4.0. We also want to spend a lot of time on promoting local talents and leveraging our long-standing experience and expertise in the field of the 5G-networked industry to contribute towards mapping the digital future of GCC countries.

Do you plan to enter new markets or add new products/applications to your portfolio in 2021? 
Ericsson’s R&D capabilities are one of the strongest in the ICT industry. We consistently launch new products and services and make them available to support our customers to be even more successful. Our vision of the future will involve even higher-speed connectivity, linking people and businesses across the globe so that any data — from text to photos, to HD streaming video, to sensor data — can be transferred in an instant, anywhere in the world.

The future includes exciting Internet of Things (IoT) possibilities, both in our homes, when and where we shop for goods and services, and on busy factory floors and industrial sectors. The possibilities are endless and hard even to imagine: totally immersive VR experiences, connected transportation networks, and nearly lag-free response times from first responders.

Clearly, mobile communications are very different today than a decade ago, or even a year ago. To unlock the potential advances of future mobile technology, Ericsson is committed to working with our partners to establish an industry-wide culture of innovation. We are proud to be a global player with a presence in 180 countries and we will never give up on discovering new opportunities.

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Chris Fernando

Chris N. Fernando is an experienced media professional with over two decades of journalistic experience. He is the Editor of Arabian Reseller magazine, the authoritative guide to the regional IT industry. Follow him on Twitter (@chris508) and Instagram (@chris2508).

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