As chief marketing officer for Ericsson, Arun Bhikshesvaran is heavily involved in the company’s march towards 4G and a future roadmap of multi-technology networks that have been transformed by advances in smartphone technology.
‘The smartphone revolution has really helped people discover new things and new ways to do old things using applications and so on,’ he says. ‘Things people and businesses had to do on an internet browser sitting in front of a computer have become alive in completely new ways and in turn the devices have become smarter, smaller, more affordable and certainly more hungry in terms of the demands placed upon the networking business.’
Those changing levels of demand and varying standards have seen the firm building networks that cater for multi-technology scenarios using GSM, HSPA and LTE.
‘What we are doing now for our customers like Sprint in the US is also incorporating CDMA on the same multi-standard base station platform,’ explains Bhikshesvaran. ‘So we have all major technologies incorporated in one base station platform. This is something that’s already happening, so as we roll out these products into all network modernisation projects we will have the multi-standard capable network out there.’
Of course, then the question is: what in the spectrum is available for an operator to deploy the technology they wish to? As Bhikshesvaran points out, there has been some activity in the last three years around reforming the GSM sector and the 900MHz spectrum.
‘I think that starts to become very interesting because for us it really doesn’t make a difference as the technology we supply is capable of doing 3G and is capable of working on the 900MHz band,’ he says.
Operators already running 2G and 3G technology are starting to get additional spectrum thanks to the digital dividend, but some of this will be on higher frequency bands with more bandwidth available. They then need to upgrade their networks to handle the higher frequencies, for example, if they are looking to deploy LTE. Ericsson is already supplying multi-technology equipment capable of handling the different standards coming into use on mobile networks.
‘Where we do see the roadmap going in the next step is that operators will have multiple parts of spectrum available,’ he adds. ‘They won’t be able to combine that. They’ll move in a unified fashion towards subscribers, which is called spectrum aggregation, and comes in the next release of LTE, also known as LTE Advanced.’
When it comes to Wi-Fi, Bhikshesvaran believes we have reached an interesting stage right now, with Ericsson already having several patents out in the space.
He says the company has been very active in terms of licensing activity over the past two to three years. ‘So, in that sense we are part of that Wi-Fi business one way or the other,’ he says.
Bhikshesvaran says Ericsson has also launched a product called Network Integrated Wi-Fi, which allows for very easy integration of commercial Wi-Fi access points – something that the firm is working on with a couple of carrier customers right now.
However, when pressed on persistent rumours that Ericsson is planning to snap up some of those Wi-Fi companies that are now ripe for acquisition, he remains tight-lipped.
‘Of course, we are always on the lookout for interesting companies, so I cannot comment on specifics. For now, we just need to finish our Telcordia [the US-based telecoms R&D company] transaction,’ he says. The deal was closed on 12 January 2012.
Managed services is also something that has attracted the attention of Bhikshesvaran and Ericsson.
‘The managed services market has always been of high interest to us because what happens is that in the operator ecosystem, not everybody develops along the same lines. Some people choose to run their businesses in different ways: more financially-orientated, less operations-focused, more consumer-focused etc. and as long as they are operating towards that customer base, it allows us to have a unique offering in the form of managed services,’ he says.
‘What we have now focused on is developing capabilities in three different parts of the world. One focused on Asia in India, the second in Romania and the third one in Mexico, and so we are industrialising the whole managed services business in a very nice way to take advantage of customers that would profit in different parts of the world. So, it continues to be an important area for us and we are running it fully again, as a global scale operation, like we do any other business, while getting complete economy of scale.’
Bhikshesvaran also reveals that Ericsson has seen increasing interest from businesses in the energy and utilities sector of late. ‘For example, I was talking to the CIO of one of our utility customers about a month ago and he was telling me about how the energy industry works today. He said his company generates the energy and distributes it through its network, but they have no idea how the end users are consuming it at the other end.
‘What this gentleman was saying is that if they could understand how energy is being consumed, they could produce energy in completely different ways and not have to store it at odd times,’ he adds.
Bhikshesvaran says that if a hydro electricity business, for example, had access to this kind of knowledge it could be the difference between building a new dam or not, something equating to perhaps $5-$6bn. ‘We have customers in the likes of Australia and Canada where we are doing business directly with energy companies and enabling them to work better with the smart grids,’ he adds.
As we move into 2012, and more than a decade on from his first marketing role at the firm, Bhikshesvaran believes he has gone some way towards bridging the knowledge gap and achieving his goal of reducing the divide between technology and the customers Ericsson serves. Getting there has been a journey, but both he and Ericsson have come a long way since the day he joined as an engineer working in OSS.
• 2011 sales: SEK226.9bn (£21.3bn)
• 2011 net income: SEK12.6bn (£1.1bn)
• Hardware: 40% of sales
• Software: 23% of sales
• Services: 37% of sales
• Operations: Active in 180 countries
• Employees: 90,000
• Patents: 25,000