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Ericsson CEO warns of Chinese advantage if 6G standard splits

Börje Ekholm, CEO of Swedish kit vendor Ericsson, reckons the West could be at a disadvantage if China ends up developing its own 6G standard.

Scott Bicheno

August 24, 2021

2 Min Read
Ericsson CEO warns of Chinese advantage if 6G standard splits

Börje Ekholm, CEO of Swedish kit vendor Ericsson, reckons the West could be at a disadvantage if China ends up developing its own 6G standard.

Ekholm was speaking exclusively to Light Reading “If the tech world is fragmented East and West then it is going to mean competition between two ecosystems,” he said. “A Chinese ecosystem will be formidable competition for the West. It concerns me that end users – customers and enterprises – will feel it in their mobile experience.”

Allowing for the diplomatic language you would expect from the head of a global company, Ekholm seems to be saying he thinks China has a distinct R&D advantage when it comes to telecoms tech. “Despite strong 5G investment in the US, it’s less clear whether a Western ecosystem will keep up with the vast R&D spend in Asia – particularly China – that’s already happening,” he said later in the interview.

The reason the prospect of a standard split is even being discussed is the snowballing trade war between the US and China. US policy has effectively been to exclude Chinese telecoms vendors from as many markets as possible, using its considerable diplomatic influence with its allies to follow suit. Some, such as the UK, seem to have managed to do so without significant diplomatic repercussions (so far), but Sweden hasn’t been so fortunate.

It’s generally accepted that Ericsson’s significantly diminished share during the most recent round of 5G work in China was a direct result of Sweden banning Chinese vendors from its own 5G network. While that adds weight to the suspicion that there are unhealthily strong ties between the Chinese private sector and its government, it still leaves Ericsson with little prospect of winning much work in the world’s largest telecoms market.

Further US restrictions are making it harder for Western companies to collaborate with the likes of Huawei over the development of future standards, the way things are going China will likely keep the findings of its considerable R&D spend to itself, effectively splitting the standard. It’s easy to think that wouldn’t be so bad, since China tends to play by its own rules anyway, but the chances are any other countries that are beneficiaries of its Belt and Road Initiative would also adopt the standard.

“I am less worried about Ericsson in that scenario,” said Ekholm. “Ericsson can survive. Ericsson can work there. But will the technology ecosystem in the West be large enough or are we going to suffer on technology developments and productivity developments? That is the big question.” It certainly is, especially when you consider how much we’ve spent on things like Covid lockdowns and foreign interventions. Developing a coherent global strategy on 6G development needs to be a high priority now that other distractions are slowly resolving themselves.

About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of Telecoms.com, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Telecoms.com Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Telecoms.com Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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