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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.

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.

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12 comments

  1. Avatar Rubber Stamping 24/08/2021 @ 3:52 pm

    Looking forward to your views on the post-Brexit UKCA standard.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 24/08/2021 @ 3:58 pm

      Hard to form any at this stage, other than to acknowledge that we need one.

  2. Avatar Robert Dolghiu 25/08/2021 @ 1:27 am

    Börje Ekholm is out of touch, he’s living in an alternate universe.
    Ericsson and Nokia were about to die, Huawei was eating their lunch, if it was not for US to strong arm the rest of the world to reject Huawei.
    Yes, China will be forbidden ground but Ericsson will thrive in the rest of the world.
    Hey Mr. Ekholm, it’s good to have Verizon / AT&T / T-Mobile as customers with basically no competition, isn’t it ?

  3. Avatar Graeme Bellis 25/08/2021 @ 8:37 am

    A dose of “Realpolitik”. 6G is only a superficial example of the split arising from competing political systems. Whilst China sees itself as separate to the rest of the world it still needs to rest of the world to buy its products to keep faith with its masses. No BRI and trade = No CCP in power. In the West we have a choice hold firm to our values or fold and become no better than vassel States. If China won’t play nicely in 6G space and elsewhere, then yes we still need to play our own game.

  4. Avatar guillaume 25/08/2021 @ 10:58 am

    IIRC we’ve been there and done that with the 3G standards… it was between Europe and USA and I think China already.
    ( W-CDMA, CDMA2000, TD-SCDMA )

  5. Avatar David Smith 25/08/2021 @ 2:01 pm

    Nothing unusual about corporate leaders angling for government largesse.

  6. Avatar Crypto Renegade 25/08/2021 @ 9:32 pm

    The fact is 12 percent of the global population are in the west while 88 percent of global population are in asia and the indo pacific rim, so we in the west will hand China the advantage, question is can we survive having a small demographic? It’s more intelligent to work with China over our issues in the long term win / win for both or we lose out

  7. Avatar Josue 25/08/2021 @ 9:34 pm

    I dont think West can do much about 6G technolgy
    IT looks like Chinese companies like ZTE or Huawei are investing so much Money in this technolgy while in the west we had to create a coalition of a lot of Telecomunication companyes to counter only Huawei
    And even like that here you got it
    China is the owner of the 70% of the global 5G network

  8. Avatar Nobledarkmoon 26/08/2021 @ 1:46 am

    Huawei, has been ramping up it’s R&D. There is a strong focus by the Chinese government to build up the supply chain infrastructure in IT.

    This will create a situation like VHS vs betamax. China’s belt and road will use the Chinese standard, western countries will use the western standard. Africa, middle east and south America will become areas of competition for the new standard. These differing standards may not have good interoperability.

  9. Avatar MikeZ 26/08/2021 @ 4:50 am

    Don’t think the US and its old allies represent the world. There are more population and more power outside this smaller circle. Not to mention that the US and its allies even have more and more interests not in common.

  10. Avatar Richard Chiang 26/08/2021 @ 12:32 pm

    It’s a pity the US chooses to continue it’s hegemony and tries to stop the rise of China. The fact is that China is already ahead of the world in most fields of technology. China has already set up more than 70% of 5G base stations worldwide on land, low flying satellites and high flying drones. These cover all areas of China, seas and oceans. This no doubt has enabled China to accelerate development in other technologies, thereby increasing the gap over the West.
    In addition, China is already very deep in 6G research and development.
    In the mean time, the West is still struggling with 5G implementation at higher costs and slower paces.

  11. Avatar Happiman 06/09/2021 @ 9:20 pm

    Another brainwashed, pathetic Chinese looser…

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