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Ericsson’s turnaround is in process, but sustainability of business is in question

TBR perspective

Though Ericsson’s focused strategy has proved to be a viable approach to stabilize the company, return it to profitability and provide incremental organic growth, the key concern will be how sustainable that stability and growth will be over the long term.

Ericsson’s focus on the wireless access domain tethers the company to the whims of that market, which is undergoing significant disruption as 5G and virtualization take hold and as operators increasingly shift capex budgets from connectivity infrastructure to building digital businesses, limiting Ericsson’s growth potential. Though there is room for Ericsson to take market share, particularly from Nokia (NYSE: NOK), Huawei and ZTE by leveraging its software-upgradable Ericsson Radio System (ERS) RAN gear, Ericsson is not immune to adverse business trends impacting the broader RAN market, namely legacy decommissioning, virtualization, openness, cloud and white box.

Ericsson is betting its ERS will offset the impact of these adverse trends and hasten its shift to a more software-centric entity with a more recurring, license-based software model that carries relatively high, sustainable margins, but this shift will take years to unfold and there is significant legacy business at risk of disappearing in the interim.

With the architecture of the network fundamentally changing to be virtualized and cloudified and communication service providers (CSPs) focused on relentless cost efficiency and TCO reduction, Ericsson will have to carefully balance its shift from the old world to the new reality, whereby forklift RAN upgrades become lower scale and targeted, and innovation and value migrate to the software layer. This has significant implications for Ericsson’s hardware and close-to-the-box services businesses, both of which are optimized to operate at high scale for efficiency and profitability.

TBR notes Ericsson and its close rival Nokia are pursing different paths during the 5G era. While Ericsson focuses on its core business of selling RAN and mobile core directly to service providers, Nokia is taking an end-to-end infrastructure approach and is building out a dedicated business unit with a full suite of resources to directly sell to enterprises. Though Industry 4.0, 5G and digital transformation are underlying themes that find commonality between the two vendors, their divergent tracks are noteworthy.

 

 

Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC) hosted its annual Industry Analyst Forum in Boston, bringing along a range of executives to provide an update on the company’s corporate and business unit strategies, with a focus on Networks, Managed Services and North America. Key topic areas included 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), automation and artificial intelligence (AI). Following the main session, analysts could attend three tracks — Network Evolution to 5G, AI and Automated Operations, or 5G and IoT Industry Innovation — and then participate in one-on-one speed meetings. The tone of Ericsson’s 2018 analyst day was upbeat as the company sees early signs that its turnaround plan is yielding results, evidenced by its 3Q18 earnings results in which organic revenue growth returned and margins improved markedly. Ericsson remains committed to its transformational restructuring and focused strategy, which are key pillars of its turnaround plan.

Ready when you are: Nokia prepared to migrate customers to 5G

TBR perspective

At Nokia’s (NYSE: NOK) 2018 Analyst Conference, held in Tokyo in August, the company emphasized that its end-to-end portfolio, supported by a robust R&D program, is ready and able to take its customers into the 5G era. The vendor also stressed that 5G is much more than just a radio upgrade and that realizing the full potential of 5G requires a fundamental change to the architecture of the network.

Given how much disruption is facing the telecom industry, it was refreshing to see that Nokia is being proactive in aligning with where the market is trying to go, even if that means disrupting itself. Though a part of the company will remain focused on servicing the legacy platforms of the past, the other part of the company will focus on realizing the future. Given that most operators are stuck in between both worlds as well, it is fitting that Nokia will be able to support the migrations of its customers toward the network of the future.

Event overview

Nokia hosted a select group of industry analysts in a two-part event. The first part of the event was a two-day workshop about the company’s global Fixed Networks business, and the second part of the event was a two-day Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) regional update to deep dive on specific trends occurring in those markets.

In addition to the usual market overview, strategy and portfolio updates, Nokia hosted several customers at the event, namely Infracapital, KDDI, NTT DOCOMO, SoftBank and Marubeni, to discuss their own businesses and share how Nokia is helping them achieve their goals. A representative from Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications was also present to provide an overview of Japan’s telecom industry and how policy is shaping that country as it transitions into the 5G era.

Hosting the event in Japan was pertinent and timely given the country’s history as an early technology adopter and its upcoming adoption of 5G. With the 2020 Summer Olympics less than two years away, Japan will showcase for the world cutting-edge use cases of telecom networks leveraging 5G technology. The country also symbolizes the monumental changes occurring in the telecom industry, namely that domestic operators are challenged to evolve into digital service providers to better compete against digital-native competitors in their home market, such as Rakuten, as well as realize new business models from the 5G era to grow.