Is Ericsson chief Hans Vestberg the most connected man in the world?

From Nigeria to New York, broadband will be the next telecoms revolution, says phone firm chief, who’s more than ready

Hans Vestberg has strict rules. Wherever the Swedish boss of Ericsson is in the world, he will make sure he is back home in Stockholm by 6pm on a Friday night to be with his wife and two children. Then he switches off his mobile and any other device: “If there is an emergency, they know where to find me. Otherwise I switch off; it’s one of my rules. I have rules for everything.”

The rest of the time, Mr Vestberg is one of the most-connected men on the planet. As chief executive of the world’s biggest telecoms company, he’s in charge of networks that provide 40 per cent of the globe’s mobile traffic, manage 2.5 billion subscriptions and run operations in 180 countries employing 113,000 workers. Last year was no different from any other – he visited about 50 countries.

Right now, the skinny, six-foot-plus handball-playing Swede is skipping down the stairs at the Century Club in London’s Shaftesbury Avenue. He’s been updating City analysts on what’s happening in Ericsson’s world. It’s an upbeat message despite fierce competition with its main competitor, China’s Huawei; the rolling out of new 4G LTE technology in the US is marching ahead; Europe is showing signs of perking up; and in the UK, where the company employs 4,000 people, the Red Bee Media acquisition is due to be signed off soon.

“But the main question the analysts keep asking is why I’ve grown my hair long,” he laughs, touching locks that go beyond his collar. And why has he? “You know, men can’t do much to change; we have to wear suits, although I never wear a tie, apart from in Asia sometimes. So I decided to grow my hair.”

The longer hair suits him – makes him look less boyish. Yet Mr Vestberg is still only 48. He’s been running the $38bn (£23bn) giant, which is listed on New York’s Nasdaq exchange, for nearly four years, taking over from his mentor, Carl-Henric Svanberg, now chairman of BP. He started out as a young business graduate working at Ericsson Cables in his home-town of Hudiksvall in northern Sweden and has never left. His first job was in the travel expenses department – someone must have had a sixth sense.

What Mr Vestberg lacks in technical skills – he’s the first non-engineer to run Ericsson since it was founded 137 years ago – he makes up for in chutzpah and the belief that better communications can improve society; very Ericsson and very Swedish. One of his first moves on taking over was to come up with the expression the Networked Society, describing the latest technological revolution that will see us all connected to everything and everyone over the next few decades – the Internet of Things.

“The first revolution was the ICT one. Now we are entering the second: the Networked Society...  We predict that in five years 93 per cent of the world’s population will have broadband and there will be around 50 billion different devices connected between people and machines.”

On Ericsson’s numbers – it has a research team of 100 or so boffins crunching data – smartphone traffic will rise  10 times by 2019 and there will be 8 billion mobile broadband subscribers.

The reason is simple – money; growth of mobility comes down to the cost of the handset. “The infrastructure we provide is the same in a remote town in Africa or New York or an archipelago in Sweden: we use the same system and the chips inside the phone are the same. Even if you buy a Finnish, Korean or American phone – it will be Ericsson on the inside.  So it’s about the cost of the handset. As handsets come down – we predict to $40 over the next few years – so the numbers go up. For every $10 drop in the price of a handset, there will be another 100 million or so new subscribers.”

 Just as Ericsson pioneered digital technology in the 1970s and then mobile in the 1980s, Mr Vestberg is pinning his hopes on being ahead of the game again. And, like his engineering predecessors, he is evangelical about research, spending $5bn a year on R&D. “At heart we are an intellectual company. Innovation will always be integral to what we do,” he says.

“Humans have a tendency to overestimate in the short term and underestimate in the long term. Think back five years. Then 90 per cent of people’s time spent on the phone was making calls. Today 75 per cent of that time is for things other than calls – emails, SMS and video. So the use of devices will keep changing.” Luckily, most of those humans, and many telecoms providers, need Ericsson; it has 27,000 patents, including most of those for 2G, 3G and 4G.

What gets Mr Vestberg fired up, though, is how easily data gathered by mobiles can be used positively to solve the world’s biggest challenges, such as sustainability. It was the subject of his talk at the recent Nobel Week Dialogue in Gothenburg and one he champions wherever he goes on his travels. “Around 30 per cent of carbon emissions could be reduced by using information from mobile data more efficiently for managing traffic, water control and in many other ways. The Estonians are already reading data from mobiles to reduce car congestion, while the use of mobiles in emerging countries like Africa and India for healthcare is just at the beginning. The possibilities are endless as live surveillance connectivity sends information to companies to improve dramatically their way of working, but also for society.”

Yet he’s also aware of how data can fall into the wrong hands – the controversy over the US National Security Agency and the whistleblower Edward Snowden, for example – and the dangers of allowing private companies such as Google or Twitter to pass on private information. Then there’s having data hovering in the clouds, the risks of which no one yet has a clue.

“Of course there are real concerns. That means vendors like us must operate with complete transparency and trust. We need to be humble.”

Let’s hope he has rules for that too.

Pioneers: History of Ericsson

1876

Lars Magnus Ericsson started with a small workshop repairing early telephones

1878

Ericsson devised the  single trumpet telephone

1885

Stockholm had more

telephone subscribers than any other country in the world

1900

Ericsson had 1,000 people working around the world – in Russia, China, Mexico and the US

1970s

Ericsson engineers invented the first digital exchange

1981

Ericsson signed the first mobile contract to supply Saudi Arabia with mobiles

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Marketing Services Manager - (communications, testing, DM)

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Services Manage...

Guru Careers: Finance Account Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Finance Account Manager with...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Direct Marketing Manager - B2C, Financial Services - Slough

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity h...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum