When it comes to shaping modern communications, Ericsson may be one of the most important companies you've never heard of.
One of the two largest telecommunications equipment makers, the Swedish company's switches, base stations and other products underlie many of the wireless and wired phone networks around the world. It's also played a key role in the development of wireless communications standards, including LTE, the high-speed fourth-generation mobile technology that's now being rolled out globally.
As CEO of Ericsson, Hans Vestberg has a good sense of what the future may bring. It can take decades for a new communications technology to go from an initial concept to widespread availability. It's Vestberg's job to help Ericsson anticipate how consumers will be using communications networks in the years to come and help its carrier partners prepare to meet those demands.
Earlier this year, he spoke with this newspaper about his vision of the future, which includes connecting cars, appliances and other devices to the Internet, and the wireless standard that will succeed LTE. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Q There's been a debate in the car industry about how to connect cars to the Internet, whether through smartphones or through a radio in the car itself. How do you see that shaking out?
A We do a lot of consumer research. Consumers believe the smartphone will be the remote, meaning that it will orchestrate a lot of things. So maybe you will take your connectivity with you to the car.
But in Europe, for example, where you can travel across borders very easily -- it might be easier if you have connectivity in the car rather than on your phone. So then when it goes over the border, we know it's not going to use any massive data loads.
But for a company like Ericsson, it doesn't really matter. They're going to use the network either with their own phone or through the connected car.
Q We're already seeing people use data connections in their car for navigation and entertainment services. What new things will people be doing when they have connected cars?
A Today there are two points where a car manufacturer has interaction with you as an owner of a car. One, you buy the car. Two, you go to the car shop to repair the car.
Just imagine how much you can do in between when you have a connected car. You can start selling an improved clutch. Or you can sell more features. You can start selling more horsepower. All that will change the way you interact with the car manufacturer.
And I think you're going to see a lot of innovation not only in e-commerce, but also in improvements, efficiency gains. You don't need to recall 100,000 cars because you need to fix something. That can be done with a download of software.
Q How do you see the "networked society" or the "Internet of things" developing?
A I think it will have a big impact. We're going to see demands on the network changing, due to certain connected devices. The car is an obvious one, if you call that a connected device.
For example, if you push the brake of your car and you have a car behind you, it can send a signal telling the other driver he needs to push the brake as well. The network will never work in 2G, will never work in 3G, but will work in 4G.
So you're going to see this "Internet of things" start demanding network performance and making the networks much more aware of what is on top of them.
Q I know we're still in the early days of the rollout of 4G LTE. But what kinds of technologies can we expect in 5G?
A I think that it's probably not like the past where 2G was good, but 3G was better and 4G was even better. Maybe 5G is not an extrapolation of 4G. Maybe 5G is different use cases, where different radio signals need to be sent to different types of devices and different types of solutions.
I'll give you three examples. In the future, there might be devices such as sensors that are connected with batteries that you want to change just once a year. Then you need to send a very low power to that device.
On the other hand, you might have a car where latency will be extremely important for certain uses, such as security or self-driving cars. You don't want to go, "Wow, we should have turned that way" when it's too late.
And then you're going to have massive data loads, where you need to send throughput of data to data mine it. Think about a jet engine. Billions of terabytes coming from the jet engine to analyze whether you can safely take off again.
Maybe you cannot do that with 4G, that it is 5G that takes care of all these cases. That is too early to say. But in the next two to three years, we will start defining.
Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285. Follow him at Twitter.com/troywolv.
Birthplace: Hudiksvall, Sweden
Position: President, CEO of Ericsson
Previous jobs: CFO, head of global services at Ericsson
Education: Uppsala University
Family: Married; two kids, ages 12 and 14
Residence: Stockholm, Sweden
Other interests: Avid sports enthusiast, including running, handball, skiing, mountain climbing, long-distance skating
Five things about Hans Vestberg
1. Only member of his family who has not become a police officer.
2. Only president and CEO of Ericsson who has not been an engineer.
3. A watch collector since age 16.
4. Speaks Swedish, English, Portuguese and Spanish
5. On his work badge is a list of key people from all around the world whom he calls every week.