Meet Katherine Ainley, CEO of Ericsson UK & Ireland

15 December 2021

In February this year, Katherine Ainley was appointed new CEO of Ericsson UK & Ireland. With a long background in telecoms, a strong interest in technology, and a passion for changing people’s lives, she is buzzing for what the upcoming years have to offer. “I am clearly a bit biased, but I think that 5G is the most exciting thing going on in the world at the moment. The things that you can do with it, both as a business as well as a consumer, are just revolutionary.”

While growing up in the northwest of England, Katherine always had a vision to make a difference. She moved to London to study Government at the London School of Economics and considers the city her home ever since. Working for the operator BT for 13 years, she got a great insight into how critical the telecoms infrastructure is for people. Now, with two daughters of her own, Katherine feels very passionate about what tech can enable for a better future.

Making the unimaginable possible

There is no question where Katherine’s interest in technology originates from. “I think there are two types of people you meet in technology and engineering. There are those who love the technical parts of engineering, and then there’s the people who are interested in technology because of what it can enable. I am the latter; I love the bit at the very end where you can see how it can change people’s lives and, although it may sound a bit cheesy, how it can make the world better by creating connections that make the unimaginable possible.”

Ericsson – a key player in the roll out of 5G

Ericsson has been present for over 120 years in the UK and 60 years in Ireland and has made many “firsts” during the years. In 1985, it put out the first mobile network in the UK, followed by the first SMS message in 1992 and the first 3G call in 2001. Now Ericsson is at the forefront again, being the only vendor to support all four of the country’s major mobile network operators in their 5G roll out as well as working with leading UK companies to create the ‘factories of the future’ and develop enterprise solutions and 5G use cases that can boost British businesses and transform society.

“The delivery of 5G is without doubt our biggest focus right now. It is the number one priority for the industry at the moment, making sure we work together to put the best infrastructure that we can in place, and deliver it as fast as possible. We are also working with operators to help enterprise partners to make the most of 5G, helping them to realise the benefits, how it can change their companies and the way they work, as well as the environmental improvements it can bring.”

The importance of connectivity

Katherine believes the pandemic has made people recognise the importance of connectivity, and that many people have gone from thinking about telecoms as a luxury, to realising it is essential in everything we do. “We have become used to reaching each other all the time, everywhere, and we want it to work quick and easy – 5G will help to create the connections that will enable that.”

“Unmatched speed is obviously one of the big talking points about 5G for consumers – it can be up to 100 times faster than 4G – and this together with the low latency is what really sets 5G apart from previous mobile generations.” The low latency of 5G creates endless opportunities for both immersive consumer applications and services but also opens a huge array of opportunities for critical businesses sectors like manufacturing, logistics and ports. “For consumers it enables working on the move, streaming videos when you are out and about, better quality and precision in gaming and similar, these are just a few of many examples. It’s also a big opportunity to improve the connectivity in rural communities without having to have the streets dug up.”

“Where it gets super exciting is when speaking about what 5G can do for enterprise. With the connectivity being extremely close to instant, people in different locations can collaborate on the same projects in real time. We are talking about doctors doing operations and specialists working on building projects, to mention but a few. It also enables driverless cars, as well as wireless machinery in factories.”

“Imagine a world where you could have people all over the globe working together on the same thing as if they were in the same room, without actually having to travel, all in real time Imagine how that use of technology and knowledge could create innovation, and boost the UK’s productivity and efficiency that also brings big gains in sustainability.”

High accuracy and low latency

The examples Katherine gives on already developed 5G solutions sound a lot like something from a futuristic film, all possible thanks to the accuracy and ultra-reliable 5G connection. “I love the example of Northumbrian Water. Engineers can put on some funky glasses, or augmented reality glasses to use the technical term. Then, as they go down the road looking at the pavement and road layout, they can see exactly where the pipes are through augmented reality. Rather than having to carry around a big blueprint, they can actually see where they need to dig up the road and where there is an electricity cable and such. They can also work with someone in another location, a remote expert back in the office for example, who can then join and work on it as if they were there and help fix the problem.”

“Another great example is our partnership with Hyperbat. They make electric car batteries and work on many different sites with their suppliers and partners. Previously, when they would work together on an electric car battery, they would exchange loads of emails and files, asking for remeasurements and design amends, or they would have to travel to work on it together. Now, with the 5G network we have implemented together BT, Hyperbat have connected the computer aided design software in virtual reality, so they can basically ‘be there’ without actually being there, using virtual reality glasses, working on the same battery from two different sites. This saves them an enormous amount of time.”

Reducing energy consumption

Ericsson is working with all four main operators to make sure that the 5G infrastructure is as sustainable as possible. Recently, as part of a collaboration to improve network energy performance, Ericsson and Vodafone completed the trial of new radio in London which helped to reduced Vodafone’s energy consumption by a daily average of 43%, and as much as 55% at off-peak times. “As we are using the network more, it is important that we talk about breaking the energy curve and come up with sustainable solutions to handle the increasing use of networks.”

“Making the network more efficient is one part but studies also show that the innovation we can enable through 5G connectivity solutions in the ICT sector can drive a 15% reduction in direct global greenhouse emissions. The technology sector can have a disproportionately positive impact on the environment.”

The future of 5G

Ericsson projects that 5G global mobile subscriptions will exceed 580 million by the end of 2021, with an estimate of one million new 5G subscriptions every day. The network is expected to be the fastest adopted mobile generation – an advancement Katherine is excited to be part of. “I really enjoy things that are tangible, where you can make things happen, actually see it taking shape and make a real difference. Once again, I am very much looking forward to what we will experience in the upcoming years, I am beyond excited for what is to come.”

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