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Ericsson’s connections

Telecom giant makes first keynote at CES

In its first keynote at CES, telecom giant Ericsson didn’t focus on specific consumer electronics but where technology is taking the various devices in our lives.

“Our role is to make connectivity everywhere and in real-time possible,” said Hans Vestberg, who took the reins of Ericsson as president and CEO in early 2010. “Your role is to innovate on top of that, and perhaps come up with consumer devices that will be launched here at CES in one, two or five years,” he told the crowd gathered at the Venetian hotel and casino on Wednesday.

“Ultimately, we are the network,” Vestberg said. “When one person gets connected, their life changes,” he added. “When everything gets connected, the world changes.”

Vestberg said Ericsson was focused on building a “networked society,” given that over 90% of the world’s population will have mobile coverage by 2015, and use their devices to connect to faster networks and the cloud for information and content. There will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020, Vestberg said on a network that will impact “users, societies and companies.”

He cited various ways that’s happening now, from cars that interact with each other to delivering audio for mobile gaming on fast networks, improving the health care biz, education, charities like Refugees United (that’s built a database helping 34 million refugees find loved ones), as well as the shipping industry, where Ericsson has inked a deal to create a sea-based mobile network to connect 400 ships in Maersk Line’s fleet, the world’s largest shipping company.

Ericsson, a 135 year-old Swedish company, may not produce specifically for consumers, but it certainly powers their devices.

Its telecommunications equipment manages more than 40% of the world’s mobile traffic. It was the first to make mobile communication possible in 1981 and created Bluetooth. The company spends $5 billion a year on research to learn how networks will be used in the future. “It’s our job to make sure the networks work with all of the innovation now and in the future,” Vestberg said.

Ericsson recently got out of the consumer electronics biz after selling its stake in cellphone brand Sony Ericsson to Sony for $1.47 billion. Sony used this year’s CES to show off its first non-Ericsson-branded smartphone.

For Hollywood, Ericsson’s management of mobile networks is playing a major role in how movies, TV shows, music and videogames are distributed digitally.

But Vestberg used the keynote to reveal a potential new application that the entertainment biz is likely to embrace.

Showing off new Connected Me technology, developed by Ericsson and displayed at its CES booth, Vestberg and a company engineer demonstrated “capacitive coupling,” in which a photograph was transferred from a mobile phone to a computer’s screen through the body by placing hands on both devices, using the body as a conductor. Another demo showed music played through a similar hands-on distribution method.

“Imagine what you could do” with the technology, Vestberg said, “All things you wear could be connected with a smartphone.”

This new human distribution network could be used to exchange virtual business cards, unlock hotel rooms, or digitally swipe bus tickets, Vestberg said.

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