Hans Vestberg

Ericsson CEO: Devices, not phones, are the future of wireless

March 29, 2010: 6:45 AM ET

Even the wireless industry's biggest bulls couldn't have predicted the coming mobile explosion.

Vestberg: Cautious now but enthusiastic about the future of wireless. Photo: Ericsson.

Vestberg is cautious short-term but thinks mobile is growing strong.

Wireless phone companies and equipment manufacturers totally underestimated the potential of their own industry, says Ericsson (ERIC) CEO Hans Vestberg. Now he and his company are preparing for a totally interconnected world in which billions of consumers -- and machines -- talk non-stop to one another via wireless networks.

"What I've learned in this industry, and I've spent 18 years in it, is that we overestimate what happens in the next two to three years but underestimate what's going to happen in 10 years," says Vestberg, who became president and CEO of the Stockholm-based telecommunications equipment company on Jan. 1. He previously served as chief financial officer of the company, which last year posted about $28 billion in sales.

Vestberg says many industry executives and analysts believed wireless penetration would max out at 1 billion subscribers worldwide. At the end of 2009 there were more than 4.6 billion wireless subscriptions (some people have more than one mobile service) and Ericsson forecasts that number to grow to more than 6 billion in 2015. "That's just enormous," Vestberg tells Fortune. "It is beyond where we thought this industry could go." More

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