The possibility of a clash between Communications Service Providers (CSPs) and vendors over the enterprise market is real. Ericsson, Telefónica's equipment partner on a Mercedes-Benz project, has stopped serving enterprises directly because it is worried about upsetting its main telco clients. "We don't think it is a good idea to compete with customers but much better to find a win-win solution," said Börje Ekholm, Ericsson's CEO, when justifying the strategy at this year's Mobile World Congress. Yet partnerships do not preclude rifts over Mercedes-Benz-like projects, as companies vie for a bigger slice of revenues.
Competition between operators and vendors may seem even likelier when it comes to Huawei and Nokia, major Ericsson rivals that still maintain direct-to-enterprise sales channels. Nokia has sought to minimize concern, pointing out that telco channels remain its priority.
Mavenir, a medium-size business trying to end the rule of Ericsson, Huawei, and Nokia in the mobile market, is pushing the kind of open and virtualized technologies that might appeal to a new entrant without old networks to maintain. In this world, a small business could build a local 5G network using off-the-shelf servers and open-source code. With a diversity of suppliers, specialist needs could more easily be addressed. John Baker, Mavenir's senior vice president of business development, thinks software applications could even be installed at individual sites. "Our vision is that there will be an app store for base stations," he says. "If Mavenir doesn't perform you could turn it off and change overnight."