It was over a hundred years ago that Ericsson first opened up a maintenance and repair workshop in Rijen, Brabant, a workshop that grew into a fully-fledged production plant by the end of the 1980s, turning out around a million of the well-known T65 phones a year. Brabant has likewise been the birthplace for many of Ericsson's innovations in high-quality communication technology - technology that is implemented globally.
Ericsson is the world's biggest technology and services supplier to telecommunications operators, employing over 75,000 people in 175 countries. As a market leader for 2G, 3G and 4G mobile technology, Ericsson provides communication services and manages networks on behalf of over a billion subscribers.
The company was founded in 1876 in Stockholm and soon grew into a leading manufacturer of telephones and telephone exchanges. "From hardware manufacturer to software provider" and "from telecommunications specialist to developer of multimedia solutions" - that's the best way to describe the history of Ericsson. The company still delivers the entire infrastructure for extensive communication networks, but services have also become one of its spearheads in that delivery. Today Ericsson manages networks for major providers, allowing the latter to focus entirely on their marketing and sales strategies. But the most striking thing about Ericsson is the company's innovations in mobile communication technology, broadband internet and multimedia - innovations that keep the company ahead of the pack. And many of these have their roots in Brabant.
Research & Development enjoys a premium status at the Rijen plant, where some 1,300 people are employed. "The software that we develop here for multimedia applications is applied around the globe," says Herman van der Zwaan, Ericsson's head of R&D in Rijen. "This includes the development of new and intelligent functions that are implemented in major networks and extant systems. But what is just as important is our contribution to the further-reaching integration of telecommunications, the internet and television. Present-day communication technologies are becoming increasingly intertwined, and this also holds true for the solutions and services that Ericsson introduces to the market. They lead to applications in divergent market segments, from traffic and transport to healthcare and safety, and it these rapidly-advancing technological developments that offer the world new economic and social opportunities. Ericsson in Rijen is an important contributor to this."
Today a variety of technological advances that originated in Rijen have become international Ericsson products. "The global upscaling of local innovations is frequently the result of our cooperation with other companies in Brabant or in the Netherlands," Van der Zwaan explains. "Thanks in no small part to the Brabant Development Agency, this cooperation takes shape in the form of innovative communities, such as Seedlings. These open innovations are also one of Brabant's biggest draw cards. With the knowledge and experience of the small and medium-sized enterprises, the High Tech Campus and knowledge centres like the Eindhoven University of Technology, all the supplementary expertise we require is just around the corner, as it were. Moreover, Brabant continues to be an attractive location to establish a company, thanks to the great accessibility and the central location with regard to international airports."
Ericsson has witnessed a complete turn-around in Rijen in recent decades, from a pure production plant into a global centre for services and R&D. It is this factor which has also given the company a very different character, one that can be found in both the location and in the physical performance. The R&D employees work in the building that previously did duty as the production hall, and so a slice of the industrial heritage remains preserved. "But the ambitions of Ericsson in the sphere of sustainability extend a great deal further," says Van de Zwaan. "Our high-quality communication and IT solutions mean that we can make an important contribution around the world to environmental issues, such as bringing down CO2 emissions."