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Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson (ERIC) Q4 2020 Earnings Call Transcript

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ERIC earnings call for the period ending December 31, 2020.

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Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson (ERIC 2.70%)
Q4 2020 Earnings Call
Jan 29, 2021, 3:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:


Peter Nyquist

Thank you very much, and hello, everyone and welcome to this Q4 call or year-end call. With me here today, I have our CEO, Börje Ekholm; and our CFO, Carl Mellander. Before we start the call, I would like to make this statement. During the call today, we will be making forward-looking statements, and these statements are based on our current expectations and certain planning assumptions which are subject to risks and uncertainties.

The press release -- or the actual result may differ materially due to factors mentioned in today's press release and discussed in this conference. So we encourage you all to read about these risks and uncertainties in our earnings report as well as in our annual report. With those words, I would like to start this call by handing over the word to our CEO, Börje Ekholm. Please, Börje.

Borje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Peter. So good morning, everyone, and thank you all for joining us today. Before I go into the year-end performance in greater detail, I would like to recognize our people. And our company is always about the people, and I think 2020 more than ever.

We, as a company, migrated to work remotely in March last year, and our people really stepped up and delivered to all our customers with minimal to actually no disruptions. We have also seen some good progress in our business for quite some time. But with the financial performance for 2020, we can now say that we're through the turnaround phase. And of course, this turnaround is also contributable to the engagement and commitment from all of our people.

We have now reached a return on capital employed at 17% which is above the cost of capital, so we can now focus our attention on growth as a key value driver, of course, while maintaining a financial discipline. But let me now go through some overall conclusions of our performance during 2020. The increased R&D has made our portfolio very competitive and cost-efficient, and this has allowed us to gain market share in many markets, and we actually see market share gains from all competitors today. We exceeded our year-end financial targets for 2020 as well as our targets for 2022 about two years early.

We have delivered a strong free cash flow before M&A. And actually, if we look at our history, we see that this is the strongest free cash flow we have ever had as a company. We also completed the acquisition of Cradlepoint during Q4, and that's an important step, as you all know, for establishing our enterprise offering, especially targeting the rapidly growing demand for wireless WANs. In addition, we started to invest in increasing our resiliency and flexibility of our supply chain, and we really started that several years ago.

We did that for other reasons, so no crystal ball on predicting a pandemic, but that have been critical in managing our customer commitments during 2020. And we've been able to do that despite working from home and in the middle of a pandemic. The health and well-being of our people has been at the front and center in how we have made decisions during the 2020. So one example is that we decided very early on to migrate to remote working.

Across the year, about 80% of our workforce have operated virtually. Of course, the impact and the toll on our people cannot be ignored from working remotely, but we are doing, as a company, what we can to support those of us who are most affected by the pandemic. In addition, we took a decision in early March not to apply for any government pandemic-related support programs as we wanted to make sure that we drive the business out of its fundamentals and take the right decisions for the long-term future of the business, not impacted by any government support programs. With our performance and solid long-term outlook, the Board of Ericsson has decided to recommend the shareholders to increase the dividend to 2 per share, and that's an increase of 0.50, I should say in I guess English.

So before going into each market area, I just wanted to make some overall comments about the market. It's now clear that 5G is increasingly gaining momentum around the world. And we're seeing frontrunner countries to rapidly build out the 5G networks as it is a platform to digitalize their economies. But I think it's even more encouraging to see that operators who has built out a good coverage are seeing an increasing ARPU and thus, a reversal of the decline over the last few years.

For frontrunners, 5G can be a source of additional revenues as well as to establish the operator as a market leader. This is actually not surprising as it was very similar to what happened when 4G was rolled out, where frontrunners saw higher ARPU, greater market share and lower churn. We have also seen many wins in -- across the market areas for our private networks for enterprises which actually start to strengthen our enterprise presence. So some comments on each market area.

We saw strong growth for the Northeast Asia market area. This was naturally driven by China. That is now the largest 5G market in the world with clearly more than 100 million subscribers, but we also saw gains in many of the other markets in the market area. Continued strong momentum in 5G drove a good performance in North America.

This was partly offset by a downward pressure of the loss of the managed services contract due to the operator consolidation earlier in 2020. We have seen market share gains in the U.S., but we have also seen break in deals in Canada that will support long-term growth for us. In Southeast Asia, Oceania and India, we saw growth driven by several countries but most noticeable Australia and India. Europe and Latin America had a bit of a mixed picture.

We saw overall a positive growth in the market area, but -- and that was driven by the growth in Europe which was partly offset by a decline in Latin America. Europe, the growth in Europe was driven by market share gains. And Latin America, the decline really caused by the macroeconomic uncertainty due to the pandemic. We also see that we, so far, have had limited 5G rollouts in Europe, and we are a bit concerned that Europe is falling behind the frontrunners in China, Australia, North America and the Middle East.

Finally, in Africa, we saw -- in the market area Africa and Middle East, we saw sales declines. That was really in Africa related to effects of the COVID-19 and the macroeconomic uncertainties and in the Middle East due to timing of customer investment decisions actually in 2019 that ended 2019 on a strong note. However, we see increasing traction from our efforts to increase market share in the market area, and we expect that to be visible in the next few years. Moving on to the business segments.

For networks, sales grew organically by 20% driven by 5G rollouts and market share gains. Gross margin was 43.5% in Q4, up from 41.1% the year before. For the whole 2020, operating margin was 19%, which is well ahead of our targets of 15% to 17%. I would say networks' performance reflect our increasing technology leadership and strong 5G portfolio.

[Inaudible] grew to 41% from 38.1% from the year before. From 2017 at the start of our turnaround to today, if you do a like-for-like comparison, our gross margin has increased from 29% to 42%. The turnaround -- or we continue to execute on the turnaround plan, and our operating income for Q4 was positive, and that actually is the best result we've seen to date which we view as an indication that our turnaround is on track. Our cloud-native 5G core portfolio has a very high win ratio and will start to generate revenues in the next 12 to 18 months ahead.

So far, we've only seen R&D costs with this new portfolio, so we are encouraged by the traction we have and expect to see revenues coming here during the -- or gradually during the year. Sales in managed services continue to decline which is this year a result of the U.S. -- or the consolidation in the U.S. market, but also some contract exits in Europe.

However, gross margin grew to 17.7% from 15.8% a year earlier, and full-year operating margin ended at 8.1%, ahead of our range of 5% to 8%. We continue to invest in R&D in managed services to drive automation and AI that will help our portfolio to grow in the future. Emerging business and other. Sales grew in enterprise offerings such as the IoT platforms, complemented by the acquisition of Cradlepoint that was announced in Q3 and closed in Q4.

Gross margin improved to 33.8% driven by operational leverage from growth and lower costs. Cradlepoint's underlying business develops in line with plans, and we continue to be encouraged by the customer reception and see good long-term growth opportunities. However, reported sales and cost for Cradlepoint are impacted by purchase price allocations. And we have also said that that will have a negative effect on operating income with about 1 percentage point in 2021, mostly coming from amortizations but also from investments in growing the business until we start to see earnings improve.

With that, I give the word over to Carl.

Carl Mellander -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Börje, and good morning, good afternoon, everyone, here from Stockholm. And let's then start to look at the P&L for the full-year 2020. And here, you see that with an organic FX-adjusted growth of 5% year over year, net sales reached 232.4 billion which is then within the target range of between 230 billion and 240 billion and mainly driven by continued high demand for our 5G portfolio in the networks business that grew by 10%. Especially, the hardware revenue grew strongly, and this is a welcome result of the growing footprint that we see currently.

Northeast Asia grew by 30% FX-adjusted and North America, as well as Southeast Asia, Oceania and India also contributed to the growth in the year. Gross margin, as you see, improved 310 basis points year over year to 40.6%. And good to say that we have improvements in all segments and thereby also clearly beating the gross margin ambition range we set up in 2017. Operating income, 29.1 billion, as you see excluding restructuring, an improvement of 7 billion or 32% over last year.

And this is if we adjust for the 10.7 billion charge related to SEC and DOJ in '19. So this operating income then leads to an operating margin of 12.5%. And this means we reached and exceeded the 2020 target of operating margin over 10%, as Börje said. And again, the main contributor to this improvement here we see is again the networks side of the business with a 19% operating margin for the fiscal year.

An absolute key metric for -- obviously, for me but for all of us in the company is the free cash flow before M&A, and this came out at 22.3 billion. This is a level we have not seen before. And earnings per share, we also listed this here, diluted, came out at 5.26, also at a level that we haven't seen at least during the last 10 years, perhaps longer. Return on capital employed for the full year was 17%.

That's an increase from 6.7%. Both these numbers include the cash position. But if we -- and this might be more appropriate, actually, if we exclude the cash, the return on capital employed would even have been at 32% in the full year. But let's have a closer look at Q4.

Next slide, please, here. So in the fourth quarter, net sales reached 69.6 billion. This is an organic growth of 13%, again driven by networks that grew 20% based on continued high demand for the 5G portfolio. The largest growth, as Börje said before, in Northeast Asia but also North America, contributing with double-digit growth and as in Southeast Asia, Oceania and India.

Gross margin here, 350-basis-points improvement to 40.6% also for the quarter. And again, also looking at the quarter, encouraging to see that all segments improved year over year, with the main contribution from networks. Operating income then 11 billion excluding restructuring, and an operating margin of 15.8%. Again, repeating myself, but networks also here the main driver with the 21.5% operating margin at networks segment delivered.

But I also want a special mention here again of digital services that actually delivered the best operating income to date, a profit of 0.5 billion. Cash flow, 12.8 billion. We'll come back to that a bit later. But let's have a look at the trend on gross margin, if we take this slide here.

And you can really see the result of execution of the focused strategy here in this graph. And you see here the gross margin development over the years in distinct quarters but also rolling. And we have said this many times, but of course, it is really the increased R&D investments that has been the main driver here for technology and cost leadership and also competitive advantage and gross margin improvement. So here, if we break this down a little bit.

networks gross margin improved 200 basis points, following even better operational leverage. digital services improved during the year 420 bps so 42%, with more software share as sales. managed services improved -- efficiency achievements, improvement of 310 bps here. And lastly, emerging business and other with a gross margin that improved actually 840 basis points to 28%, and Cradlepoint contributes here.

And maybe just a side note, being somewhat personally involved in Cradlepoint as well. I must say I'm quite impressed by the Cradlepoint leadership. And now we have full speed there with excellent collaborations with other parts of Ericsson also to create value. OK.

Let's look at SG&A and R&D. R&D came out at 10.5 billion. It's a slight decrease year over year, mainly following positive FX. And here, of course, we have added now Cradlepoint since November, so two months of Cradlepoint, both in R&D and also in SG&A which is next here.

That came out 7.4 billion, as you see. That's a reduction of 0.8 billion year over year. And this reduction is mainly explained by less traveling, less trials cost and other external spend but also some provision release here. We have a provision release for customer financing and also some FX support that supported this number.

And all of this more than offset then the added SG&A from the acquired Cradlepoint. We also show impairment losses on trade receivables here, just to illustrate that that can really swing between quarters. In Q4, we had a positive impact, 0.3 billion, and this follows collection of high-risk receivables from customers. As you see last quarter, this number was a negative 0.2 billion, and this is really to illustrate that this item will fluctuate over quarters based on our updated risk assessments and changes in exposure collections from high-risk receivables and so on.

Let's move over to cash flow and the financial position. As mentioned then, free cash flow before M&A in the quarter was 12.8 billion. And it's really a result of a combination here, of course, increased profit levels, but also then in combination with working capital efficiency. Working capital days now is down to 65 from 75 days a year ago.

And I must say, I believe we have rather impressive focus now among the colleagues across market areas, business areas on cash flow generation. So this brought the full-year cash flow before M&A to 22.3 billion. And as I think we mentioned several times already on this call, although free cash flow definitions may have changed over time, this seems to be the strongest or is the strongest cash flow in the history of the company. So this led to a net cash at the end of the year then 41.9 billion, up from 34.5 billion.

And gross cash then landed rather flat at 72 billion, and this then in spite of acquisitions, dividends, pension trust contributions and loan repayments during the year. We continue to execute here on our capital structure strategy for flexibility and resilience, as we described before. And in that context also, I'd like to highlight that we were, of course, very pleased with the rating upgrade we got in November from Standard & Poor's to investment grade, BBB-, stable outlook. And the key trigger for the upgrade there in rating was really free cash flow, in turn a result of growth, reduced cost and improved capital efficiency.

So now we have investment-grade ratings both from Standard & Poor's and Fitch. Börje mentioned the board's dividend proposal already. Just to add that this means 6.7 billion to be paid out in two equal installments, just like 2020 in April and October, respectively. OK.

I will round off now and just a few words on planning assumptions, and I'm just going to highlight a few of them. But as usual, please refer to the report for the full set. First of all, on the market we operate in then, we usually fight Dell'Oro, and we will do that now as well. Dell'Oro expects the RAN market to grow by 3% in '21, up from 2% previously, of which China, up 4%; North America, 2%; and Europe, up 3%.

And regarding top line then, historically, Q1 is our weakest sales quarter. And if we look at the last three years, normal seasonality or average seasonality has been minus 24% from Q4 to Q1. And this Q1, we expect that the seasonal effect might be somewhat less pronounced due to the 5G investments and rollouts that are ongoing. IPR, importantly, as you know, from the press release in December, with ongoing renewal negotiations and other factors that we mentioned in the release, we may see an impact on operating income by between 1 billion and 1.5 billion per quarter.

For Q1, specifically, we expect that impact to be at the higher end of this range. Networks segment, we expect a similar mix Q1 to Q4. opex typically decrease from Q1 to -- Q4 to Q1 due to seasonality. And I want to point out again, with large variations between the years.

Also, I want to remind about the FX rule of thumb. And then finally, a reminder that we expect Cradlepoint, as Börje mentioned, to negatively impact group operating margin in '21 and 2022 by around 1 percentage point. With that, thank you so much. And back to you, our CEO, Mr.

Börje Ekholm.

Borje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Mr. Carl Mellander. We are proud of our performance during 2020. But I would also say we're not happy at all as we see a lot of improvement areas in the business.

And we run the business focusing on driving the long-term margin improvements and growth. And we really see the targets for 2022 as a milestone simply on the way to reaching the long-term targets of 15% to 18% EBITDA margin. 2021 will, however, be an investment year, with investments that will underpin our long-term growth as well as our long-term margins. And this includes such areas as IPR, Cradlepoint but also continued investments in the business.

And as we have gone through already, in December, we announced that we have important IPR negotiations and renewals ongoing that will impact -- or that will defer revenues for a period of time. But we see that we, through focusing on maximizing the long-term value of our portfolio, can actually significantly improve our IPR revenues. We will also continue to invest in R&D to broaden the product portfolio and maintaining a strong customer offering but also driving a further improved cost position. We do note that Cradlepoint will have a negative effect in 2021 primarily due to amortizations but also investments in growth.

And we also see that in order to further strengthen our platform, we continue to increase our investments in compliance but also security. What we have also seen during the last few years that the value of increased footprint is clearly paying off in expanded gross margin, and that's something we intend to do to capitalize on our very competitive portfolio under current market conditions. The effects from COVID and continued geopolitical uncertainty, they, of course, remain, but we believe we're well positioned to manage any potential effects with the improved flexibility and resilience in our operation, and we continue to invest for further improving the flexibility and resiliency. 5G is now a reality, and we are a global leader with 127 contracts as well as 79 live networks.

Our continued presence in the largest and fastest-growing markets around the world are critical to support technology leadership and thus, supporting our long-term financial targets. I want to also say that, from an industry point of view, it's critical that we hold together the global standard and not fragment that because the global standard has actually allowed the world to connect 8 billion subscribers onto one uniform standard. We are increasingly seeing that many countries are accelerating the investments in the 5G network as they see the innovation on top of the network can easily create value that's five to 10 times the network investments and allow them to transform and digitalize their companies to leverage this new platform. We hope that Europe will see this value as well before we fall too far behind the more aggressive countries and frontrunner countries.

We are committed to the targets for 2022. But as we have said, we see 2021 as an investment year that creates a very strong platform for future growth and for reaching the long-term targets of 15% to 18% EBITDA margin. We're confident in our ability to do so based on a strong underlying performance and resilience in the business built during the turnaround and visible in the financial performance for 2020. Thank you again for listening in.

And with that, I hand back to Peter for all your questions.

Peter Nyquist

Thank you, Börje. So operator, we can now open for the Q&A session, and we will continue that to around 10:00 Central European Time. So please, operator.

Questions & Answers:


Operator

[Operator instructions]

Peter Nyquist

Thank you, operator. So the first question we will have here from Aleksander Peterc from Societe Generale. So Aleksander, please.

Aleksander Peterc -- Societe Generale -- Analyst

Yes, good morning. I hope you can hear me well.

Peter Nyquist

Yes, you're perfect.

Aleksander Peterc -- Societe Generale -- Analyst

Great. Thank you. So I just have one question on your '22 targets and then a very quick follow-up, if I may. So the first question is, given the strong networks margins that you have now, can you explain why we should more cautiously model '22? Obviously, at midpoint of your targeted margin, that's 200 basis points below what you achieved in 2020.

So if you could tell us what would drag these margins down. Do you have strong market share ambitions? And if you could quantify them. Or are enjoying particular tailwinds now that will disappear? And if you could quantify that as well. And then the quick follow-up will be just on IPR.

I see a lot of disparity in how we model this. So maybe a good, like, kind of a guidance on how many quarters we should take the missing IPR out of your bottom line and that would achieve a more consistent consensus for 2021, in particular, maybe you would like to give us a bit firmer guidance and understanding that that can change as and when litigations resolve. Thanks very much.

Borje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

If we comment on target for 2022, we run the company not focused on 2022 but much rather on the long term. So we have a clean result for Q4. There's not really any specific tailwinds in any way. So it's not that we think that is going to change.

It's just that we see that we will continue to invest in the business in order to drive the long-term margin target of 15% to 18%. That's what we are focused on. So 2022 is merely a milestone on that journey. And we have not spent a lot of time looking through the details of 2022.

So view that only as a stepping stone to a much higher margin target. And on the IPR, I appreciate your question, and I understand the difficulty, but I would encourage you to think how long is a rope. It's very unclear when you look at just that pile. So it's very hard for us to say that how many quarters this will go on.

We have given you the guidance that it's about 1 billion to 1.5 billion per quarter. And we will update you as we move along on that journey. But rest assured, our focus is again not on closing a deal in specific quarter but much rather on maximizing the net present value of our patent portfolio. And that's what we will focus on, not on an individual quarter.

Aleksander Peterc -- Societe Generale -- Analyst

Thank you very much.

Peter Nyquist

Thank you, Aleksander. We will move to the next question, Daniel Djurberg from -- oh sorry, yes, Daniel Djurberg from Handelsbanken. So please, Daniel.

Daniel Djurberg -- Handelsbanken Capital Markets -- Analyst

Thank you very much and a big congratulations for this strong report. I have a question on your near-term planning assumptions. You expect less visible seasonality quarter on quarter on back of the strong 5-year momentum. I was wondering if you should expect this when it comes also to the North American market.

If you can comment on that would be great.

Borje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

North America -- thanks, Daniel. The momentum continues in North America. It's been strong throughout this year. And now, of course, we also see maybe for a bit more long term that the C Band auctions have been completed, as you know, and that will lead to investments in that spectrum band as well, but that's more toward the end of the year.

Short term, we see that the momentum will continue in North America. And we are a big part of the rollouts, as you know, for all the Tier 1s there. So that will continue.

Daniel Djurberg -- Handelsbanken Capital Markets -- Analyst

Perfect. Thank you so much. I will go back in the queue.

Peter Nyquist

OK, Daniel Djurberg, thank you. And we will move to the next question which is from Alex Duval from Goldman Sachs. Hi, Alex.

Alex Duval -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Yes, good morning, everyone, and congrats on the robust results. I had a couple of quick questions. Firstly, you've talked about market share gains from all competitors. I wondered to what extent can that continue this year.

And what are the key functions or attributes of your product that are allowing this? In the past, you've talked about ease of rollout and things like dynamic spectrum sharing. I wondered if you could talk about what would be the key factors and the extent to which you can maintain or extend your lead, as presumably others will want to catch up. Also, it looks like North America and China are being key drivers of growth this year. As we go into 2021, it seems like you're talking about market growth for the European market.

I wondered what you're seeing in Europe that gives you that confidence given your comment just now that there could be a risk that Europe could be lagging behind others. What are telcos saying to you? And to what extent do you see 5G helping to underpin the digital economy in Europe? Many thanks.

Borje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. If we start with the market share gains, I would say what we see now is the deployments, our deployments in the field, where we can make comparisons, we clearly have a very strong performance which I think is the key driver why we see this attractiveness for our customers. The other things, we have invested over the past few years in improving our call it cost, TCO cost, so the total cost of ownership for our customers. And that, of course, is an important aspect when they look at our product compared to competitors.

And of course, we have, over the last few years, shown that we deliver on the road map commitments we have made which made the customers also appreciate the road map we show, but also, of course, our ability to execute on that. So I would say, we're seeing this -- all these gains now happening in several markets around the world. And I think it shows the investments we've made for a long time in R&D and we increased in 2017. If you look at Europe, why we're -- you hear us be a bit more upbeat is really that we see the market share gains.

It's more driven by the market share gains than the general market growth for our outlook in Europe. What we're hoping for is, of course, that we will start to see some more 5G rollouts on a bigger scale in Europe during 2021, but that would further underpin growth in Europe. So most of what we're seeing so far is really attributable to share gains. And of course, share gains that you cannot expect to continue forever, right? So it is really important that we start to see the market come back to an underlying growth for the long term.

But we think the migration to 5G is inevitable. It's attractive for the consumer because it kind of generates value for the end user, but it also addresses the cost position from growing data traffic in the networks. So this is a migration that will happen. It's more -- and we see that in all other markets.

So we believe it's likely to happen in Europe as well.

Peter Nyquist

OK, Alex?

Alex Duval -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Many thanks.

Peter Nyquist

Thank you. And then we'll move to the next question which comes from Sébastien Sztabowicz from Kepler Cheuvreux. Hi, Sébastien.

Sebastien Sztabowicz -- Kepler Cheuvreux -- Analyst

Yeah, hello and thanks for taking the question. One question in China. Could you please make an update on this market? Do you have any 5G tender ongoing there? And if yes, when do you expect the results from those 5G tenders? And a quick one on the component shortage that is affecting the semiconductor industry. Have you seen any impact so far? And how do you see the situation evolving for your specific supply chain and sourcing? Thank you.

Peter Nyquist

So your second question was about the supply chain development?

Sebastien Sztabowicz -- Kepler Cheuvreux -- Analyst

The component shortage, yes, component shortage that is affecting the industry.

Peter Nyquist

OK. Yeah, yeah.

Borje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

Component shortage. Yes, what -- if we start in China, there are continuous ongoing tenders there. So far, we've seen some -- we read the press like everyone else, so we see what goes on there. But in addition, we've possibly seen some hesitation and uncertainties among our customers.

But so far, no significant impact at all. And we continue to drive the business forward. And we believe our customers would like us in the network, and we see that kind of overall moving along in a quite good way. And as I said before, China is aggressively rolling out 5G, so we are -- it's an important market for us to be present in for -- more from a technology leadership point of view than possibly the volume.

But we are continuing to invest and see no reason to not do that. If we look at the supply chain, and you're right, the semiconductor market is rather tight. But you may also remember that we took decisions already in 2018 to, in a way, de-constrict our -- whatever you want to call it, remove as much restrictions in our supply chain and actually create more supply chain flexibility. So we are not seeing any effects now.

We can continue to supply our customers with what they demand. And if the current conditions continue for years, of course, we're going to have issues as well. But right now, we feel very comfortable about our delivery capabilities.

Peter Nyquist

OK, Sébastien?

Sebastien Sztabowicz -- Kepler Cheuvreux -- Analyst

Thank you.

Peter Nyquist

Thank you. We will move to the next question which comes from Peter Robert at Swedish Television. Peter, can you hear me?

Unkown speaker

Yes, thank you very much. Mr. Börje Ekholm, I would like to ask you about China. You are gaining market share there.

You are widening the scope there on the full year. But what happened after 20th of October last year when the Swedish authorities decided to close out Huawei?

Borje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. As we said, we continue to see a demand in China. We read the press like you do. But we continue to invest in the business, and we have so far not seen any material effects on the business.

Peter Nyquist

OK, Peter?

Unkown speaker

Yeah. But are you -- can I do another question?

Peter Nyquist

Sure.

Unkown speaker

Yeah. Have you taken any other steps there in China because of what happened in Sweden?

Borje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

We are continue -- what we have done, and we just went through that, is that we have invested in flexibility and resiliency in our business. That's something we have continued to do during 2020, and that allows us to be flexible to manage different type of implications that we can see in the business, being this question, being other questions. So that is something we are continuously doing. But otherwise, our business continues, and we'll continue to invest in the business like we always have.

Peter Nyquist

OK, Peter?

Unkown speaker

OK, thank you.

Peter Nyquist

Thank you. And we'll move to the next question, and the next question is from Achal Sultania at Credit Suisse. Hello, Achal. Can you hear us?

Achal Sultania -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Hi, good morning, everyone. Thanks for the question. Good morning. Yes.

A couple of questions. First, on the competitive landscape. When we think about who are we getting restricted from a number of countries, ZTE still falling behind on 5G, what is the situation when it comes to telco operators trying to find alternative suppliers, be it Samsung? Have you seen Samsung -- when you go for these 5G bids in Europe, are you seeing Samsung coming up as a credible competitor in the long term? And then secondly, on the open RAN situation obviously there's been a lot of talk about open RAN, especially in Europe. A number of telcos have come together and formed an alliance.

So how positioned -- how well positioned Ericsson is in that open world environment, open RAN environment in the future? And how should we think about the change in your business model if and when open RAN starts to get massively adopted? Thank you.

Borje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

On your first question, I think it's fair from our point of view, we're focusing on Ericsson. We're focusing on that business. And how the market looks and how our customer looks at different vendors, I think that's a good question better asked to them than to us. So that is, I think, a little bit hard for me to address.

What I can say is that it continues to be a competitive market around the world. And we've seen some vendors be aggressive on price, driving price discussions, etc. But I think, overall, it's no change compared to how it's been in 2018, '19 and 2020. So that kind of is a general call it background to the whole industry.

So I think you can rest assure that the market will continue to be competitive going forward. I know the discussion on open RAN, and you all know that we have also championed and pioneered increased openness and cross-industry collaboration as a way to speed up innovation. So for us, we're involved in open RAN. We're one of the key contributors in the work in that forum.

But at the same time, we see right now that speed to market as well as price performance reasons, the integrated solutions will continue to be a majority of the network deployment for the coming years. And this is in reality driven by the two large areas in North America as well as in China, where they are pushing ahead on deploying 5G now. So the discussion when kind of open RAN is -- and that architecture is going to be truly competitive, I think, is a bit hard to address right now. But it's not a near-term question.

We don't see it really ready for prime time, except for some low-performance applications or segments in the market. I think instead here, the discussion ought to be, especially here in Europe, should be, shouldn't we drive forward on 5G networks now. And otherwise, if we don't do that, we expose the whole industry in Europe to fall behind due to the disruption that actually happened in the consumer market on 4G that will now happen in the enterprise market with 5G. And I think that's a more healthy debate to be had in Europe, what can we do to speed up that deployment.

Peter Nyquist

Thanks, Achal. And we'll move to the next question, and the next question is from Johanna Ahlqvist from SEB. Good morning, Johanna.

Johanna Ahlqvis -- Enskilda Securities -- Analyst

Good morning. Two questions if I may. The first one, tag along on previous questions on competition. But do you see -- I mean, two of your competitors are struggling a bit on the product side.

So do you see any irrational pricing behavior in the market as of now due to that? And the second question relates to opex which was quite low in the quarter, as you say, partly related to less traveling due to the pandemic. But when you plan for 2021 on your opex, do you assume some sort of traveling resuming and things going back to normal that opex will come up a bit, leaving all patent disputes and FX side or how should we look upon opex in 2021? Thank you.

Carl Mellander -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Johanna. When it comes to opex going forward, what we can say, in general, and you know we don't really guide specifically on individual lines and so on in the P&L, but if you look at 2021 opex, we don't expect any massive moves compared with 2020. But of course, we have talked about a certain number of items that Cradlepoint, of course, is added. We only have two months of Cradlepoint in 2020 and of course, the full-year '21.

And then we have talked about litigation costs as well in relation to the IPR negotiations or renewals and so on. So there are certain items like that. But overall I would say 2020 is probably a fairly good guide for 2021 as well. When traveling will resume and to what extent, very hard to say.

I guess that's something everyone in the world thinks about. I suppose a reasonable estimate is that we will not go back to pre-COVID travel levels, but it's likely to increase a bit from 2020 whenever we can say that we are out of the pandemic.

Borje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

We can even say on travel that some parts of the world have traveled as normal also this past quarter. So don't think travel has gone to zero. No, it's not. And of course, we are still rolling out networks in the world.

And some countries definitely have come out of lockdown situations and so on. So there has been travel but, of course, on a very different level than pre-COVID. If you look at the question on competition, the -- I would say the pricing environment is not that different. It's been the same pretty much throughout 2020.

So we've been able to work in that environment and still, as you have seen, increased gross margins. So there are some, what I would label, aggressive and possibly irrational pricing behaviors in the market, but that's been throughout the year. So it's nothing that has really changed in the end of the year. It's been there.

I don't know what to say. We've been able to work in that environment, thanks to a competitive product portfolio but also a very good cost position with -- that we achieved by investing in R&D again to drive down the cost of the product. So I feel -- I don't expect any dramatic changes in the market behavior going forward. But it, of course, has elements of aggressiveness, but that it always has.

Peter Nyquist

OK, Johanna.

Johanna Ahlqvis -- Enskilda Securities -- Analyst

Thank you. Thank you.

Peter Nyquist

Thank you, Johanna. We'll move to the next one, and the next question is from Predrag Savinovic at Carnegie. Predrag, can you hear us?

Predrag Savinovic -- Carnegie Investment Bank -- Analyst

I can hear you. Good morning to all and thank you for taking my questions. Again, on the market share gains here, you mentioned you take some from our competitors. Could you elaborate a bit on the regions where you see the highest share gains? And also if you can mention something on order inquiries overall which has not yet led to an order win, so to speak, as of the beginning of this year as well.

And a follow-up on another discussion on the software part. I see 22% in 2020, up 1% from last year and has risen steadily. Can you talk about what you expect here in the coming five years? Is 30% realistic here?

Borje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. If we start with the latter part, one of our strategies have been to increase the software content. So that is actually one of our focus areas. So we continue to do that.

And we -- where that is going to take us at the end of the day, except that it's going to be an increasing portion, as you have seen in the past, and that will continue to increase. We're consistently working on that. And that is one of the key parts which allows us to say that our target for a long-term margin is going to be 15% to 18%. That will be underpinned by growing software content.

The first question?

Peter Nyquist

Market share gains.

Borje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, market share gains. And it's actually -- it's clear that we see market share gains in Europe. That is what has allowed us to get back to growth in Europe. The underlying market, we don't see really growing.

So Europe, it's a clear market share gain. We've also seen strong gains in North America, where we have -- it is a part of the strong growth profile we've seen in the U.S., and we have share gains there with a couple of operators in both the U.S. as well as Canada. We also -- and it's well publicized, we have a market share gain in China as well.

So we have a larger share of 5G than we had of 4G. So that is also driving our growth. We're seeing increased market share as well in Australia. We're seeing it in other parts of Asia as well.

So the market share gains, it's not that it's really isolated to one market or one segment. It's actually across the board. What makes us comfortable is also that we're seeing -- or we're comfortable with believing at least that we can strengthen our business is what we see on the -- what I would say will be preorder, i.e., discussions with customers on deployment plans, chances to win additional market share. So we see actually a very robust development there, and that makes us believe that we have a very strong position right now, and we want to capitalize on that.

But don't leave the question thinking that we're -- it's an isolated market share gain that drove all of this. No, it's actually much more widespread.

Peter Nyquist

OK, Predrag. We'll move to Fredrik Lithell at Danske Bank. Fredrik, can you hear me? Fredrik? He disappeared. Then we'll move to the next one, Frank Mauer at DNB.

Hello, Frank. Good morning.

Unknown speaker

Good morning. So yeah, I think most of my questions have been partially answered at least. So -- but if you could help me a little bit about how to think about the gross margins for 2021. Are you -- I think you indicated that you are comfortable in general with your ability to meet price pressure, for instance, in North America and elsewhere with -- due to your investments in R&D that allows you to continue to reduce hardware costs and so on.

Do you expect that to continue this year? And the second point question relating to this is whether or not you expect a similar commodity mix and business mix this year as you had in 2020.

Carl Mellander -- Chief Financial Officer

Good. OK. Yeah. Thanks, Frank.

Yeah, so on the gross margin side, of course, there are, as usual, puts and takes. And you mentioned some of them yourself including constantly taking out cost out of the portfolio, and that will continue. That's relentless effort, of course, in R&D to accomplish that. And you have seen the historical development of gross margin.

It's really supported to a very large extent by that, the fact that we are cost -- or have a cost structure that is more and more competitive. And that will continue, of course. And then we have flagged, as you know, for certain things that will impact the next year including the IPR, of course which is also impacting gross margin. So we have to take that into account.

But otherwise, I think we're proud of the gross margin development so far, and we will certainly fight to continue in this direction as well in 2021 and beyond.

Peter Nyquist

Thanks, Frank. We will move to the last question. Thank you, Frank.

Carl Mellander -- Chief Financial Officer

Sorry, what's the second?

Peter Nyquist

Commodity mix for full-year 2021, that was the question, right?

Carl Mellander -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. But I think what we saw in the fourth quarter, when it comes to commodity mix, it's also that the hardware portion was large. And that's -- I think I said before, that's actually a very good sign because it's an evidence or a result of gaining footprint. And that we expect to continue now as 5G deployments continue.

So at least in the beginning of the first half or so of 2021, we will see large hardware volumes being delivered, and that's a good thing. And then coming back perhaps to the last question there on software, of course, that's the overall ambition to continue to increase the software share in our offering, and that goes both for networks and digital services business as well as emerging business and other of course.

Peter Nyquist

OK, then. Thank you, Frank. We'll then move to the last question for this session, that is. Then we have Fredrik Lithell back here, Danske Bank.

Fredrik, can you hear us now?

Fredrik Lithell -- Danske Bank -- Analyst

Yeah, I can hear you clearly. I hope you can hear me as well.

Peter Nyquist

Perfect.

Fredrik Lithell -- Danske Bank -- Analyst

Yeah. Just a follow-up on the market share gains, sorry for pushing one more of those questions. But outside of Europe and North America, where it is probably so that some operators are also leaning more toward you and maybe Nokia instead of the Chinese, can you see market share gains in more neutral aspects? Are you sort of on technology aspects and total cost of ownership in other regions? It would be interesting to hear sort of where you stand toward maybe your toughest competitor. Thank you.

Borje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you. As I said, we see market share gains across the board, right? It's not isolated to individual countries where there have been restrictions. So I would say, when you look, there are a number of countries around the world where we have strengthened our position, and that makes us see that we gain that footprint based on the technology we can offer, and it's still a competitive market. So it's no way granted that everything will go to us.

But we can see that we are having a disproportionate win ratio. So that's why I feel very comfortable about our competitiveness of the portfolio not only from a product feature and road map point of view but also from a cost point of view. And that's equally important in a competitive market. So you see our market share gains that may not be visible in numbers yet, but it is in Africa, it's in Asia, it's in Latin America as well.

Fredrik Lithell -- Danske Bank -- Analyst

OK, that's very clear. Thank you very much for that.

Peter Nyquist

Thank you, Fredrik. So thank you for all good questions today. But before we close the call, I know that Börje wants to have some final remarks. So please go ahead.

Borje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, one thing, Peter, is different from you telling me that I have to. So I just want to end by saying we're proud of the delivery of a solid 2020. We're not happy. That's because we see a lot of improvement areas, and we are continuing to invest in those improvement areas.

So we are committed on the target for 2022 as a milestone to reaching the long-term EBITDA margin target of 15% to 18%, where we're really investing and spending the effort to make sure that we deliver. With that, thank you all for listening in, and we wish you a great rest of the Friday and a happy weekend.

Carl Mellander -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Duration: 61 minutes

Call participants:

Peter Nyquist

Borje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

Carl Mellander -- Chief Financial Officer

Brje Ekholm -- Chief Executive Officer

Aleksander Peterc -- Societe Generale -- Analyst

Daniel Djurberg -- Handelsbanken Capital Markets -- Analyst

Alex Duval -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Sebastien Sztabowicz -- Kepler Cheuvreux -- Analyst

Sbastien Sztabowicz -- Kepler Cheuvreux -- Analyst

Unkown speaker

Achal Sultania -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Johanna Ahlqvis -- Enskilda Securities -- Analyst

Predrag Savinovic -- Carnegie Investment Bank -- Analyst

Unknown speaker

Fredrik Lithell -- Danske Bank -- Analyst

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