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America Will Not Win the Global Race to 5G

Several weeks ago, the White House published a document asserting that “America Will Win the Global Race to 5G.”

The White House should get over it. This is not about America winning any global race to 5G, but the world working together on fundamentally different, complex, new communication networks and services. There are four important points, however.

1) It is not helpful to describe this as a race—it is the world collectively cooperating to bring about new network communication capabilities that “raise all ships.”

2) Somewhat embarrassingly, the White House pronouncement lacks a basic understanding of 5G.

3) the actual metrics of open global industry collaborative activity in the global 5G marketplace provide a good indication of who is engaging to purse the emerging marketplace.

4) as FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel recently noted, the U.S. Administration’s trade and other multilateral policies significantly impair U.S. ability to excel in the global 5G revolution.

There is some good news. U.S. industry’s cloud data centres can be significantly leveraged in a 5G world—especially if the extraterritorial concerns can be effectively addressed. U.S. industry generally excels in a world of virtualised network services. The vulnerable old DARPA internets cobbled with bailing wire begin to disappear. And, making additional spectrum available in the U.S. for 5G is good if it is coordinated internationally in the ITU.

The White House could also enhance American engagement in the international activity by providing incentives for U.S. companies to devote resources to participate in the massive global industry venues like 3GPP that are collectively developing 5G technologies and services. It also would not hurt for U.S. government agencies to participate and develop their own knowledge of 5G developments. Some facts with pointers and a care kit follow.

What 5G is

What is significant and revolutionary about 5G is not just more ubiquitous, high capacity wireless access. It is the fundamentally different, new underlying network architectures, services, and devices that are all virtualised and orchestrated on demand from cloud data centres far and near (known as MEC – Multi-access Edge Computing). Desired networks are orchestrated as needed as “slices” through a 5G fabric. It enables far more efficient and secure network protocols like Carrier Ethernet to be deployed with lower overhead, other more secure internet protocols, and LISP IPv4 addresses and gateways on demand if you need them. (Bob Metcalfe and Larry Roberts should feel vindicated.)

It also allows for DNS, discovery and tagging service competition based on performance. (The’s and’s should be pleased.) And, it enables secure backplanes and ubiquitous virtualised middleboxes to better manage and secure network communication infrastructures.

How 5G evolved

All of this began about six years ago with the formation of the new Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) Industry Specification Group bringing together industry (and a few governments) players from around the world. It grew rapidly, worked intensely, began working closely with other collaborative industry bodies, and developed the specification blueprints for revolutionary new virtualised network architectures and service provisioning.

The NFV group included a significant cross-section of the mobile industry that collaborates through the largest and most powerful of the global network communications bodies—3GPP. Soon, 3GPP itself took up the challenge of instantiating the revolutionary new NFV platforms, combined with marrying it to ubiquitous new high capacity, programmable radio access platforms using additional radio spectrum allocations.

Where the 5G work occurs

The three major branches of 3GPP known as SA (Services & Systems), CT (Core Networks & Terminals), and RAN (Radio Access Networks), and their many sub-groups are the “specifications foundry” for 5G with a best-of-breed access portal. It is here that all the principal 5G meetings with participant and input document listings are found, as well as the specifications adopted and liaisons to other organizations. This includes a cornucopia of other relevant standards bodies, especially including ITU-R collaboration for spectrum, and extending to GSMA for operator and vendor implementation oversight, ETSI for additional security, ITU-T for worldwide multilateral implementations, CableLabs for cable implementations, OASIS for orchestration scripts, IETF for legacy DARPA IP—to name the more prominent. 5G IoT touches almost everyone - including the auto industry.

These 3GPP meetings typically are five days long somewhere in the world, with many hundreds of participants and literally thousands of documents; and they occur in clusters every 30-60 days. This level of work is unprecedented and constitutes by far the largest scale networking industry activity in the world today for network and end-user equipment vendors and service providers.

Metrics on 5G “leaders” in the global marketplace

The indicators of leadership can include many factors, and there are many specialized areas of 5G where leadership is compartmentalized to those areas. However, one of the more reliable indicators of leadership is the engagement in open industry collaborative processes to create that “rising tide which raises all ships” in a worldwide market. While those metrics themselves do not always map to marketplace success, they are strong indicators of stature in the global 5G market, and essentially all significant vendors and operators participate at varying levels—even when they pursue their own proprietary products.

Thus, by identifying the most important venues and analysing the metrics and impact of the involvement, an approximation of the leaders can be gauged. Those parties who actually invest relatively valuable human and intellectual property resources in the form of people engaged in the hundreds of meetings per years and working with many thousands of technical specification materials provided, tend to emerge as leaders. These are activities once mastered and dominated by the U.S. telecom and information network industry.

The rather massive concentration of 5G work in the sets of 3GPP committees provides a consistent and reliable method to see both resource deployment and broadly supported state of the art innovation. 3GPP generally holds meetings in clusters rotating among North America, Europe, and Asia. The past month provided an opportunity to examine two large clusters of 3GPP meetings—one which just occurred in Spokane, Washington, and the other next week in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The six Spokane 5G meetings focussed on services, security, and radio access technology. There were 1821 registrants from 297 different companies, institutes, and agencies. Almost all the larger transnational companies, such as Qualcomm, Intel, Apple and their counterparts in other regions, have as many as eight country subsidiaries represented. The top twenty players based on aggregated registered employees were:

93 Huawei
91 Ericsson
82 Qualcomm
77 Nokia
77 Samsung
54 Intel
54 LG
47 ZTE
45 InterDigital
42 China Mobile
40 Apple
26 MediaTek
25 AT&T
25 Sony
24 SHARP Corporation
24 Vivo Technologies

It is contributions individually and collectively, however, that constitute a more substantive measure of development leadership. For the six concurrent meetings in Spokane, there were 8,917 input documents from 201 different parties—biased significantly toward product vendors supporting 5G radio access devices and chipsets. Because there is a common interest in many of these contributions, and emphasis is placed on cooperation, the contributions often have multiple party submitters. Here, the top twenty contributors to the 5G specifications and studies based on disaggregated submitter metrics are shown below. Not surprisingly, there is a strong mapping to the number of registered participants.

1705 Huawei
1696 Ericsson
1633 Nokia
1278 Hisilicon
546 Qualcomm
533 ZTE
460 Intel
402 Samsung
352 LG
262 MIIT
218 MediaTek
211 NTT Docomo
202 OPPO
161 Vivo Technologies
156 China Mobile
142 ETSI
134 Sanechips
89 Apple
78 InterDigital
73 AT&T

In contrast to the Spokane meeting cluster, the six groups in West Palm Beach are focussing on 5G architectures, critical NS/EP communications, end-user devices, internet protocols, and signaling. There are 563 registrants from 126 different companies, institutes, and agencies. The top twenty players based on registered employees are the following.

53 Qualcomm
40 Huawei
40 Samsung
38 Ericsson
32 Nokia
19 InterDigital
19 Orange
17 NTT Docomo
12 LG
11 Deutsche Telekom
11 Intel
11 ZTE Corporation
10 Apple
10 NEC
9 AT&T
9 BlackBerry
9 Motorola

For the six concurrent meetings in West Palm Beach, there are 2,317 participant input documents from 100 different parties—without a 5G radio access device and chipset bias. Here, the top twenty contributors to the 5G specifications and studies based on disaggregated submitter metrics are shown below.

783 Nokia
512 Huawei
426 Ericsson
230 HiSilicon
133 Qualcomm
124 Samsung
81 ZTE
78 Orange
57 Intel
55 China Mobile
53 AT&T
50 FirstNet
49 MediaTek Inc.
42 LG Electronics
42 Motorola
41 Deutsche Telekom
39 Harris Corporation
39 NTT Docomo
38 NEC

Challenges, help, and reflection

The massive size and dynamics of the 5G activity in a body like 3GPP make it difficult to show leadership at the micro level. It requires a substantive understanding of constantly evolving details that are difficult to acquire, and examination of specific work items. It is available in very few companies and agencies. For those interested in a place to start, 3GPP’s secretariat at ETSI has an excellent, constantly updated 5G site, including presentations and links to current workshops.

The most significant meta question that deserves being asked was posed by Red Team Master DARPA Emeritus Director Lukasik in his famous IEEE Millennium essay: will our lives be better because of these new network capabilities?


The author’s efforts directed at industry ecosystem analysis of strategic technology developments in network communication technical bodies began in the early 80s while working for the former DARPA Director in the FCC’s Office of Science and Technology and evolved over nearly four decades. It is based on available authoritative open source information and enables others to do their own analysis.

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC

The author is a leader in many international cybersecurity bodies developing global standards and legal norms over many years.

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Additional useful pointers Anthony Rutkowski  –  Nov 26, 2018 5:37 PM

There are two additional very helpful reference sites maintained by the NFV and MEC Secretariats at ETSI - which serves as a cooperative global collaborative mechanism among the world’s regional standards bodies - as it does for mobile networks (3GPP).  All resulting specifications are well-versioned and freely available on-line with persistent URIs.  3GPP participation exists through any of the regional standards bodies.  NFV and MEC non-voting membership and access to working materials are additionally open to any organization or person free of charge except for a nominal fee for physical meeting attendance.  These sites include:

NFV Technology

MEC Technology

Internetworking settlements are key for 5G Michael Elling  –  Nov 28, 2018 1:20 PM

Anthony, while I agree that cooperation is key, the 5G model still lacks an economic approach and understanding to interworking.  Importantly, the latter should take into account universal service (which has almost completely been written out of people’s thinking) and how to account for rapid technological obsolescence even as network spending (and risk) increases.  Only then can supply and demand be cleared ex ante.  At present the demand side is simply assumed to be “large”.  I have not perused all the workshop material, but if you are aware of any that address these fundamental economic issues please point them out.  Best, Michael michael at ivpcapital dot com

settlements Anthony Rutkowski  –  Nov 28, 2018 1:42 PM

This is an excellent point. The short answer is that GSMA serves as the global collaborative body for operators and vendors for the mobile and 5G services. The economics and interworking at a practical level - as well as many other components - occur in the GSMA's many groups and promulgated by them.

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