Competition Shifts to Co-opetition Within the Mobile Industry Race to 5G

By Consuelo Azuaje

Cue the William Tell Overture, let the cannons roar—the race to 5G is well underway. SK Telecom and Verizon have emerged as frontrunners, with SK Telecom projecting that its 5G network will be commercially available by 2018, just in time for the Pyeong Chang Winter Olympic Games. While Verizon, on the other hand, plans to begin field testing by 2017.

Not to be outdone, however, Ericsson and Nokia showcased their 5G tech at the 2015 Mobile World Congress, with Ericsson achieving 5.8 gigabytes per second via a 15 GHz super high frequency (SHF) radio frequency. Nokia demonstrated 2 Gbps data-transfer speeds, but the notable features of its demo were its capacity to maintain a network connection between a stationary base and a moving device and its use of a 73.5 GhZ frequency which falls into the extremely high frequency (EHF) spectrum. Being that today's 4G-and-lesser phones use frequencies beneath the SHF 3 GhZ-threshold, Nokia users would have to trade up their phones to reap future, 5G-benefits. Additionally, major players Megafon and Huawei have promised a 5G trial launch by the 2018 World Cup.

After listening to enough reports by these 5G pioneers, you begin to hear past the ambitious predictions and instead hear espresso machines buzzing as developers clamor to gain even a few inches on the competition. It’s perhaps due to this competition that issues with labeling standards and generations remain an open question. By the standards of some, Moscow-based Art Communications provided a functional 5G network as early as 10 years ago. Some, however, are opting out of strict competition, and are instead choosing co-opetition. Co-opetition is an approach wherein would-be competitors collaborate for mutual benefit. In keeping with this reemerging trend, AT&T announced in early June of this year that it would working with Nokia to define 5G features, capabilities, and test cases for capabilities. AT&T and Nokia expect to complete outdoor 5G wireless connectivity trials by the end of this summer in several cities across the US.

Ulf Ewaldsson, CTO of Ericson, and Marcus Weldon, CTO and President of Bell Labs, have respectively predicted that 5G will be an “open innovation platform” for “omnipresent” connectivity. To Nicola Ciulli, the Head of Research and Development at the Italian startup Nextworks, 5G is nothing more than a “brand name” and “umbrella term,” useful for identifying “future architectures, technologies, and paradigm shifts emerging on the telecomms landscape.”

One point on which quibbling experts have come to agree upon, following ITU's boomingly-announced 20 Gbps-standard, is that the progression from 4G to 5G will be exponential, not linear. Referred to as “IMT-2020” by the ITU, 5G will be much greater than a faster, higher-capacity 4G, in that not only will it succeed where 4G's technical limitations commit it to failure, but it will do so by using novel methods of managing connectivity, and it will seek out new possibilities and new applications, boldly going where no tech has gone before.