These Are the Players in 5G -- and Here's How They Can Win

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Ericsson drew crowds at its demonstration at Mobile World Congress 2017.
Ericsson drew crowds at its demonstration at Mobile World Congress 2017. Credit: Ericsson via flickr
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The who's who of 5G are an alliance of global powers acting as both friend and foe.

They include operators like Verizon, T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom and AT&T; vendors such as Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, Samsung and ZTE, which build the tech that would deploy 5G; and chipset manufacturers like Intel and Qualcomm, whose processors power things like smartphones and autonomous cars.

Big money to be made on new equipment and services provides a big reason for the companies to team up. "Right now, we are in this pre-standard phase which is always a little bit like the wild west," said Helena Norrman, chief marketing officer at Ericsson. "Standards sometimes may not be equally good for companies because some companies can make more money if they make their own, depending on which businesses they're pursuing."

Without an overall standard, 5G could fail to deliver its promise of a truly connected world. When 2G arrived in the 1990s with no definitive standard, some phones worked only in certain countries or with particular carriers.

One influential group in determining the development deadlines and ultimate standards is 3GPP, with members from every part of the world. Participating trade associations and their own members collaborate with their counterparts, but that doesn't mean there are no winners or losers. A company that contributes a key element will not only help align 5G with its business model but be compensated as others in the mobile ecosystem use that intellectual property. Everyone else still benefits from the open standard and accelerated development process.

"You pay a certain price for it, but it is all there, it is all open for you to use and everyone can use the same technology, which then brings a lot of scale, which brings down prices for consumers," Ms. Norrman said. "That's really, really different than other industries."