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5G Reality Check: February 2020

Given all the clueless, nonsensical assertions coming out of Washington these days about 5G and purported leadership, it seemed time to do another reality check. It was timely at the moment because, with the Coronavirus concerns, the massive 3GPP 5G industry collaboration engine switched to virtual meeting mode for February. Thus — with travel barriers to participation completely absent — the participation metrics represent a real litmus test for even nominal engagement in global 5G industry collaboration and technology development.

A reality check is also valuable because of the Trump Administration's incredulous assault on international standards bodies instituted last year that recently led to a major U.S. industry lobbying organization speaking up about the serious adverse effects on the ability of U.S. companies to participate in the 5G marketplace. Amazingly, the Administration — with no apparent knowledge of how the 5G industry actually creates a global marketplace through collaboration and information sharing — placed many of the key industry players on a blacklist simply because they were Chinese companies. This has never occurred in the 170-year history of international telecommunications activity. The Trump people were oblivious to the reality that international standards activities are a two-way street, and that the Chinese companies were actually sharing their rather substantial IPR and advanced 5G business plans with everyone, with decisions taken by consensus among the participants. It is how these global technical standards activities work — a process perfected over many decades and leveraged by the U.S. itself to enhance its own technology, economic opportunities and national security. In the global electronic communication market, everyone gains by collaborating on creating the opportunities through standards making.

The global 5G industry venues are also critically important for four factors that go beyond just standards development. First is that the most significant user communities that include both commercial communities and government agencies, come to these venues to agree on common requirements and get them baked into the resulting consensus specifications free from anticompetitive and IPR infringement liabilities. These communities notably include transportation, consumer, satellite, cable, public safety, regulatory, national security, enterprise, and law enforcement user communities; and the resulting specifications are then weighed against those requirements in the form of certification and testing mandates and contractual provisions imposed by regions, nations, and user sectors. The second benefit derives from the constant liaison processes that occur as part of every meeting where information flows in and out to numerous other private and intergovernmental bodies and groups that are relevant to the activity. The third benefit is a strategic intelligence capability enabled by everyone constantly, openly sharing information and creating new study and work item proposals. The fourth benefit is the establishment of strategic technology, operations, and marketplace directions and timetables at both macro and micro levels.

Those companies or government agencies who are developing or shaping the global specifications in these venues are by definition leaders and have a competitive advantage in understanding how best to implement the resulting standards and relationships with partners worldwide. And although the quantity of submitted technical contributions and employees participating are not definitive, they are roughly indicative not only of interest and intent but seriousness in the marketplace. There are a number of important 5G industry technical and operational venues. However, 3GPP sets at the center a cluster of bodies in the 5G universe, and it promulgates the definitive global standards for equipment and services. As a result, it is by far the largest and most active network communications industry collaborative activity today — with the metrics to prove it.

Almost all of the 5G group clusters were meeting this month to process an amazing 13,230 technical contribution submissions primarily aimed at finalizing this year, the many hundreds of detailed studies and specifications that constitute a full, stand-alone 5G global infrastructure, its equipment, and services. The 1,238 current specification work items are clustered by release: 435 Rel. 15 (hybrid 5G), 666 Rel. 16 (full standalone 5G), 132 Rel. 17 (next-gen 5G), 5 Rel. 18 (advanced). Rel. 18 notably includes guidelines for 5G extraterritorial systems.

The 3GPP 5G work is clustered around three topical groups: RAN (radio access network), SA (network architectures and security), and CT (core capabilities and terminals). For the February cluster of meetings consisted of 5 RAN groups, 5 SA groups, and 4 CT groups. Of the total 13,230 submissions, 71% were in RAN, 14% in SA, and 15% in CT. Of the 1,556 participants, 68% were in RAN, 16% in SA, and 16% in CT. This skewing toward RAN activities reflects both the requirements for the immediate 5G market, as well as the degree of integration necessary to implement really advanced radio-based services successfully.

RAN Engagement

There were a total of 164 different companies and agencies participating in the RAN work spread across five subgroups, and 121 of those entities contributed input materials. Forty-three just observed. The largest number of contributions were in RAN4 (Radio Performance Protocol aspects).

The top twenty companies in deploying participants and technical contributions across all the RAN groups are shown in the table below. Almost all participants were from major vendors, providers, or institutes. Two FCC staff were listed in each of two groups, and one DOD staff person in each of the two groups. Neither contributed anything.

The top twenty companies are responsible for 84% of the contributions and 57 % of the participants. As a group, Chinese companies clearly contribute the most IPR into the RAN groups (44%), although they are not dominant, and all of the final results are achieved by consensus.

  Participants               Contributions
  78 Ericsson (SE)           1238 Ericsson (SE)
  64 Huawei (CN)             1185 Huawei (CN)
  62 Nokia (FI)               793 HiSilicon (CN)
  52 Qualcomm (US)            594 Nokia (FI)
  40 Samsung (KR)             512 ZTE (CN)
  32 LG(KR)                   491 Qualcomm (US)
  31 Intel (US)               489 Nokia Shanghai Bell (CN)
  26 MediaTek (TW)            341 Samsung (KR)
  24 Fraunhofer (DE)          318 CATT (CN)
  23 Vivo (CN)                239 Vivo (CN)
  23 ZTE (CN)                 228 NTT DOCOMO (JP)
  22 Apple (US)               207 MediaTek (TW)
  20 CATT (CN)                202 Intel (US)
  19 NTT DOCOMO               182 LG (KR)
  19 Spreadtrum (CN)          179 China Mobile (CN)
  15 China Telecom (CN)       151 OPPO (CN)
  15 Futurewei (CN)           134 Sanechips (CN)
  15 NEC (JP)                 127 Apple (US)
  14 Panasonic (JP)           120 China Telecom (CN)
  13 Fujitsu (JP)             106 Anritsu (JP)

SA Engagement

The SA work is focused on what are arguably the most dramatic new and innovative 5G developments made possible by network and service virtualization coupled to high radio end-user delivery bandwidths, and typically invokes a different set of players than the RAN groups. There were a total of 95 different companies and agencies participating in the SA work spread across five subgroups; 76 of those entities contributed input materials. Nineteen just observed. The largest number of contributions were in SA2 (architecture).

The top twenty companies in deploying participants and technical contributions across all the SA groups are shown in the table below. Almost all participants were from major vendors, providers, or institutes. One DHS FirstNet staff person participated in each of two groups, and one DOJ person in one group. Neither contributed anything.

The top twenty companies are responsible for 90% of the contributions and 59% of the participants. As a group, Chinese companies also clearly contribute the most IPR into the SA groups (52%), although there is a greater diversity of participants that is more inclusive of end-users and providers.

  Participants               Contributions
  20 Huawei (CN)             322 Huawei (CN)
  19 Ericsson (SE)           259 Ericsson (SE)
  16 Samsung (KR)            215 HiSilicon (CN)
  11 Nokia (FI)              155 Nokia (FI)
   8 China Mobile (CN)       132 Nokia Shanghai Bell (CN)
   8 Motorola (US)            85 Samsung (KR)
   7 ZTE (CN)                 67 ZTE (CN)
   6 ETRI (KR)                60 CATT (CN)
   5 CATT (CN)                52 China Mobile (CN)
   5 China Telecom (CN)       46 Intel (US)
   5 Intel (US)               45 Qualcomm (US)
   5 NTT DOCOMO (JP)          37 Vivo (CN)
   5 Tencent (CN)             30 LG Electronics (KR)
   4 LG (KR)                  25 NTT DOCOMO (JP)
   4 Qualcomm (US)            22 China Telecom (CN)
   4 Vivo (CN)                22 Deutsche Telekom (DE)
   4 Vodafone (UK)            22 OPPO (CN)
   3 Airbus (EU)              22 Tencent (CN)
   3 Apple (US)               21 Orange (FR)
   3 AT&T (US)                15 China Unicom (CN)

CT Engagement

The CT work is focused largely on services, including some that are new and innovative 5G developments, and typically invokes a different set of players than the RAN and SA groups, including end-user communities. There were a total of 67 different companies and agencies participating in the CT work spread across four subgroups; 55 of those entities contributed input materials. Twelve just observed. The largest number of contributions were in CT1 (user equipment).

The top twenty companies in deploying participants and technical contributions across all the CT groups are shown in the table below. Almost all participants were from major vendors, providers, or institutes. One DHS FirstNet staff person participated in one group, and one DOD person in one group. FirstNet contributed 14 documents treating advanced Public Safety/NSEP capabilities. The top twenty companies are responsible for 89% of the contributions and 70% of the participants. There is a greater diversity of participant IPR in the CT groups that tends to reflect end-users' needs.

  Participants               Contributions
  21 Qualcomm (US)           364 Huawei (CN)
  19 Huawei (CN)             329 Ericsson (SE)
  16 Ericsson (SE)           256 Nokia (FI)
  15 Samsung (KR)            255 Nokia Shanghai Bell (CN)
  12 Nokia (FI)              105 HiSilicon (CN)
  11 China Mobile (CN)        97 Samsung (KR)
  11 Orange (FR)              60 Qualcomm (US)
   8 Vodafone (UK)            56 ZTE (CN)
   7 China Telecom (CN)       37 Sprint (US)
   7 NTT (JP)                 33 China Telecom (CN)
   6 Cisco Systems (US)       26 Orange (FR)
   6 Perspecta Labs (US)      25 Charter Communications (US)
   6 ZTE (CN)                 25 China Mobile (CN)
   5 MediaTek (TW)            20 CATT (CN)
   5 THALES (FR)              20 Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (US)
   4 Apple (US)               19 AT&T (US)
   4 AT&T (US)                18 China Unicom (CN)
   4 LG (KR)                  16 Intel (US)
   4 Motorola (US)            15 MCC (ETSI)
   4 NTT DOCOMO (JP)          14 FirstNet (US)

Bottom Line

The actual reality of global 5G collaboration is vividly at odds with the fiction voiced in Washington. It is also increasingly apparent the rather appalling ignorance of the Trump Administration, and its blacklisting of Chinese companies being directed at the collaborative standards bodies significantly harms the U.S. industry largely. The impediments to participation deny the numerous essential benefits of collaboration, substantially decrease network security, and engender potential retributions in denying future extraterritorial marketplace entry for the most lucrative 5G services — an area where U.S. companies have typically held a competitive advantage. The tactic is utterly stupid.

Note: All metrics were as of morning EST, 22 Feb 2020.

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. Visit Page

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