5G Ecosystem

5G players mapped to layers of 5G technology stack. Source: Natarajan et al. 2019.
5G players mapped to layers of 5G technology stack. Source: Natarajan et al. 2019.

5G is a complex system that involves multiple players fulfilling various roles. 5G chipset vendors offer 5G modems and SoCs. These chipsets are used by mobile device manufacturers and network infrastructure vendors. Mobile carriers deploy and maintain 5G networks, often in partnership with infrastructure vendors and handset vendors.

While 5G infrastructure vendors provide both radio access network and core network equipment, virtualization in 5G means that network functions can be hosted in the cloud. Thus, cloud providers play an important role. From a data perspective, there are CDN providers, data center connectivity vendors, and cloud providers.

Standardization bodies play an essential role in defining what is 5G. They're complemented by industry bodies that promote 5G and focus on specific verticals. Finally, universities and institutes contribute in terms of research, prototyping and training.


  • Who are the key players in the 5G ecosystem?
    Key players in the 5G ecosystem. Source: Newzoo 2020.
    Key players in the 5G ecosystem. Source: Newzoo 2020.

    Without being exhaustive, we note a few players to get a sense of who's involved:

    • Chipset Vendors: Qualcomm, Samsung, Huawei, MediaTek, Unisoc, Nokia Networks, Intel, Broadcom, etc.
    • Infrastructure Vendors: Huawei, ZTE, Ericsson, Nokia Networks, Samsung, Cisco, HPE, Dell EMC, etc.
    • Mobile Device Makers: Apple (iPhone 12), Google (Pixel 5), HTC (mobile hotspot), LG (V50 ThinQ), Samsung (Galaxy 10 5G), Motorola (G 5G Plus), Huawei (Mate 20 X), Nokia (Nokia 8.3), Xiaomi (Mi 10 Pro 5G), OnePlus (OnePlus 8), etc.
    • Mobile Network Operators: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Vodafone, SK Telecom, China Mobile, etc.
    • Standardization Bodies: 3GPP, IETF, ITU, and ETSI.
    • Regulatory Bodies: Government departments and authorities allocate and auction spectrum for 5G. These include FCC (US), DoT (India), CITC (Saudi Arabia), etc.
    • Industry Bodies: 5GAA, 5G-PPP, 5G-MoNArch, 5G IA, 5G-ACIA, NGMN Alliance, O-RAN Alliance, IEEE 5G World Forum, 5G Future Forum, ONF, BBF, etc.
    • Cloud Providers: AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, Alibaba Cloud, Tencent Cloud, IBM Cloud, etc.
    • Data Center Colocation Connectivity Providers: China Unicom, Equinix, CoreSite, Digital Realty, CenturyLink, etc.
    • CDN Providers: Akamai, Cloudflare, Fastly, Limelight Networks, AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, etc.
  • Which are the official standardization bodies for 5G?

    The main standard bodies for 5G are:

    • 3GPP: 3GPP defines the 5G NR specification for 5G communications. It also defines standard User Equipment (UE) and 5G Core Network.
    • IETF: IETF contributes towards routing-related work, traffic engineering, abstractions, network management, deterministic networking, and a new transport protocol name QUIC.
    • ITU: ITU has a rich history in the development of radio interface standards for mobile communications. The framework of standards for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT), encompassing IMT-2000 and IMT-Advanced, spans 3G/4G industry perspectives and will continue to evolve into 5G as IMT-2020.
    • ETSI: Via Industry Specification Groups (ISGs), ETSI facilitates industry collaboration on topics such as Network Function Virtualization (NFV), Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC), Microwave Transmission (mWT) and Next Generation Protocols (NGP).
  • Which are some industry bodies looking at 5G?

    Industry alliances and consortia tend to focus on specific aspects of 5G. Some of these include 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership (5G-PPP), 5G-MoNArch, 5G Infrastructure Association (5G IA), 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA), NGMN Alliance and O-RAN Alliance.

    Among the forums and foundations are IEEE 5G World Forum, 5G Future Forum (5GFF), TM Forum, Broadband Forum (BBF) and Open Networking Foundation (ONF).

    5GAA is an example of an industry body with a vertical focus. Involving telecom players and vehicle manufacturers, it seeks to provide end-to-end solutions for future mobility and transportation services.

    ONF is led by operators. It aims to transform network infrastructure and carrier business models through adoption of network disaggregation, open source software and SDN/NFV. OpenFlow, ONOS and CORD are some components of an SDN architecture developed by ONF.

    BBF is working on a project named 5G-Fixed Mobile Convergence (5G-FMC). It concerns mobility and simultaneous access across 3GPP and non-3GPP networks.

  • Who are the main infrastructure vendors for 5G?
    Oracle's offering for 5G Core. Source: Oracle 2020, fig. 1.
    Oracle's offering for 5G Core. Source: Oracle 2020, fig. 1.

    The telecom industry was traditionally limited to a few who specialized in telecom infrastructure. The equipment was custom-built and expensive. The main vendors for 5G are Ericsson, Samsung, Nokia, Huawei, and ZTE, who supply equipment for both RAN and 5G Core.

    5G Core adopts an open flexible Service-Based Architecture (SBA). This has enabled new players to enter the industry. They may not supply RAN equipment (base stations or antenna arrays). They're more likely to focus on 5G Core and edge. Companies in this category include Cisco, Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Lenovo, and more. Cloud providers who're also in this space include AWS, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft Azure, and Google.

    Some acquisitions have happened to build 5G capability. For example, HPE acquired Aruba and Silver Peak. Microsoft acquired Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch.

    These companies leverage their expertise in networking, compute, storage and cloud technologies. They deliver capability to build 5G services using AI/ML and SDN/NFV. Ultimately, a Communications Service Provider (CSP) will deploy a variety of components from many vendors to deliver 5G services. It's therefore essential that all components interoperate.

  • Which are the main 3GPP specifications for 5G?

    Release 15 technical specifications with a focus on 5G is available on 3GPP site. Excluding technical reports, this is close to 900 documents.

    5G New Radio (NR) specifications are in the 38 Series. Specifications that concern both LTE and NR are in the 37 Series.

    We note a few high-level specifications to get started:

    • TS 22.261: Service Requirements
    • TS 23.501: System Architecture
    • TS 37.340: Multi-connectivity
    • TS 38.300: NR and NG-RAN Overall Description
    • TS 38.401: NG-RAN Architecture
  • Apart from the 5G standards, what additional resources are out there to learn more?

    Industry players often publish white papers, blog posts, news articles or explanatory videos to help researchers and public understand 5G better. We note a few of these useful websites: Qualcomm's 5G page, Ericsson's The Voice of 5G that's a regular podcast, Nokia's 5G Resources page, Intel's 5G Resource Center, and Huawei's 5G page.

    From operators, we have Verizon's 5G News and Resources and Vodafone's 5G for Business.

    GSMA's 5G Resources page has white papers and video recordings of webinars.

    Keysight Technologies has published a useful glossary of 5G terms and acronyms.

    From the many books on 5G, we mention two: 5G New Radio: A Beam-based Air Interface (2020) and 5G Core Networks: Powering Digitalization (2019).



Qualcomm releases the world's first 5G modem in its Snapdragon X50. With support for 28GHz mmWave spectrum, it can achieve a top download speed of 5Gbps, 5x faster than the fastest 4G modems. Qualcomm dominates the market through the first commercial 5G deployments in 2019. But by the end of 2019, Samsung (Exynos 980), MediaTek (Helio P90) and Huawei (Balong 5000 series) emerge as competitors.


3GPP approves the first specifications for 5G, called "early drop" of Release 15. This is followed by "main drop" (June 2018) and "late drop" (March 2019). Release 16 comes out in July 2020.

Partnerships between operators and leading equipment vendors for 5G trials. Source: Stratfor 2018.

Across the world, operators and network vendors partner together and conduct 5G trials. In May, Ooredoo Qatar launches the world's first 5G network. Due to lack of 5G mobile devices, this is probably with fixed terminals. A Stratfor research study names Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, ZTE and Samsung as leaders in telecom equipment.


AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DOCOMO and Orange jointly create O-RAN Alliance. The focus is to define specifications, leading to a more open, intelligent and interoperable RAN. The Alliance also supports members in testing their implementations. In February 2020, they publish O-RAN Architecture Description 1.0. This is followed by many more specifications covering use cases, operations and maintenance, and slicing architecture.


South Korean carriers SK Telecom and KT Corp become the first operators to launch the world's first commercial 5G service. Within an hour later, Verizon launches its own 5G service in the US in Chicago and Minneapolis. This is the first time 5G commercial networks connect to 5G smartphones. 5G smartphones used in these deployments are Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and Motorola's Moto Z3 with 5G Mod.


At the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19), countries support the harmonization of spectrum for 5G. In particular, 26GHz, 40GHz, and 66GHz are identified. Under the leadership of ITU, WRC-19 represents good collaboration across countries and industries. This is essential for the success of 5G, known within ITU as IMT-2020. The next meeting will be WRC-23 in 2023.

5G semiconductor market players in December 2019. Source: Fieldhack 2020.

A study by Counterpoint Technology Market Research shows that Qualcomm is one of the few to offer an end-to-end semiconductor portfolio. Qualcomm offer SoC, modem, RF Front End (RFFE), and antenna technology. This is also the month when Qualcomm announces Snapdragon 865 5G.


Six operators América Móvil, KT Corp., Rogers, Telstra, Verizon, and Vodafone jointly launch 5G Future Forum (5GFF). Its focus is towards delivery and interoperability of Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) solutions. The Forum publishes the first technical specifications for MEC in August (available to members).

An ecosystem of partners for IBM Cloud for Telecommunications. Source: Boville and Canepa 2020.

IBM announces IBM Cloud for Telecommunications that includes 35+ partners. This highlights the importance of ecosystem and collaboration to deliver a compelling 5G solution. Similar partnerships between other cloud providers (AWS, Google Cloud, Azure), operators and equipment vendors were shared by Netmanias in October.


  1. 3GPP. 2019. "3GPP Specification Set: 5G." 3GPP, March 22.Accessed 2020-12-24.
  2. 5G-PPP. 2016. "View on 5G Architecture." v1.0, 5G-PPP, July. Accessed 2020-12-23.
  3. 5GAA. 2020. "Homepage." 5GAA. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  4. Bertenyi, Balazs. 2014. "3GPP system standards heading into the 5G era." Eurescom message, pp. 9-11, Spring. Accessed 2020-12-23.
  5. Boville, Howard, and Steve Canepa. 2020. "Introducing IBM Cloud for Telecommunications with 35+ Partners Committed to Join IBM’s Ecosystem and Help Drive Business Transformation." IBM News Room, IBM, November 5. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  6. Broadband Forum. 2020. "5G." Projects, Broadband Forum. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  7. Camargos, Luciana. 2019. "WRC-19 strikes a good balance, sets stage for mmWave 5G." GSMA, November 25. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  8. Cooper, Alissa. 2017. "Working Together with 3GPP on 5G." June 12. Accessed 2020-12-23.
  9. Dano, Mike. 2019. "Another set of 5G standards was just released, but no one really cares." LightReading, April 5. Accessed 2020-12-22.
  10. Degrasse, Martha. 2020. "Oracle's telco strategy: 5G wins, RAN partnerships." Light Reading, August 27. Accessed 2021-01-12.
  11. ETSI. 2020. "5G." ETSI. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  12. European 5G Observatory. 2020. "USA, Japan, South Korea and China are the leading countries in terms of 5G readiness. A number of Gulf countries claim to have launched 5G mid-2018." European 5G Observatory. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  13. Fieldhack, Jeff. 2020. "Qualcomm is Leading the 5G Semiconductor Market with a System-Level Approach." Counterpoint Technology Market Research, March 27. Accessed 2020-12-26.
  14. Fletcher, Bevin. 2020. "3GPP completes latest 5G NR spec with Release 16." Fierce Wireless, July 6. Accessed 2020-12-22.
  15. GreyB Services. 2020. "5G Chip Makers: Top 12 companies innovating in this domain and their activities." GreyB Services, November 11. Accessed 2020-12-23.
  16. GSA. 2018. "Global Progress to 5G - Trials, Deployments and Launches." Global mobile Suppliers Association, July. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  17. GSMA. 2020. "5G Resources." Future Networks, GSMA. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  18. Horwitz, Jeremy. 2019. "Samsung and Mediatek emerge as Qualcomm’s top 5G chip rivals in 2020." VentureBeat, November 8. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  19. HPE. 2020. "HPE completes acquisition of SD-WAN leader Silver Peak." Press Release, HPE, September 21. Accessed 2021-01-12.
  20. ITU. 2018. "ITU towards 'IMT for 2020 and beyond'." Accessed 2020-12-23.
  21. Keysight Technologies. 2019. "5G Terms and Acronyms." 5992-2996EN, Keysight Technologies, December 5. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  22. Knapp, Mark. 2019. "The world's first 5G phone: our hands-on with the future of smartphones." TechRadar, April 8. Accessed 2020-12-22.
  23. Li, Kenneth, and Ju-min Park. 2019. "Who was first to launch 5G? Depends who you ask." Reuters, April 5. Accessed 2020-12-22.
  24. Marcus, Michael J. 2019. "ITU WRC-19 Spectrum Policy Results." IEEE Wireless Communications, pp. 4-5, December. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  25. McCallion, Jane. 2019. "Why HPE’s acquisition of Aruba has been a standout success." IT Pro, June 14. Accessed 2021-01-12.
  26. Moorhead, Patrick. 2016. "How The Snapdragon X50, World's First 5G Modem, Puts Qualcomm Ahead Of The Curve." Forbes, October 17. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  27. Moorhead, Patrick. 2019. "Who Is 'Really' Leading In Mobile 5G, Part 2: 5G Mobile Chipsets." Forbes, June 12. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  28. Natarajan, Pari, Vijaykumar Hegde, and Chaitra Ramalingegowda. 2019. "5G Technology: The Future Of Connectivity." Zinnov, February 26. Accessed 2020-12-23.
  29. Newzoo. 2020. "The 5G Ecosystem: The Key Players Involved." Newzoo, April 2. Accessed 2020-12-23.
  30. Nokia. 2020. "5G Resources." Nokia. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  31. O-RAN Alliance. 2020a. "O-RAN specifications lead the telecom industry towards Open and Intelligent Radio Access Networks." O-RAN Alliance. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  32. O-RAN Alliance. 2020b. "About O-RAN ALLIANCE." O-RAN Alliance. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  33. ONF. 2020. "Our Mission." ONF. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  34. Oracle. 2020. "Oracle CommunicationsCloud Native Core Solution." Solution Brief, Oracle Communications Cloud Native Core Solution, Version 3.0, Oracle. Accessed 2021-01-12.
  35. Son, Harrison J. 2020. "[Partnership: MNO – Public Cloud - Vendor] MEC, 5G vCore, 5G vRAN on Public Cloud." Netmanias, October 29. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  36. Stratfor. 2018. "The U.S., China And Others Race To Develop 5G Mobile Networks." Forbes, April 3. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  37. TechRepublic. 2020. "5G smartphones: A cheat sheet." TechRepublic, October 13. Accessed 2020-12-23.
  38. Townsend, Will. 2019. "Who Is 'Really' Leading in Mobile 5G, Part 4: Infrastructure Equipment Providers." Forbes, July 19. Accessed 2021-01-12.
  39. Verizon. 2020. "5G Future Forum releases technical specification abstracts to accelerate global adoption of 5G MEC." Verizon, August 26. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  40. Zander, Jason. 2020. "Microsoft partners with the telecommunications industry to roll out 5G and more." Blog, Microsoft Azure, September 28. Accessed 2021-01-12.

Further Reading

  1. Saracco, Roberto. 2016. "5G: a revolution in the making - Pat VI - the Ecosystem." Blog, EIT Digital, May 8. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  2. Moorhead, Patrick. 2019. "Who Is 'Really' Leading In Mobile 5G, Part 2: 5G Mobile Chipsets." Forbes, June 12. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  3. Natarajan, Pari, Vijaykumar Hegde, and Chaitra Ramalingegowda. 2019. "5G Technology: The Future Of Connectivity." Zinnov, February 26. Accessed 2020-12-23.
  4. Stratfor. 2018. "The U.S., China And Others Race To Develop 5G Mobile Networks." Forbes, April 3. Accessed 2020-12-24.
  5. Willenegger, Serge. 2016. "Meet Snapdragon X50—Qualcomm’s first 5G modem." OnQ Blog, Qualcomm, October 17. Accessed 2020-12-24.

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Devopedia. 2021. "5G Ecosystem." Version 5, January 12. Accessed 2021-01-12. https://devopedia.org/5g-ecosystem
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Last updated on
2021-01-12 10:18:24