Published September 9, 2021 | Version v1
Working paper Open

5G Ecosystems

  • 1. Telenor Research
  • 2. Real-Wireless
  • 3. Intel
  • 4. Eurescom GmbH
  • 5. COSMOTE
  • 6. Orange


Europe is investing significant resources in research and technology development of 5G networks through the 5G Private Public Partnership (5G PPP). In addition to various scientific and technological topics, the effort focuses on societal and business challenges creating value with 5G networks. This white paper discusses 5G ecosystems as a prerequisite for value creation for and by the engaged stakeholders and return of investment as a potential award for the engagement.

A clear identification of 5G stakeholders supports the creation and evolution of the 5G ecosystems by characterising the potential role that each actor can assume. The identified stakeholder groups include 5G industry and research organisations, vertical sectors’ firms, complementor firms, as well as organisations and associations of providers and consumers active in the value network representing the interests of a larger collection of firms and organisations. Those stakeholder groups include both small and medium enterprises (SME) and larger companies, and whenever relevant academic institutions. In addition, standards organisations, open-source organisation and policy makers are an inherent part of the 5G ecosystems, as are governmental agencies at regional, national and European level that support the creation of value in the 5G ecosystems though funding or procurement of innovations.

In general, an ecosystem is a complex network of interacting cross-industry actors who work together and are dependent on each other to define, build and deliver value creating customer solutions. The depth and breadth of potential collaborations among actors defines the ecosystem with each actor delivering a piece of the solution or a contribution to the strength of the ecosystem. The power of the ecosystem comes from the fact that no single actor needs to own or operate all components of a solution, with the value of the ecosystem being greater than the combined value of each actor. A 5G ecosystem can be decomposed into two main aspects: (a) the network service provisioning aspect, and (b) the vertical sector service consumption aspect. The separation of aspects simplifies the discussion at each level by hiding the complexities inherent in each of the aspects. The involved actors, once concluded that it is attractive to engage in the ecosystem, must iteratively refine their strategies of positioning their firms for overall value creation, taking into account growth of the ecosystem. Hence, the evolved strategies of the involved actors should leave room for growing the ecosystem by making it attractive for additional actors to get involved.

In the 5G provisioning ecosystem, the needed services are mapped to roles that are expected to deliver these services. This allows a mapping of the roles to the actors seeking to create value. The roles in the 5G provisioning ecosystems have been developed by the 5G PPP Working Group on architecture, and are based on the model, that has been proposed by 3GPP. The model includes all necessary providers, operators and suppliers needed to deliver 5G services to the customers. The 5G provisioning ecosystem can be seen as a multi-actor platform ecosystem, as opposed to the single actor platform ecosystems by Amazon, Google; etc. The challenges in evolving from 4G into 5G and beyond, and further developing such a multi-stakeholder ecosystem platform, requires both technical and business coordination, development and interoperability between the involved stakeholders.

Similarly, the 5G vertical ecosystems are composed of other actors that assume roles necessary to adopt 5G services provided by the 5G provisioning ecosystem. In the context of 5G vertical enterprise customers, a large number of actors can assume complementor roles and are often competency specific to the vertical sector they act in. 

A number of open questions remain at the interaction point of the 5G provisioning and 5G vertical ecosystems. The evolution of roles raises fears in firms of becoming obsolete, lose control over value generation, or lose market shares in their sector. These tensions, along with the uncertainty about revenue sharing must be managed in a way that creates comfort and reduces fear. Even if questions about the actual cost of deployment and operation remain, certain vertical sectors, such as Industry 4.0 or automotive, are emerging as early adopters, and are actively engaging in shaping the future of their ecosystem. Other vertical sectors are more cautious concerning early adoption. An often-heard question is “What can I do with 5G that I cannot do with 4G for my business?” In addition, there seems to be a general concern about the level of trust that 5G can induce, often in conjunction with the sensitivity of corporate and private data.

In any case the 5G ecosystems must ensure an environment which allows rapid evaluation of service concepts, technologies, system solutions and even business models, at a level that minimises risks related to introduction of commercial services and products. In the longer term, and with the evolution towards 6G, the challenges for functioning 5G/6G ecosystems can be mastered by the engaged actors that identify and grasp the opportunities and align value creation with the European and global sustainable development goals.

This White Paper concludes by emphasizing success factors under the control of the industry which makes it easy to innovate in and attractive for firms to join the 5G ecosystem. Among factors that ease the ecosystem moving forward are technological openness in the form of, e.g., open SW, APIs, and HW. Standards will continue to play a vital role for beyond 5G and 6G technologies. Openness in the form of interoperability based on pan-European, cross-border, cross domain business agreements are equally important, e.g., roaming agreements. Generally, to enable innovation it is necessary to decrease knowledge barriers by actively sharing and building knowledge among those experts who will apply 5G and beyond technologies.

Factors that can move the 5G ecosystem forward by making it more attractive to join are for stakeholders to decrease uncertainty by signalling the intent of building the market together with others and sharing roles and revenues. In an ecosystem, self-regulation and sanctions will play a role to balance the relationships between parties. To implement use cases as show cases, serve both to build and share knowledge in a quick way, as well as to demonstrate the parties’ intent. Finally, adequate regulation is key to avoid unfortunate monopolies and potential hurdles to innovation and would also contribute to a stable environment and decrease uncertainty.


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