The era of 5G is upon us, and companies—and countries—are scrambling to get ahead. With faster speeds, greater stability, and higher capacity, the next generation of cellular communication promises to connect people and devices in ways that wouldn’t have seemed possible just a few decades ago.
5G recently took center stage at the Mobile World Congress (MWC19) this year, the world’s largest exhibition for the mobile industry. But do prominent narratives in the media reflect what’s happening in the industry in terms of investment and innovation? We used Quid to analyze coverage of 5G at the Congress, as well as company profiles, partnerships, and patent filings within the 5G ecosystem to better understand the developments taking place.
Foldable phones lead 5G Coverage at MWC19
5G generated nearly 2,500 articles at the MWC19, with more than a fifth of all coverage on new foldable phones including the Samsung Galaxy Fold, Huawei Mate X, and a new prototype from Oppo. Chinese tech giant Huawei captured a large share of standalone attention for its transport network solutions and Balong 5000 5G modem. And discussion around next generation 5G devices also drove coverage, with stories such as a surgeon directing an operation remotely via a 5G video link.
Articles about 5G from the Congress mentioned Huawei far more than any other company, followed by Qualcomm, OnePlus, and Samsung. Coverage of Huawei physically split between two main themes: news of its product launches and concerns about of Chinese control over the world’s 5G infrastructure. The Huawei cluster on the left includes positive headlines such as Huawei Mate 20 Pro Wins Best Smartphone at MWC Barcelona from Business Today Malaysia, while the cluster on the right contains much more negative headlines such as Huawei Says US has ‘No Evidence’ of 5G Spying Allegations from NDTV.
In contrast, news around OnePlus, HTC, and LG tended to focus on a single issue. Coverage around China’s OnePlus, for instance, primarily mentioned its recently announced 5G smartphone prototype, while HTC earned buzz for its new mobile smart hub that can harness 5G speeds for home and business use.
Companies are focused on IoT devices and network infrastructure
Quid then analyzed more than 300 companies working on 5G technologies to get a bird’s eye view of the industry landscape. Currently, more than a fifth of all companies are focused on internet of things (IoT) applications for a smart city context, to include monitoring and controlling devices for energy networks, other types of smart infrastructure, and connected healthcare devices. UK-based firm IntechnologyWIFI has developed a range of smart devices to optimize personal wellbeing, home services, and waste management, as part of its Connected Cities platform. By deploying sensors in one’s garbage can, for example, the company alerts public works services when a trash pickup is needed.
Companies focused on the radio access network (RAN), a key component of mobile telecommunication, and millimeter wave systems, high frequency radio frequencies necessary for the 5G network, also made up a sizeable portion of the industry. To date, mobile devices have used frequencies below 6 GHz; however, 5G will operate somewhere between 30 - 300 GHz to allow for higher capacities and speed of data transmission.
Within the 5G industry, many fast-growing segments feature young, well-funded companies. Collectively, the industry has attracted investments worth $9 billion, with the largest shares going to more established telco players such as Huawei, Verizon, and Cisco Systems; and smaller IoT/Smart Cities firms. Telecommunications hardware firm Cisco Systems received the largest total public investment at $2 billion, followed by Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, a company that seeks to accelerate Hong Kong’s development of a smart city, at $1.7 billion. By category, telecommunications firms have received the most investment ($4.6 billion), which is more than double the amount of investment in IoT and smart cities ($2 billion), the second largest category.
Articles have cast the 5G rollout as a “space race” of sorts over which countries will control large swaths of the global market, but what does the company landscape really look like? In terms of sheer number, the United States is far and away the clear leader with roughly five times the number of companies as China, the second largest player. But when you look at total investment, three companies in Hong Kong command the lead.
Samsung leads on patent assignments, with most industry innovation taking place in network infrastructure and connected devices
Analysis of more than 1,200 patents reveals that much of the innovation taking place in the 5G sector involves wireless communication systems (60%), followed by antenna systems (19%). Seen in the Quid network below, the former physically splits between IoT communication devices, transmission and receiving devices, and high density network channels—distinct categories under the larger wireless communications umbrella.
Large traditional consumer electronics and technologies companies dominate patent assignments in the 5G industry. In front (by a wide margin), South Korea’s Samsung Electronics, followed by Intel, Huawei, and Nokia. Most companies in the top 10 had a relatively diverse portfolio, however, some focused almost exclusively on one category. Intel, for instance, focused primarily on wireless communications innovations, while Chinese communications firm Shenzhen Sunway only developed antenna systems.
In terms of overall influence within the network, Samsung stood out from the rest of firms with the number of patents that cited its technology and the number of other technologies it cited in its patents. When looking at outliers, Nokia often influenced others, while Murata Manufacturing and Hitachi were themselves influenced by others.
China has received the majority of patents filed in the industry; however, the volume of patent filings are not necessarily indicative of the level of innovation taking place. In recent years, China’s National Patent Development Strategy has explicitly pushed for greater numbers of patent filings, but many represent tweaks and small changes rather than large scale overhauls or new inventions. Deeper investigation into the top patent filings for China reveal few larger companies, but a large number of universities and research institutions.
To contrast, larger global technology and telecommunications firms received most of the top patent assignments in the United States. South Korean electronics company Samsung held more patents than the next six assignees combined, followed by U.S. firms AT&T and Qualcomm; Japan’s Sharp; and KT Corporation, South Korea’s largest phone company. Interestingly, all universities and research groups on the list were Korean, including Korea University, Yonsei University, and the Electronics & Telecom Research Institute.
News around the Mobile World Congress this year focused heavily on new mobile phone releases and controversy surrounding Huawei’s growing influence over global 5G infrastructure. But a closer look at the companies involved in the 5G sector revealed a mix of younger tech companies and larger, more established telecommunications firms with a strong emphasis on smart city-connected devices and network infrastructure. In terms of innovation, it's larger companies like Samsung that lead on patent assignments.
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