Mobile History, Standards, and the Dramatic Launch of 5G

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What is 5G all about, where did it come from and where are we going? Part 1 of a 4 part series entitled "Understanding and Preparing for the Coming Mobile 5G Tsunami!"

For some, 5G, as in “fifth generation”, might sound as something familiar following the “standard” approximate 10 year cycle upgrades in mobile technology that the market has witnessed through the 1G to 4G generations over the last 35 – 40 years. With each generation, the first question that always seems to arise is, “So what is the killer app?” The first generation, or 1G, was launched in the 1980s and focused on basic voice connectivity. It was very expensive with bulky phones with yearly service contracts running into the thousands of dollars and often delivered with poor reliability. 2G followed in the 1990s and introduced texting as the new “disruptive” element with Motorola dominating the commercial handset market. The new millennium produced 3G about 10 years later with now Nokia and RIM/Blackberry emerging as the new handset leaders; life would no longer be the same with the new killer app now being basic internet connectivity and some initial video support (and further reinforced with the coincident rise of online social media). More significantly, Apple also entered the market with its first iPhone in 2007, fundamentally altering the arc of disruption in the consumer mobile handset space.

Around 2010 or so, 4G arrived to support a seemingly insatiable consumer demand for high quality bandwidth-demanding and increasingly delay sensitive video streaming. Life, with our awesome and powerful new generation of smartphones was thus exceptionally good indeed! Apple, Samsung, Huawei, and several other new Chinese suppliers competed throughout the decade to control the mobile handset market. As the decade came to a close, Google also entered the mix and the iconic Blackberry was virtually wiped out with Nokia and Motorola relegated to a tiny sliver of their former dominant market positions. Wow - now that is disruption on steroids!

Up to this point, the major consumer focus had been on improving connection speed (alternatively referred to as user experience rate) which has scaled from a few 10s of Kbps in the 1990s to approximately 50Mps+ supported on the latest 4G infrastructures across the globe. With the launch of 4G, the notion of latency (also known as “delay” or “ping time”) also started to enter the jargon, often (and still) confusing many end users with respect to its impact to the overall speed. This has been further compounded by additional related messages including response time, throughput, bandwidth, and capacity. And if that weren’t enough, the perplexing and byzantine marketing battle of the mobile phone operational display icon – is it 4G, 4G+, LTE, or 4G LTE – has generated further angles of consumer confusion (more on this to come).

What exactly is the deal with 5G then? What more can an end user (whether it be a business or an individual consumer) ask for? Given the rapidly evolving business and technology context, the answer is …a lot more! Let us keep digging.

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Mobile 5G: Emerging Opportunities and Challenges Workshop

5G Standards Development and Status – The “War of the Gs”

Have you ever wondered how a mobile technology generation or “G” becomes defined? Who decided and what criteria were used to tag 5G? Enter the world of international mobile standards. 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) emerged in the late 90s in the context of 3G mobile standards development and consists of various national standards bodies from the US, Europe, and Asia as well as a wide spectrum of “market representation partners”.

3GPP publishes mobile technology specifications in the form of Releases (see table below) which are typically also given some kind of marketing designation, for example, LTE (Long Term Evolution). The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which is part of the United Nations, works in a complementary fashion to 3GPP and is responsible for designating a specific mobile generation (“G”) based on its own published set of mobile requirements. For example, the criteria for “4G” are defined in the ITU’s “IMT-Advanced” specification, which was first supported in 3GPP Release 10 in 2011. “IMT-2020” defines the 5G criteria, first supported in 3GPP Release 15 in 2019, and with a marketing designation of “5G NR” (“NR” being “New Radio”).


3GPP Release

Release Marketing Designation

Applicable ITU Requirements

ITU Mobile “Generation” Tag

8, 9


IMT - 2000


10, 11, 12

LTE - Advanced

IMT - Advanced


13, 14

LTE – Advanced Pro

IMT - Advanced


15, 16


IMT – 2020



This very collaborative and complementary ITU-3GPP dynamic has unfortunately become somewhat undermined by often very aggressive B2B/B2C marketing practices by equipment and communication service providers (CSPs). For example, as early 3G networks evolved, CSPs across the globe decided to rebrand their offerings as “4G” even though their networks clearly did not meet the ITU “real 4G” specification. And this “War of the Gs” continues today with emerging 5G networks. AT&T caused a storm when they recently rebranded their advanced LTE networks as “5G E” (“E” being “Evolution”) driving widespread criticism that this is, in essence, nothing but “fake 5G”. And various equipment infrastructure players have even branded some of their advanced LTE offerings as “4.5G” or “4.9G” (in effect, a fractional G!). With some “real” 5G deployments now in place, CSPs have tried to differentiate themselves even more by using marketing tags like “5G+” or “5G UWB” (“ultra wideband”). And we are just getting started!

So what does this all mean for a consumer or business in terms of any new applications to be supported? As will become abundantly clear, 5G opens the door to a radically different network view, enabling high performance connections between people, machines, and objects on a massive scale. New capabilities include ultra low latency and availability, extreme network capacity and associated gigabit per second user experience rates, significantly improved power efficiency, and more uniform user experiences. These will drive a wide spectrum of new opportunities impacting both consumers and businesses fundamentally altering how we live, move, play, and even innovate! This is further explored in my next blog post entitled 5G Unleashing Massive Market Opportunity and Innovation”.

Discover the Workshop!

Mobile 5G: Emerging Opportunities and Challenges Workshop


About John Nikolopoulos

John Nikolopoulos is a Mobile/Cloud/Telecom/IT global technology/consulting executive with 25+ years in senior leadership roles in Sales, BD/GTM, Product/P&L Management, and Solution/Systems Architecture teams driving global channels, partnerships & enterprise deployments with $billions of global sales in diverse industry verticals within F500/Large Cap enterprises (Accenture, Nortel, and Sagemcom ) as well as high profile start-ups such as Corvis Corp., where he was part of the senior GTM/execution team leading to one of the largest exits in tech industry history with a 1.1 billion$ IPO. John has a significant international technical publication (50+) and public speaking record, contributed to multiple patent filings, achieved senior member status within the IEEE, and gained extensive Wall Street/Silicon Valley Analyst/Board of Directors executive communications experience.

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