5G Technology; Patent Trends, Future, and Main Challenges
May 20, 2020

5G Technology; Patent Trends, Future, and Main Challenges

5G in simple words is the 5th generation of mobile network and new global wireless standards. Networks working with 5G are digital cellular networks, in which the service area covered by providers is divided into small geographical areas called cells.

5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. As more and more people around the world get access to mobile devices and the growth and adoption of the Internet of Things (IOT) are expanding day by day, then switch to 5G is inevitable in the future.  According to predictions, 24 billion devices are expected to need cellular network support by 2024!

5G comparison to its forebears

Every new generation has/had improvement on the previous one.  Table 1, shows the comparison of 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G and clearly indicates differences in the technologies behind each generation.


Table 1: comparison between 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G  (source)

A short review of all generations are as follow:


1G or the first generation brought in the 1980s, the networks with voice-only, analog service with a maximum speed of data transmission of around 2.4kbps.

The 2G network generation began in Finland in 1991, let cell phones to move into the digital world. It allowed for call and text encryption as well as SMS, picture messaging, and MMS with a maximum speed of about 50kbps.
3G network Generation allowed more data, video calling, and mobile internet and began in 1998. The speed of 3G networks was different in non-moving and moving devices where 2mbps on stationary or non-moving devices and 384kbps on devices in moving vehicles.

4G, or the current standard of cellular networks, was released in the late 2000s and is 500 times faster than 3G. The top speed of moving (or when you are walking or diving with your phone) can be 10s of Mbps, and in a stationary position, it can be 100s of Mbps. The 20MHz bandwidth sector has a peak capacity of 400Mbps. However, since users are sharing available sector capacity among others, observable speed experiences by users are typically in 10s -100s of Mbps.

Compared to 3G mobile networking, 4G enabled video streaming and calling on the go, where live TV is now routinely watched on the daily commute. but, more video streaming resulted in the network's increased jam even in 4G. Moreover, 4 G is reaching the technical limits of the quick transferring of data.


5G network promises faster download and upload speeds, lower latency, and the capability to connect to many more devices at one time. 5G can support up to a million devices per square kilometer, while 4G supports only up to 100,000 devices per square kilometer().

The comparison makes it obvious that 5G is going to be one of the most impressive leaps in the history of cell network technologies.


5G Technology Requirements

5G network is normally composed of networks of up to 3 different types of cells, each requiring different antennas, while each type giving a different balance of download speed vs distance and service area. All the 5G wireless devices in a cell communicate by radio waves with a local antenna array and low power automated transmitter in the cell.

The increased speed is achieved partly by using higher radio waves than current cellular networks. However, higher frequency microwaves have a shorter range than the frequencies used by previous cell phone towers and hence, requiring smaller cells.

To ensure wide service, 5G networks operate on up to three frequency bands: low, medium, and high band spectrum.

Low-band spectrum or sub-1GHz spectrum offers great coverage area and wall penetration but is has a drawback: Peak data speeds will top out around 100Mbps.

Mid-band spectrum provides faster speeds and lower latency than low-band.  The expected peak speeds up to 1Gbps but it has failed to penetrate buildings as effectively as low-band spectrum.

The High-band spectrum is what delivers the highest performance for 5G, offers peak speeds up to 10Gbps, and has extremely low latency and delivers the highest performance for 5G. However, it has also its own drawback: it has a low coverage area, and building penetration is still poor. That means that to create an effective high-band network, you’ll need a ton of cells.

 5G cellphones and wireless devices will connect to the network through the highest speed antenna within range at their location


5G technology’s patent trend and main patent players

The so-called “Smartphone Wars” were the defining buzzword for the IP industry in the first half of this decade. Some scholars believe that the smartphone wars like most “wars”, resulted from transformational change:  and nowadays would result from transforming 4G to 5G. With this regard, monitoring patent trends could help us to predict the next evolutions in technology and economy and recognizing the next battleground!

Patent statistics reported by the European Patent Office (EPO) (EPO Patent Index 2019) showed that for the first time in more than a decade, digital technologies have taken the lead in patent applications filed. According to the report which its results summarized in in figure 1, among the top technical fields at the EPO, digital communication and computer technology have the steepest growth, by+19.6% in 2019. This could highlight their key role in driving the digital transformation that is permeating all sectors and industries. This field, which lies at the intersection of telecommunications and computers, includes technologies that are crucial to implementing 5G wireless networks.



Figure 1: top 10 technical fields with most patent application 2019 (reference: EPO patent index 2019)


Another report provided by Minesoft, showed that in addition to increasing the number of patent applications in 5G technology, some of the top well-known companies exploring 5G technology and to seek the protection of their innovation, have filed numerous patent applications in this field.  

Over the past few years, patent owners for 2G, 3G, and 4G have structured how mobile technologies are used in the smartphone and computer industry. Therefore, recognizing who are the 5G patent owners, will likely help us know who is the future technology and market leaders

According to Minesoft, Samsung (a South Korean company), has filed more patent applications than the following 4 assignees, Qualcomm (US), Huawei (China), Intel (US), and AT&T (US) combined.


In another report provided by the Aplitic Platform, to have more reliable results, the analysis not limited to only the number of patents, but also data of patent declarations, standards documents, and contribution documents, integrated altogether to provide analytical statistics. The method for exploiting data as described here (


According to the mentioned report in which data has collected by using IPLytic tool, the Chinese company Huawei has the largest declared 5G portfolio, followed by the South Korean companies Samsung and LG and the Finnish company Nokia. Qualcomm and Intel are the largest US companies holding declared 5G patents; Sharp and NTT DOCOMO are the largest Japanese ones.

Huawei with more than 3,000 patent applications filed and more than 1,200 of these granted, the Chinese manufacturer took first place in a ranking compiled by IPlytics and the Technical University of Berlin.

The interesting news about Huawei patent activities released recently (2020 April) where the china's manufacture opened up its more than 56,000 patents to Linux and open-source companies by joining the Open Invention Network (OIN).  Huawei by taking this action not only shows how important are open patents to software development but this Huawei action, also shows the company’s efforts to burnish its image as a team player in the open-source ecosystem while it is under attack by the US government.

Among the top active companies developing 5G technology, Nokia announced recently (2020 March), over 3,000 5G patent declarations. This achievement reflects a further acceleration in Nokia’s leadership in technology development and standardization of 5G. Nokia also continued investment in R&D strengthens the Nokia patent portfolio, be one of the broadest and strongest in the industry.

Another main player is Qualcomm which capitalized not only on its research but also on it influence in standardization to become a clear central force when 4G was rolled out.

By the time, other players caught on, Qualcomm already owned the bulk of intellectual property that enabled 4G operating speeds, especially around baseband processors.

In another article, the value of Qualcomm's patents determined higher than other payers in 5G technologies. The articles argued that the number of patents is impressive, but it doesn’t give any information about the value. By taking into account other factors, such as growth, impact, generality, and originality of communication patents the value of portfolios will be clearer and concluded that Qualcomm's patents are more valuable!


5G Development' Challenges and Risks

Challenges are the inherent part of the new development; so, like all technologies, 5G has also big challenges to deal with. Some predicted challenges are as following:

Deployment and coverage

Although  5G offers a significant increase in speed and bandwidth, for its more limited range,  further infrastructure will require.The challenge is that although 5G antennas are able to handle more users and data, but they can only beam out over shorter distances.

Cities will probably need to install extra repeaters to spread out the waves for extended range, while also maintaining consistent speeds in denser population areas.

Moreover, 5G requires its smaller cells or other hardware instead of modems and Wi-Fi routers to bring 5G connections into homes and businesses, Therefore, the current challenge of spreading out to rural areas will still remain as it is with LTE.

Traffic Management issues

5G networks are different than the traditional human to human traffic in cellular networks. In addition to humans, a great number of Machine to Machine (M2M) devices in a cell, may cause serious system argues such as radio access network (RAN) challenges, which will cause overload and jamming.


Initial Costs (build and buy)
The initial cost for building a network like LTE is high and 5G will probably follow a similar path. What has to be done to building the network is not just building a layer on top of an existing network, it’s in facts constructing the groundwork for something new in all.

Higher frequency bands

5G requires frequencies up to 300GHz, Not like 4G LTE that already operates on established frequency bands below 6GHz, Some bands (known as mmWaves), can carry far more capacity and deliver a 20-fold increase over LTE’s fastest theoretical throughput.

Wireless carriers still need to offer for the higher spectrum bands, as they build and roll out their respective 5G network and this would be costly.  


Availability of Devices

Although 5G could be used in 5G-enabled smartphones and other devices,  those device's compatibility and availability will hinge on how expensive they are for manufacturers to make.

For instance, the autonomous vehicle can use 5G technology, but what is already in the market, are in limited forms and fully autonomous vehicles are still years away. They are waiting on 5G deployment, as they would be driving blind without the super-fast network to communicate with.

The concept behind the Internet of Things (IoT) relied on a fast network that can tie devices and services together. But it depend on how much the additional speed will enrich the lives of people to use IOT.


Doubts around Security and privacy
5G technology designed to establish trust between networks, it would currently be possible to track people nearby using their phones or even overhear on live phone calls.

Therefore, 5G needs to ensure the protection of personal data. 5G will have to define the uncertainties related to security threats including trust, privacy, cybersecurity, which are growing across the globe.



5G is the next generation of mobile broadband and is predicted to be a hot trend of 2020 and throughout the next decade.

5G will not only change the way that humans communicate, but it will also change the way of communicating the whole physical world. Autonomous vehicles, smart cities, and healthcare are just a few areas that could be revolutionized by faster connectivity, lower latency, and more simultaneously connected devices.

Although 5G technology currently is used in some developed countries' cities, it still in its infancy, so it will be interesting to see how this technology develops in this new decade.

The number of patents in 5G mobile networks has grown significantly during recent years and it is predicted that the number will evolve within the next 5 years. To know the future of the technology and recognizing the potential market leaders, identifying the technology's main patent players would helpful. Huawei (China), Nokia (Finland), Qualcomm, and  Intel (US), Samsung (South Korea ) has filed more patent applications than the left. Although there are different opinions about the future market leader among the mentioned patent assignees, however, it is likely that the leadership would be share out among these patent owners.

Since we can’t fully anticipate all the ways that 5G technology could improve our lives, we also can’t fully understand the risks. Therefore, we must make sure that these innovative new devices and technologies have security built-in as an integral part.



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