There is a very good reason fifth generation mobile networks get so much attention: 5G will be a big business, across a wide ecosystem, and likely will create the foundation for business models now yet in existence, with participants who might not today be in the “communications and content” ecosystem. If the 2013 telecom ecosystem globally represented about $3 trillion in annual revenue, mobile operators represented about $1 billion worth of revenue, while fixed network operators represented about $800 million globally.

Silicon and components represented perhaps $110 billion in annual revenue. Devices have become a more-substantial part of the ecosystem as well, generating about $480 billion annually. Over the top apps represented about $225 billion annually. Very few of us would guess the OTT role will diminish.

And, as has been the case in the computing industry, each successive generation of mobile networks creates the possibility of major shifts in industry leadership. In other words, the leader in one era are not necessarily the leaders in the next, or subsequent generations, either within any industry segment or within the whole ecosystem. One current example are market share shifts within the Indian mobile industry as Reliance Jio enters, using 4G network services as a marketing platform where 2G is the widespread platform and even 3G is relatively sparsely available. 

The other significant development is that, in the mobile and IP era, over the top app providers and mobile device suppliers are major new segments of the value chain.

OTT did not exist in the analog era, and the device suppliers were TV and fixed network telephone suppliers. Neither TV nor fixed network phone suppliers have much leverage in the new era.

In the core “access networks” portion of the ecosystem, one is not crazy to consider major potential shifts as well. The ultimate impact of new access providers and technologies remains an open question. But potential for major disruption exists.