Leadership with 5G in Europe: Two contrasting images of the future, with policy and regulatory implications

Wolter Lemstra*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


European policy makers have shown a keen interest in the success of 5G because ubiquitous and high capacity electronic communication infrastructure is recognized as a cornerstone of economic development and productivity growth. The second generation, GSM, is considered the leading example, reaching its peak of deployment in 2015 with 3.83 billion subscribers served by over 700 operators in 219 countries and territories. With 5G rapidly shaping up in the R&D and standardization environments, and a call for leadership with 5G in Europe by policy makers, it is timely to investigate what lessons can be learned from the success of 2G that can be applied to 5G. More broadly, this calls for research into the commonalities and differences between successive generations of mobile technology, their introduction and the market adoption that followed. This also calls for an investigation into the possibility of multiple futures of 5G and how that impacts the opportunity for leadership. As one future may be more desirable than the other, depending on the perspective of the actor involved, a policy debate will be required to determine the most desirable future. As well as a discussion of the policy and regulatory actions required to enable a particular future. Hence, the two-part research question being addressed in this paper is: What explains the success of 2G-GSM and how can it be applied to create success with 5G in the European Union? To respond to the research question this paper first identifies the leadership lessons to be drawn from the success of 2G-GSM in relation to its successors 3G and 4G. Secondly, the contribution describes two stylized images of possible futures of 5G, called “Evolution” and “Revolution” as input to the policy debate on the options for leadership with 5G. These images reflect two extremes in terms of possible futures of 5G. “Evolution” follows the pattern of previous generations and current trends. “Revolution” represents a clear break with these trends and a path towards leadership with 5G, as it exploits the opportunities of standardized APIs for service creation, being enabled by network virtualization as an architectural foundation of 5G. These open and uniformly applied APIs allow the market entry of a multitude of virtual mobile network operators (VMNOs) serving particular industry verticals or economic sectors with tailored feature sets and qualities of services. They allow a market momentum to be built that constitutes leadership with 5G in Europe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)587-611
Number of pages25
JournalTelecommunications Policy
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • 5G
  • Europe
  • Leadership
  • Mobile communication
  • Policy
  • Regulation


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