Is 5G Acceleration in Europe Really Possible?
As 5G technology became not only a buzzword but also a realistic project to be populated with actions in order to bring a brighter future to all citizens, the European Union decided to take the role of leader in 5G deployment. This strategy goes hand in hand with the Digital Single Market and Gigabit Society projects, which were announced earlier and aimed to achieve economic growth and for maintain Europe’s global competitiveness. With ambitious targets to offer commercial 5G in at least one major city per EU Member State by 2020, and uninterrupted 5G in all urban areas and on major roads and railways by 2025, the EU has been the subject of a growing criticism recently.
Although several initiatives and documents are being created, including the European Commission’s 2013 Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative, 5G Manifesto and 5G Action Plan, we are still lacking a new regulatory environment (the final version of the European Electronic Communications Code and e-Privacy Regulation) that would encourage operators to make bolder investment decisions. In this field, the USA, South Korea and Japan seem to be much further ahead. In Europe, complications abound; there are different expectations regarding the time-frame for granting spectrum licenses, usage rules, the scope of EU coordination, the scale of financial support.
The process of creating EU regulations is always drawn-out, since it requires negotiation and agreement between 28 countries. However, this case is a bit different, since countries find themselves increasingly on the same side (albeit trying to get the most for their domestic companies, in particular the telecoms firms and different verticals that could benefit from 5G deployment). There is plenty to fight for, taking into account IoT Monetization opportunities including IoT development, autonomous cars, the growth in e-health and telemedicine, new teaching and learning opportunities thanks to the use of virtual reality tools in education, new entertainment models, the potential achievements of smart cities and new digital farming possibilities. At stake here are up to 2.3 million jobs, which 5G would help create either directly or indirectly in the 28 Member States. According to technology associations, 5G could also “enable up to 5% of GDP growth across the world economy and across all industries”. These figures speak for themselves.
So, what does Europe need to do if it is to stay ahead and benefit from the 5G rollout? The answer is simple: greater cooperation between sectors, including telecoms, and EU regulation bodies. So far, operators claim that the EU plan concentrates on infrastructure deployment incentives and increasing the number of standards to be met, without offering much help to make these things happen. As a result, real innovators will not be adequately rewarded for their effort and investment risk.
Among telecom operators, however, there are different strategies to 5G. Some claim that 5G cannot be implemented like 4G because it is not about adding extra antennas or equipment. That is why locking down 5G NR specifications, in conjunction with existing LTE radio as a partial solution, is in fact a retrograde step that will hamper technological development and diminish its potential. Others say that accepting non-standalone 5G NR is a necessary intermediate milestone that will enable the introduction of new capabilities. Additionally, we could identify industries and use cases in which the 5G vision could have the greatest or most unpredictable level of adoption.
Which path will be chosen? In the digital era, 5G development is indispensable for the development of new technologies that have an impact on everyday life. Providing quality services or creating new business opportunities are not only “worth trying” – they are obligatory in a technological world moving forward. The acceleration of 5G is happening before our very eyes, although the pace may differ depending on which strategies are adopted. In short, there is no way back.
Two things, though, are certain: Europe has the expertise – and it cannot afford to lag behind as 5G surges forward.
 Joint statement on saving Europe’s 5G ambition available at www.digitaleurope.org (18.08.2017)