Friday

26th May 2017

Focus

EU and telecoms firms target 5G benefits

  • Concrete plans for a roll-out of the 5G system are expected by the end of the year. (Photo: WMC)

The race is on for European companies to secure a part of the profits that will come from connecting all sorts of everyday devices to the internet – the so-called Internet of Things.

To make this a reality, the European Commission and industry sectors are investing billions of euros in the development of 5G - a newer internet with a much greater capacity than currently available.

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The Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona at the end of February gave an indication of how smart homes, connected cars, and digital wearables could affect our lives. This year’s four-day congress featured more than 2,000 exhibitors and 100,000 visitors.

The displays included homes with digitally connected fridges, heating and lights; cars that drive by themselves; rubbish bins that inform the council when they are full; and a cow pedometer that helps farmers to know when cows are ready give birth.

Chips are now small and efficient enough to make anything from toothbrushes to bridges "smart". The connectivity is expected to transform a host of markets, with companies able to boost profits by using the data collected in the cloud to offer new kinds of services.

Although the Internet of Things is already here, it will increase and expand rapidly over the next few years. According to Cisco – a US technology firm - the number of connected devices will grow from roughly seven billion now, to 50 billion in 2020, and to hundreds of billions in the decade after that.

“We’re on the front end of the most phenomenal technology revolution that we have ever seen,” said Cisco boss Chuck Robbins at the congress.

“The pace of change is something that we have never witnessed before.”

He said almost every company is looking into how to use the technology to fundamentally change their business models.

Guo Ping, chief of Chinese phone maker Huawei, said: “In our future digital society, connections will be like oxygen.”

However, the current 4G network will not be able to cope with the interconnectivity and data transmission expected in the near future. The 5G network promises tenfold increases in data-transmission speeds.

5G 'essential'

The European Commission has earmarked €700 million to be spent on 5G by 2020 as part of its public-private partnership launched in 2013. The private sector has committed more than €3 billion.

“With the digital revolution in full swing, the successful digitisation is the fundamental precondition and source of competitiveness for our industry for the decades to come,” said Gunther Oettinger, the EU commissioner for digital economy and society.

“Making 5G a reality in Europe by 2020 will be essential for the success of key sectors like automotive, health and digital manufacturing.”

The commissioner joined bosses from car and telecoms firms at an informal discussion at the congress, where he urged them to move quickly, particularly on self-driving cars.

“Europe needs to be the first to deploy connected and automated driving,” he said.

“Only then can European businesses set the technical and business standards and thereby occupy the field before others do.”

Concrete plans for a roll-out of the 5G system are expected by the end of the year.

“Important standardisation milestones are ahead of us,” Oettinger said about the 2019 World Radio Conference, when 5G frequency bands will be identified and allocated.

He asked for European member states to stick together in international negotiations on standardisation of 5G that will secure worldwide interoperability. “We need one coherent European team or we will fail,” he said.

Oettinger said that Europe could be introduced to the abilities of 5G in time for the Euro 2020 football championship.

But competition is fierce. South Korea has promised to have some 5G technology in use for its 2018 Winter Olympics, Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE are investing heavily in 5G, and three US companies have announced they will test their 5G later this year.

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