Wednesday

24th Jan 2018

Opinion

Enough with EU's empty words on 5G

  • We can either defend the old ways and watch the development from afar, or we can lead the change towards a fully digital economy (Photo: Omar Prestwich)

European telecom ministers agreed earlier this month on a joint roadmap for the development of 5G networks.

Although the Council is eager to frame it as a detailed action plan, it really represents a missed opportunity, as it is essentially a roadmap without any recognition of what is truly necessary to follow through - namely, a coordinated and harmonised rolling out of key spectrum bands across Europe, along with long term commitments to investment certainty.

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If Europe is serious about being the global centre for 5G development, the 'internet of things, virtual reality, connected transport, e-health and much more, ahead of heavy-investing USA, China, Japan and South Korea, it is time to quit talking the talk and start walking the walk.

With current policies, a loosely written 5G roadmap and backward-looking spectrum negotiations in the trilogue on the Communications Code, we have set the stage for USA and Asia and handed them the trophy without even attempting to win it ourselves.

If we want to keep European industry and tech giants in Europe and, perhaps more importantly, attract the next Google, Facebook and Amazon, the council will now have to simply go back to the table and agree on a bit more.

Most importantly, the roadmap needs to include key steps to achieve a rapid deployment of 5G in the Union, which means legislative initiatives on ambitious deadlines and conditions for releasing the bands across Europe, including decisions on the use of key bands such as 3.6 GHz and 26 GHz.

This work must start as early as next year, and there is really no time to lose.

Recently, South Korean telecom giant SK Telecom announced their plan on commercialising 5G by 2019. American Verizon also announced recently that Sacramento, California, would be the first city to see the launch of commercial 5G residential broadband by mid-2018.

That is around the time when council hopes to have an agreement on the Communications Code, and two years before the 700 MHz band will be assigned in most member states.

If we have any interest in being the engine in the next generation of economics, now is the time to act. Two options are in front of us.

We can either defend the old ways and watch the development from afar, or we can lead the change towards a fully digital economy.

The latter requires more than empty words and half-hearted commitments.

Gunnar Hoekmark is a Swedish MEP and member of the EPP

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