Commission promises action plan for deployment of 5G wireless across Europe

23 Feb 2016 | News
5G wireless communications will be the lifeblood of all major industries in less than five years, but the EU needs to fill in gaps in legislation and standards to prepare for pan-European deployment. A plan for 5G roll-out will be published by the end of 2016

More steps are needed to create an EU-wide legislative framework and convince member states to adapt telecommunications standards for next generation 5G wireless, if Europe is to have a seamless network, said Günther Oettinger, EU commissioner for digital economy and society, at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona this week.

Speaking at the launch of a whitepaper on the implementation of 5G, Oettinger said the telecoms industry has made headway in developing the technology, but there are gaps in legislation and standards. “It is up to us to modernise European legislation,” Oettinger told delegates. “We have to de-regulate in time.”

While industry claims the recent net neutrality rules will slow down progress on 5G, Oettinger said he is a “realistic optimist” and that Europe will have the “technical competence” to implement 5G.

The whitepaper, prepared in consultation with companies in the Horizon 2020 public-private partnership on 5G, underlines the role next-generation wireless communication will have in promoting growth in a number of sectors.

Oettinger also announced a broader public consultation on deployment, inviting the industry to work on a coordinated 5G action plan to be delivered by the end of this year. The plan will include a commonly agreed calendar for commercial roll out, with the Commission aiming to encourage the automotive, healthcare, energy, and entertainment industries to work with telecommunications companies on the initial deployment of 5G in Europe.

The timeline in the whitepaper indicates that by the end of 2018 companies in the Horizon 2020 public-private partnership on 5G will test prototypes and pilots of 5G network management and operations. By the end of 2020 the technology is expected to be available for industrial use, assuming that new frequency bands for 5G are available.

The European Commission has launched a discussion on the availability of frequency bands for 5G and Oettinger hopes that a final decision will be made at the World Radio-communication Conference in 2019. Before that the EU has to come up with a coherent digital infrastructure, “otherwise we will fail,” warned Oettinger.

Frequency bands are a limited resource and the Commission is facing a daunting task in coordinating all 28 Member States and making sure that the bands are available before 5G is deployed.

National governments must understand the economic importance of setting up a 5G-friendly digital infrastructure that works across all member states. “Please give the message to national ministers: not all political issues have to be Europeanised, but digital technology needs a European voice,” Oettinger said.

Car manufacturers in the driver’s seat

The automotive industry is at the forefront of 5G development and ready to embed the new wireless standard, and Oettinger called on the car manufacturers and the telecoms industry to outline plans for the deployment of the connected car. With the 5G network is in place, connected cars and related services can hit the market before the end of the decade, but said Oettinger, “We need innovative functional digital infrastructure.”

For this to happen, the Commission will have to come up with a set of rules for the digital infrastructures needed for smart mobility and the integration of connected cars, and convince all member states to adopt these standards in time for the deployment of 5G networks.  

Besides the legislative requirements, connected cars and assisted driving systems will require massive joint efforts from many sectors. “Cross-sector collaboration will be essential,” the commissioner said.

5G will make an impact in other sectors, as healthcare systems look to enhanced patient data collection and personalised treatments, and manufacturing industries adopt technologies and processes such as collaborative robots, connected goods and integrated manufacturing and logistics.

5G networks will transform the entertainment industry, said Karim Michel Sabbagh, CEO of the satellite operator SES. The company is currently handling 1 zettabyte of data every year, transmitting over 7,300 TV channels of which 2,200 are in high definition. Sabbagh predicted that by 2019 the volume of data will double, as demand for better video broadcasting increases. 5G, “will allow us to provide seamless experiences to users,” he said.

The dependence on 5G will require companies to build new security systems.  “We will get extreme security requirements,” said Hossein Moiin, chief technology officer at Nokia Mobile Networks.

Wen Tong, Huawei’s chief technology officer for wireless, agreed a failure to secure 5G communications could be the biggest showstopper of all, but said the telecoms industry is capable of successfully switching to 5G, as was the case with previous transitions. “We were very successful over the past two decades at switching from [one] generation to the next,” Tong said.

Catching up with South Korea

While South Korea has made impressive progress in deploying 5G to individual users, Europe will focus on industrial applications of the new wireless standard. “Vertical industries are at centre-stage this year,” said Oettinger.

South Korea has several advantages over Europe, with its smaller population, more competitive industry and investment in infrastructure. The commissioner admitted that Europe has been lagging behind but it is catching up. “We are coming forward step by step,” he said.

The world’s first 5G network will make its debut at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, and Oettinger suggested Europe could deploy its first 5G network at a similar event, saying the final of the EURO 2020 UEFA football championship, which will be played in London, might be one possibility.

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