5G's success requires coordinated approach to radio frequency spectrum
Are the planets aligning on Europe's approach to rolling out 5G?
For those with an interest in the EU's digital competitiveness, it didn't come as any surprise that digital economy and society Commissioner Günther Oettinger used last month's speech at the Net Futures conference in Brussels to reiterate the importance of his 5G Action Plan for Europe.
The Action Plan, announced in February at the Mobile World Congress (WMC) in Barcelona, is at the heart of the German Commissioner's plans to ensure that Europe doesn't fall behind on 5G deployment.
"The reflection with the telecommunications sector has already started", said Oettinger, adding, "Vertical sectors have been invited to contribute to the Action Plan between now and the summer so that the plan can be built upon the concrete needs of businesses and citizens."
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Italian Socialist deputy, Brando Benifei was at the WMC when Oettinger unveiled his plan and believes that the Commissioner has launched a, "timely proposal, which will constitute a fundamental building block of the digital single market strategy and the Internet of Things." 5G, he says, will increase job opportunities and make a significant contribution both to society and economically.
"We will ensure, however, that such technology is inclusive and accessible for everyone, particularly those who need it the most. Europe must be in the lead of this impressive economic and social transformation, creating the best conditions for investment, incentives and deployment of 5G throughout the continent."
Fellow Socialist deputy Catherine Stihler says she welcomes Oettinger's Action Plan proposals and - in a view held by many MEPs - says the final proposals must include action to develop the essential network infrastructure required to complete Europe's digital transformation.
"Radio frequency spectrum is an essential resource for telecommunication services, freeing up spectrum could be a way to enhance growth in an exceedingly profitable digital market and bring broadband to isolated areas that may not have terrestrial networks," says Stihler, a Vice Chair of Parliament's internal market committee.
Almost two years on from the first real policy discussions around 5G, the Scots MEP says the coordinated development of 5G is a vital building block for Europe to regain its lead globally in digital technology. "At the WMC this year, the motto was 'mobile is everything' and I couldn't agree more."
Commissioner Oettinger announced his hope for deployment of 5G by 2020. "As it is a priority area, an action plan by the end of the year would be beneficial to ensure we can meet this target. The time has come for Europe to stop playing second fiddle when it comes to digital advancement."
Polish EPP deputy Michał Boni says that although they are separate issues, the radio frequency spectrum debate - particularly on whether to allocate the 700 MHz band - and the upcoming telecom package review are helping policymakers focus on a common digital goal. "Preparing the European road map for achieving 5G is the key digital game changer in Europe."
He wonders whether EU policymakers recognise the advantages of 5G for the Internet of Things, autonomous cars or eHealth. "Do we want to establish the new background for those opportunities in Europe?"
"We need to have possibilities to transfer the information and data in milliseconds, so here is a need to have the high performance computing centres network in Europe."
"Of course, this requires interoperability, standardisation and investment efforts, as well as an understanding of the new technical challenges," including, he says, "Considering stronger harmonisation of rules for spectrum allocation." Harmonisation - not by going against the wishes of EU member states, he adds, "but achievable by stronger cooperation with them."
British ECR deputy Vicky Ford agrees, arguing that policymakers need to make sure that Europe gets the regulatory framework right. "New services and products are being offered in all sectors, from connected cars to smart energy systems to new media. 5G is expected to deliver the connectivity that will make the Internet of Things possible."
Therefore, to deliver high quality infrastructure, she argues, "a stable, long-term regulatory environment is required for investors."
For Ford, the technological uncertainties surrounding 5G development mean it's, "vitally important that we invest in R&D to try to lead the way." Like her colleagues, Ford advocates an approach to radio frequency spectrum that "maximises the use of spectrum while allowing member states to cooperate and coordinate their approaches."
Oettinger has said the European Commission cannot ensure 5G deployment alone and has called for industry to take a leading role in developing the 5G Action Plan. Will he also make full use of the wealth of expertise within the European Parliament?
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