5G: Changing the game and changing Europe

5G technology could help the EU change its game and become a global leader in the digital sphere, says Eva Kaili.

Eva Kaili | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Eva Kaili

08 Jul 2016

Every now and again a new technological breakthrough is given the catchy (but often inaccurate) description of 'game-changer'. 5G is no exception. 5G networks will be a pivotal element in this new digital era, not only for the digital single market, but for both our economy and society as a whole.

Although we are only currently scraping the surface of 5G's potential, it already seems substantial. We are on the cusp of passing from a network of five billion people to, eventually, a network of 100 billion devices and a genuine Internet of Things.

Such numbers justify the view of many analysts that the development of 5G technology is critical to the growth of the European economy, creating jobs and spurring investment. This may truly make 5G a "game-changer".


The sectors that could profit from rolling out advance networks are practically endless.  Most importantly we can already experience the change. eHealth applications for better monitoring, remote healthcare for distant areas and better efficiency for reduced costs are already improving the lives of patients. 

Transport can become safer and more efficient, as connected cars share real time information with other vehicles, augmenting their security features and enabling technologies such as "auto-pilot". 

This will deliver benefits, through greater precision in transportation and less waste of resources, for sectors like trade. Industry and manufacturing can be revolutionised with 5G connectivity.

Intelligent connected robots in the Factory of the Future can communicate with each other and with components, increasing manufacturing efficiency, reducing costs and ultimately producing better and cheaper consumer products. 

However, to reach that level, we have to overcome the current difficulties and challenges. There are many parts that puzzle us as we pave our way to the digital age. 

Challenges such as the reform of spectrum management, standardisation, interoperability, access networks, roaming and, most importantly, potential implementation delays by member states. These risk creating a fragmented digital market making us unable to reap the benefits of technology.

With that in mind, I have addressed the European Commission asking for its provisions for those countries requesting more time and flexibility for national security reasons for reforming spectrum and thus rolling out 5G. 

No country and no European people should be left behind if we wish to reap the full benefits of a pan-European digital market. What should be stressed is that it is important to find the right mix of investment, other than a regulatory framework, to overcome the aforementioned challenges.

The public private partnerships that are currently leading the way are of fundamental importance, but as digital economy Commissioner Günther Oettinger mentioned at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, "support for investment in Europe for 5G networks needs to start now". 

The pre-condition to any technological enlightenment is large-scale investment schemes. We need to take a close look at the necessary framework conditions and incentives that can lead to the deployment of the underlying network infrastructures. 

We also need to make sure that there will be industrial players that are ready to invest in 5G services and that we will provide them with irresistible incentives to invest. 

The success of institutions like the Parliament Magazine, or the EuCNC networks and communications conference - that I had the honour to attend and kick-off last week - is that they bring together the views of key stakeholders and provide an opportunity to achieve tangible progress.

Progress that it is inclusive, takes into consideration industry, citizens and regulators and, most importantly, makes sure that the EU will create a digital single market that leaves no member state behind. Only through large scale, pan-European plans can we provide our citizens and industries with the environment to flourish and innovate.

As a Vice-Chair of Parliament's foresight scientific unit (STOA), I have experienced, first-hand, the technological advancements that EU funded projects have achieved. These range from underwater technology, mobility and transportation, such as the self-driving cars that exchange information in real time, to space and telecommunications, health, architecture and smart cities. 

These are just some of the endless possibilities and challenges offered by this technology. So-called 'out of the box thinking' is becoming the new reality and it will be fascinating to see if 5G technologies fall into that category.

They certainly have the potential to cause substantial differences to the way we live, work, receive healthcare and even move around. The question of whether the technology becomes a 'game changer' remains difficult to answer. What is clear, however, is that 5G could help Europe change its game and become a global leader in the digital sphere. That in itself is quite an accomplishment.


Read the most recent articles written by Eva Kaili - Big data: Safeguarding our fundamental rights


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