Letting 5G flourish

5G will allow companies to access new technologies and will deliver sustainable growth and jobs across Europe. But the right strategy needs to be in place to help it thrive, explains Roberto Viola.
Photo credit: Adobe Stock

By Roberto Viola

17 Jul 2019

The benefits of 5G networks are virtually limitless.

It will provide us with high-quality connectivity services that far beyond the levels we currently enjoy with 4G, tailor-made to suit different industries and business practices.

This will mean that 5G will be about far more than simply smartphones; it will also allow provide companies with seamless access to exciting new technologies such as artificial intelligence and supercomputing and pave the way for the Next-Generation Internet and the Internet of Things.

The benefits of 5G also go further than technological advances; it overs huge potential for sustainable growth and jobs in Europe and will hold the key to solving many of the challenges we face, from improving road safety to lowering carbon emissions or delivering personalised healthcare.


However, for these benefits to become a reality, we need the right strategy and policies in place that will help 5G flourish and grow.

The European Commission has been working on just that for many years already.

In 2013, we launched a large-scale research programme called the 5G Public-Private Partnership (5G-PPP), the first in the world to develop 5G as we currently know it.

With over €700m in public investment, we have been able to mobilise €5bn in total, ensuring Europe’s leading position in terms of research and development.

With this basic research in place, we turned our attention to supporting the practical rollout and proposed the 5G Action Plan in 2016.

It called on industry stakeholders and Member States to designate at least one 5G-enabled city per country by 2020, setting a target for nationwide rollout of 2025.

While setting these targets is important, we also need to make sure that we are on track to meet them.

This is why last year we created the European 5G Observatory to monitor progress of commercial launches, city trials and highway corridors.

“With over €700m in public investments, we have been able to mobilise €5bn in total, ensuring Europe’s leading position in terms of research and development”

The latest report shows that Europe is very much on track for the commercial launch of 5G this year: there are currently 147 major 5G trials ongoing around Europe, with a total planned investment of €1bn (including €300m from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research programme).

As with all technological advances, the launch of commercial 5G services will be just the tip of the iceberg.

In the beginning, 5G is likely to focus primarily on the consumer market, offering an improved experience over 4G but within a more limited geographical area.

But we fully expect the pace of development to increase rapidly once 5G is launched.

The 5G of today is not the 5G of five years’ time, and certainly not the 5G that could be driving our cars and flying our drones by the end of the next decade.

While the EU can do a lot to encourage the rapid development of 5G infrastructure and services, it cannot do it alone.

Private sector investment will also be needed to develop not only the services but also, just as importantly, the ecosystem in which 5G can thrive.

As far as the EU is concerned, we estimate that investments in 5G from the private sector will amount to €60-100bn annually in the coming five years.

We believe that 5G in its most advanced form will be available mainly in areas with high demand from business and industry, meaning that 4G will continue to play an important role in parallel for many users.

The benefits that 5G delivers for high-value applications such as automated driving or smart factories will ultimately determine the pace of change.

“The 5G of today is not the 5G of five years’ time, and certainly not the 5G that could be driving our cars and flying our drones by the end of the next decade”

And as businesses and their supply chains develop these applications, they will inevitably look to partner with communities: a connected car that needs 5G connectivity will not be able to travel very far if the relevant coverage is limited.

Therefore, the development of the technology, applications and public infrastructure will have to go hand-in-hand.

Concerns over the security of 5G networks have raised questions over the EU’s strategic autonomy in high-speed network technology.

The European Commission has been swift to act, publishing a recommendation to ensure a joint view of cybersecurity needs of 5G networks across Europe.

Of course, Member States are responsible for their own national security, but we must have a common approach to tackling security risks so as not to fragment the European single market.

This is why we have proposed that Member States work together and develop a joint risk assessment and a common toolbox of mitigation measures (under the Network and Information Security Directive).

To ensure Europe’s technological independence in this crucial domain, we are now preparing an ambitious new partnership, building on the current 5G-PPP.

This reinforced partnership will strengthen our ecosystem and support user industries, ultimately leading us towards a future beyond 5G.

It will also play an active role in building so-called 5G corridors for connected and automated mobility, as proposed in the Connecting Europe Facility in Telecom (CEF).

Many of the services that 5G will facilitate are in the public interest, which is why we aim to increase public investments in the technology under the new EU budget in programmes such as Horizon Europe, the Digital Europe Programme, CEF in Telecom and InvestEU.

The European Parliament has played an important role in all of this, from the early days of the 5G-PPP to the Parliament resolution on the 5G Action Plan.

We look forward to continuing a fruitful collaboration with the new Parliament in the years to come, as we continue our shared journey towards the connected Europe of the future.

Read the most recent articles written by Roberto Viola - Robotics will be a key driver of economic growth