Delivering 5G is not rocket science

European technology is at the forefront, so how can policy speed up a digitalised economy, asks Gabriel Solomon.
Photo Credit: Ericsson

By Gabriel Solomon

12 Jul 2019

Working with our pioneering customers, we at Ericsson are proud to power the first live 5G networks in four continents. We achieved this by being the largest contributor to the standardisation body 3GPP in 2018, with a commitment to rapidly apply these standards to our technology development. We ensured technology interoperability with our ecosystem partners on all main 5G spectrum bands, often as industry firsts.

Since 2015, we have shipped more than three million 5G ready antennas that allow 5G to be switched on remotely. Our unique spectrum sharing technology allows operators to dynamically allocate spectrum to 4G or 5G services based on real time need. Combined, these features let operators achieve national coverage quickly and efficiently. That’s why this year, Swisscom’s 5G network will reach 90 percent of the population.


We’ve come a long way, fast. Fifty years ago, the first lunar landing was managed by a 64kB computer. A smartphone today has 10,000,000 times as much memory and is 100,000,000 times quicker. It´s astonishing to think that we have so much power and potential in our pockets. US Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai says that “5G could be one of the great moon shots of this generation.” He sees a world in which speed, capacity and latency are no longer constraints on innovation. 5G will be the foundation of applications, “that could revolutionise healthcare, transportation, agriculture, education and many other facets of our society.”

“5G could be one of the great moon shots of this generation” US Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai

Indeed, superior connectivity could be worth €2.2 trillion to the European economy by 2030. But this vision requires networks that are pervasive, reliable, secure and high-quality. Strong leadership at all levels of government is needed to build this critical national infrastructure. 5G should be the bedrock of the emerging European industrial strategy, because Europe can’t afford a re-run of 4G where other regions reaped the benefits of being first to scale. Thanks in part to early 4G deployment, China and the US now host the top 15 global digital companies with a combined market capitalisation of around €5 trillion.

Both countries are racing to replicate this feat for 5G. Next year China is expected to invest more in 5G than 4G, rolling out services nationally on its existing grid that is already 10 times as dense as Europe’s on a per km2 basis. Earlier this year in the US, the FCC doubled the amount of spectrum in the market and will soon release a further 3,400 megahertz - increased supply will lower upfront fees. Compare this to the situation in Germany, where after the recent 5G auction the total spectrum in the market is a little more than 1,000 megahertz and the 5G auction design inflated costs substantially. Worse still, according to the European 5G Observatory around 80 percent of 5G spectrum is still on the shelf.

While we lead as an industry by innovating and investing, governments, legislators and regulators have a key role to play in delivering urgent policy pivots on three fronts:

  • Increase the supply of spectrum and trade off high fees for greater coverage and quality
  • Remove deployment barriers to speed up and improve the economics of network extension and densification
  • Ensure the telecom sector has the commercial and operational flexibility to develop and deliver innovative services that meet the rapidly evolving consumer, business and government needs.

Success in 5G will go a long way to deciding economic leadership in the 21st century. Our economy and society stands to hugely benefit if we can work together and get this right.