5G is the future

5G is the future

Today we are all in agreement on the importance of backing the digital economy as a stimulus to growth. This would help create new jobs in Europe - jobs which are much harder to relocate, compared to conventional manufacturing jobs created by the traditional economy. 

Yet out of the 20 largest tech companies in 2015, 12 are American, seven are Chinese and one is Japanese. Not one is headquartered in Europe.

Despite announcements and leadership ambitions, the EU risks losing the 5G race. Next-generation mobile technology will not just be used for surfing the internet and helping people communicate, as has been the case for previous generations.

5G will also be used for intercommunication between things - domestic appliances, medical systems, energy networks and cars. Tech companies will not be alone in benefitting from the digitalisation of industry and the Internet of Things; citizens will also be able to enjoy new services and applications.

However, while the rest of the world moves swiftly towards 5G, Europe has until 2020 - with the option of postponing to 2022 - to transfer the 700 MHz band from digital TV to wireless broadband. 

In doing so, member states will continue stalling on finding a consensus on the harmonised use of radio spectrum, a fundamental transition required to enable the launch of a real digital single market.

I am very worried by the timeframe for releasing the 700 MHz band frequency to 5G mobile telephone operators. We in the Five Star Movement, despite being well aware of the characteristics of our country - Italy - and its delays in infrastructure, have nevertheless proposed certain amendments to promote coordination between member states and speed up the timescales by producing an interim report by 2019. 

Good performance in managing the spectrum for mobile use must not stop through indefinite or delayed timescales for the 700 MHz band. The interim report has a very real and pragmatic objective: that of preventing any delays, and acting together constructively.

We know that it is not easy to start a process of transferring the frequencies used today in some member states for the purposes of television to mobile operators.

It is precisely to avoid being caught unprepared, and to be able to reach positions that are harmonious and satisfactory for stakeholders and EU citizens, that we must start scheduling and planning technical and financial measures straight away.

In certain member states, now could be the right time to free that demand for ultra-wideband services - the absence of which, up to now, has contributed to infrastructure delays. 

Above all, for countries which have been left behind, the 700 MHz band and the development of 5G networks is an excellent opportunity, and they should make the most of it.

A two-year delay in the whole process is not the right solution. Italy, for example, has everything to lose through the use of the two-year extension, from 2020 to 2022, since auctions for reassigning frequencies will yield billions of euros, which could be used both for investing in network infrastructure and for reimbursing the costs of the transition.

5G technology is the future and Europe must act in a concerted way on spectrum policies, in a manner that is coordinated and harmonised, in order to achieve the 2020 objective, and also because other countries have an advantage.

South Korea, for example, has already announced the launch of 5G services for 2018, for the Winter Olympics which will be held at Pyeongchang. Tests on a system which uses the highest frequencies to transmit data up to 3.2 Gbps have already been successfully completed.

In the US, leadership in 5G is a national priority. With the approval in July of the spectrum frontiers proposal, the Federal Communications Commission assigned no less than 14 GHz of unlicensed spectrum to wireless broadband. 

The use of large-scale technology should take off in 2020, but American operators have already started tests for initial limited commercial implementation from late 2017.

The European Union needs competitive digital infrastructure and we must hit the target of broadband access for all as soon as possible, even in rural areas. 

In addition, it will be essential to involve our small and medium-sized businesses and start-ups, as well as investing more on training young people and on their digital skills.

It is clear that we can no longer allow ourselves to use the spectrum inefficiently because, in order for the EU to boost itself, it needs to move fast without obstacles in its path.


David Borrelli

MEP involved

David Borrelli