Member states risk ‘breaching EU law’ in 5G delays

EU member states which have not assigned 5G spectrum frequencies by the end of 2020 would be in breach of EU law and as a result, could face legal action from the Commission, the EU executive has warned.

EU countries which have not assigned 5G spectrum frequencies by the end of 2020 will be in breach of EU law and could face legal action from the Commission, the EU executive has warned.

As part of the EU’s 2016 5G Action Plan, nations committed to developing their next-generation telecommunications infrastructures. These targets included the launch of 5G services in all member states in at least one major city by the end of 2020.

Moreover, in the 2018 Electronic Communications Code, the EU pledged to enhance the deployment of 5G networks by ensuring the availability of 5G radio spectrum before the end of this year.

Three ‘pioneer’ bands have been identified for the allocation of 5G frequencies in the EU, consisting of the 700 MHz, 3.6 GHz, and 26 GHz bands.

However, the assignment of these bands has become beset by a series of setbacks due to the global public health crisis and geopolitical tensions between the US and China, that have disrupted supply chains from the Far East.

And while the Commission has previously said that there are likely to be delays in meeting the EU-wide targets, it is also reluctant to completely sideline the objectives.

“By the end of the year, there will be a legal obligation in all member states to assign operators to 5G pioneer frequencies,” an EU official told EURACTIV on Thursday (1 October). “So if a member state will not assign these frequencies, they will be in breach of EU law.”

The EU nations that are yet to formally assign any of the frequencies across the 700 MHz, 3.6 GHz, and 26 GHz bands required for 5G deployment on the bloc, include Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, and Slovenia, according to data from the EU’s 5G Observatory.

A new Action Plan for 5G?

The comments come ahead of a European Council summit between EU leaders which kicks off today (1 October), in which EU nations are expected to further commit to submitting their 5G deployment plans by the end of the year.

As part of the broader development plans in the digital field, EU leaders are set to back the so-called ‘Digital Compass’ plans, which will lay out new ‘means and milestones’ to achieve benchmarks in the digital arena by 2030.

The EU official revealed on Thursday that as a result of the setbacks in the deployment of 5G on the bloc, a new 5G Action Plan could be in the offing as part of the 2030 targets, presenting a set of new deadlines for member states to attempt to meet.

“If next year we present the digital compass to the European Council [and] the objectives of 2030, we will need to have a close look at the 5g ambitions set a few years ago, and probably raise the bar,” the official said.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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