Portugal blames COVID-19 for 5G delays, promises progress

A laser draws a 5G logo at the Hannover Industry Fair (Hannover Messe) in Hanover, Germany, 31 March 2019. [EPA-EFE/FOCKE STRANGMANN]

The Portuguese government on Thursday (28 January) attributed the deadlock in implementing fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks in the European Union (EU) to the Covid-19 pandemic. Still, it ensured “close monitoring” of progress and cybersecurity throughout the bloc.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused delays in implementing 5G in several EU countries, so the European Commission had to present a review of the action plan. We will monitor all developments,” Portugal’s minister for infrastructure Pedro Nuno Santos, said by videoconference in the European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee on the priorities of the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the EU.

The minister said he hoped that, with this update of the action plan for 5G presented in 2016, it would be possible to “respond to some of the difficulties that arose from the pandemic and created deadlocks in 5G,” after the EU’s goal of having this technology in at least one city per member state by the end of 2020 was missed.

Santos did not mention the case of Portugal, which along with Cyprus, Lithuania and Malta is part of the group of EU countries where 5G has not yet been implemented, according to a report presented in the middle of this month by the European observatory that monitors this technology.

According to the European 5G Observatory set up by the European Commission last December, this technology was present in the other 23 EU member states plus the UK.

Santos stressed that 5G is “of great strategic importance for Europe as it will be the connectivity base for the digital transformation of the economy in strategic sectors such as transport, energy, manufacturing, health and media.

“As [we chair the presidency of the Council of the EU], we will closely monitor developments regarding the deployment and security of 5G networks,” he added.

Classifying 5G as “a core technology for the future of the EU” and for Europe “to preserve leadership in the digital area,” the minister stressed that “security issues are critical and fundamental.

“For us, what is fundamental is to guarantee security in access to 5G, regardless of the origin,” Santos said when asked about possible risks with Chinese suppliers and manufacturers, namely Huawei, which has been accused several times of spying, but without any evidence.

“The issue is to ensure security and the conditions that give us that security of access to 5G, from whatever part of the world,” he insisted.

Another objective of the Portuguese presidency is to advance the EU Strategy for Cyber Security for the next Digital Decade, presented in mid-December.

For this reason, “the Portuguese presidency will present the Council conclusions on this strategy, which will be taken to the General Affairs Council in March,” Santos said.

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