Europeans look for a plan to speed up the next mobile network

A Huawei representative in front of the company's 5G showcase at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. [Jorge Valero]

This article is part of our special report Mobile World Congress 2016.

SPECIAL REPORT / European Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger said on Tuesday (23 February) that “Europe cannot afford to be left behind” on what he considers to be the most important issue of his mandate.

Our cities, our homes and our factories will face a constant and immediate exchange of massive data that will improve the performance of governments, companies and even our health. And the 5G network will be the key enabler of this upcoming future after 2020, he added.

EU senior officials and telecom companies agreed during the Mobile World Congress that the deployment of the network could represent a greater challenge than the ongoing technological development, on which the European Commission and firms are cooperating.

“Our task in the next five years is to make this technology deployable” and “economically feasible”, said Hossein Moiin, chief technology officer (CTO) of mobile networks at Nokia, during a panel discussion. “We can do it” because “we know how to solve these problems”, he told the audience of the MWC.

The huge amount of money spent to develop 4G emptied the industry’s pockets, holding up its implementation in Europe. The result was that African cities enjoyed a better 4G network than European capitals.

“It’s not only about leadership on research, we need to learn from our failures, mainly of those made with 4G,” Commissioner Oettinger, said during the same panel discussion.

5G action plan in the making

Oettinger stressed the importance of drumming up enough support across sectors and across member states to spread the 5G to guarantee a successful implementation. To that end, he announced that the European Commission will present by the end of this year a 5G action plan to unify the European efforts.

The Commissioner emphasised that this action plan should ‘focus’ on no more than five areas and count on a large cooperation of the telecom sector, operators and traditional industries.

This new roadmap would include a commonly agreed calendar for 5G trials and its deployment, a plan to involve vertical industries and to strengthen the cooperation across sectors, and incentives for investment.

The action plan would also incorporate concrete proposals on spectrum to address the needs that will trigger the generalisation of 5G from 2020 onward, and “measures to ensure that the next telecommunications framework will be fit for 5G,” Oettinger insisted, including the virtualisation of the networks.

He stressed that Europe cannot afford to be left behind.

Ulf Ewaldsson, CTO at  Ericsson noted that companies are starting to evolve against the backdrop of this new world of connected things. “Business model changes are already happening,” as part of the so-called fourth industrial revolution.

“The question is about the vision: how can we make 5G the answer to the ongoing change of the business models,” he added.

Joining forces for Industry 4.0

The global elite discussed at length the so-called Industry 4.0 during the 2016 World Economic Forum.

Ericsson, and Australian operator Telstra, will join forces to test 5G during the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast (Australia). This trial would come just a couple of months after the first 5G demonstration announced to date by the Korean operator KT during the 2018 Winter games.

Asked by EURACTIV, Oettinger commented on Monday (22 February) that Europe needs to find a similar event to send “a clear message” to the citizens about Europe’s readiness on 5G. He considered that the 2020 UEFA championship could be right stage to bring the 5G vision to reality.

“We have a lot to offer,” Ewaldsson told the audience. “If we do it very well, we will be extremely successful, otherwise companies will find other ways [to progress on the digitalization of the industry] and it would not be so good”, he stated.

Various industries are cooperating with the telecom firms and the carriers to meet the requirements of the world of interconnected objects that 5G is expected to power. The main features will be high reliability and density and low latency.

But the lack of clarity about the evolution of the so-called internet of things would add additional pressure to find  the resources to support the roll out of 5G.

“The open question is whether the Internet of Things will take root in the consumer market (as it was the case with the smartphones) or in enterprises (as it was the case of the PCs),” Vish Nandlall CTO at Telstra explained.

“The key is that we don’t really know what applications will take root,” Nokia’s Hossein Moiin described. Given that the 5G would be used “for things we cannot for foresee”  it should remain “as flexible as possible”.

In light of the high expectations triggered by the arrival of 5G and the outstanding challenges, Alex Jinsung Chou, CTO at SK Telecom warned that the “problem will be to deliver what we are promising”. “I am confident that  it is achievable,” he concluded.


By 2020, there will be 26 billion connected devices and 70 percent of people will own a smartphone. 5G will be the backbone of this digital future.

The European Commission launched a Public-Private Partnership on 5G in December 2013. The EU will invest €700 million by 2020 in this partnership through the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. EU industry is set to match this investment by up to five times, to more than €3 billion.

On Tuesday (23 February), the EU and Brazil signed an agreement to bolster the cooperation in the development of 5G. Both players have committed to developing a global definition of 5G and to identifying the services (for example connected cars, the Internet of Things or very high-definition video streaming) which should be the first delivered by 5G networks

The agreement reached with Brazil is similar to other pacts sealed with South Korea, Japan and South Korea. The Commission is also working on an agreement with the US.

The 5G PPP presented its vision on the technology and the infrastructure required for 5G during the 2015 Mobile World Congress.

Its implementation is closely interlinked with the reorganisation of the spectrum band. The executive recently presented a new proposal for the usage of the 700 Mhz band to pave the way the arrival of 5G.

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