New 5G goals to feature in upcoming EU ‘Digital Decade’ targets

The European Commission will lay out a series of new objectives in the field of 5G communications as part of its 'Digital Decade' plans, following a series of delays to the EU's next-generation telecoms rollout, it has been revealed.

The Digital Decade targets for 2030 are set to be unveiled by the Commission on March 9. [Shutterstock]

The European Commission will lay out a series of new objectives in the field of 5G communications as part of its ‘Digital Decade’ plans, following a series of delays to the EU’s next-generation telecoms rollout, officials have said.

The Digital Decade targets for 2030 are set to be unveiled by the Commission on March 9, with the aim of reducing the EU’s dependence on foreign countries for the provision of key technologies.

Given the EU’s delays in rolling out 5G networks, next-generation telecommunications are expected to feature prominently in the plans.

“5G will certainly be in there,” said Peter Stuckmann, head of unit at the European Commission in charge of future connectivity systems. “You could in principle call it the ‘mini 5G action plan’,” he told an online event held by Forum Europe on Tuesday (23 February).

According to Stuckmann, only half of EU nations have met targets for assigning lower-band waves for 5G spectrum, while the bloc is “very much behind” in the assignment of millimeter-wave bands.

The EU is also lagging behind on the construction of short-range wireless base stations, required for small cell 5G technologies, Stuckmann said, comparing the EU’s situation with South Korea, where hundreds of thousands of such stations have been constructed.

Commission 'disappointed' with 5G delays in Europe; reminds nations of 'legal obligation'

The European Commission has expressed concern that EU nations may fail to meet ‘legally-binding’ deadlines in the assignment of 5G frequency bands, further postponing the bloc’s development of next-generation telecommunications networks.

Digital Decade: 5G investment and security harmonization

As part of its Digital Decade targets, Stuckmann said the Commission would outline new investment objectives for 5G, with an emphasis on public-private initiatives.

This parallels with a European Investment Bank (EIB) study published this week that makes the case for rapid investments into 5G capacity building in Europe.

Stuckmann said the Commission would also seek to build upon measures to bolster the security of the bloc’s networks, as contained in last year’s 5G Toolbox, in which EU nations were tasked with assessing the risk profile of telecom providers, with a view to applying restrictions for vendors considered to be high-risk.

The 5G goals outlined in the Digital Decade plans will be further detailed in the EU executive’s 5G Action plan review, set to also be presented later this year.

In the EU’s 2016 5G Action Plan, nations committed to a number of targets, including the launch of 5G services in all member states in at least one major city by the end of 2020.

Moreover, timeframes set out in the 2018 Electronic Communications Code legally bound member states to ensure the availability of 5G radio spectrum before the end of 2020.

Both targets were missed, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, concerns over the security of next-generation telecommunications networks, and a heated campaign about the health risks of 5G.

EU audit underway

The delays prompted an announcement from EU auditors that they would embark on a probe of the Commission’s 5G strategy, starting in January this year.

Auditors say their research has already unearthed evidence of a divergent approach to 5G security across member states, as well as differences in deployment timelines for the technology across the continent.

Speaking in early January, the European Court of Auditors’ Paolo Pesce, part of the team conducting the 12-month review, said harmonisation across the bloc on such security standards was not yet taking place.

“Member states have developed and started implementing necessary security measures to mitigate risks,” Pesce said. “But from the information gathered so far, member states seem to be progressing at a different pace as we implement this measure.”

EU nations divided on 5G security, auditors say

EU nations are ‘progressing at different paces’ in terms of security protocols introduced by the European Commission in order to ensure the safety of next-generation telecommunications networks, the European Court of Auditors has said.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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