Europe is accumulating too many delays on 5G

Europe is accumulating too many delays on 5G

Less than half of the frequencies assigned. In the 3.6 GHz band covered 10% of the population against 50% in China. Rules and authorizations slow development

5G (Getty Images) Distances are lengthening in the global race for 5G. And the European Union is still losing ground compared to the record holders: the United States, China and South Korea. It is the same data from the Commission, collected by Wired, to certify the delays. In June, the states of the Union assigned less than half of the pioneering frequencies chosen for the launch of the fifth generation networks: 47% of the total 1460 megahertz (MHz). There are differences both in the geography at 27 (Italy, for example, closed all auctions in 2018) and in the progress of the specific band spectra: if the 3.6 gigahertz (GHz) band has been assigned to the 65% and that of 700 MHz at 53.7%, the 26 GHz trudge, at 22.2%.

Overall, however, the 27 find themselves in a situation very far from the plans established by the European Code of electronic communications in 2018. The objectives set for the end of June 2020 the assignment of the 700 MHz spectrum and by the end of last year that of 3.6 GHz and at least one frequency within 26 GHz. A missed target, due to of delays preceding the outbreak of the Covid-19 emergency and that the pandemic has only aggravated. Putting Europe in an awkward position in the global 5G landscape.

According to the telecommunication company Ericsson, in the development of the medium band (to be clear, the 3.6 GHz), which is crucial in the construction of the new networks as it combines a large data transmission capacity with a long-term coverage distances, in April the European Union and the United Kingdom were just above 10% of the population covered by the signal (the forecast is 15% in 2022). Against 38% of the United States, 50% of China, 64% of Australia and 95% of South Korea.

The Commission has sounded the alarm bell. As a spokesman explained to Wired, Brussels "has called on the Member States to avoid any delay in the allocation of the pioneering 5G frequencies". Some of these tenders have been scheduled for the next few months and others are expected by the end of the year, but to avoid surprises, the Commission could use its powers to enforce deadlines. Including, in extreme cases, the infringement procedure.

Problem number 1: international competition

It is not just a question of respecting the political diktats of Brussels. There is a problem of competitiveness, in a global scenario where digital infrastructures make the difference. As Ericsson reports, for Europe alone 5G is worth 210 billion euros of added value and greater transmission efficiency that cuts emissions by 15%. However, if by the end of the year the company estimates half a billion subscriptions to the new networks worldwide, Europe is not among the most reactive markets. "The regulatory framework does not help development, with a weakness that slows down implementation", comments Arun Bansal, president and head of markets for Ericsson Europe and Latin America.

For the manager, the 4G script risks repeating itself , the delay of which represented an obstacle to the development of a European app economy. Already, even in Europe, non-telecom companies are stepping up to have their slice of 5G with which to experiment with new products, services or technologies. In Germany the first frequencies have been assigned and also in Italy it is no longer a taboo subject.

Hesitation today could be doubly expensive, because lessons from past mistakes are compounded by the effects of the Covid-19 emergency. "The coronavirus crisis has underlined the need for high-capacity connectivity, as well as continuous investments in digital infrastructure," the Commission noted. All the more so with European funds for recovery destined for digital. "In this context, a smooth and safe development of 5G networks is essential and it is strongly recommended to avoid any delay in the tenders for frequencies", underline from Brussels.

In Italy, for example, where the networks are all assigned in bulk and with a considerable outlay, the National Recovery and Resilience Plan focuses on the beneficial touch of 5G and VHCN (very high capacity network) networks. “The government has put the digital transition at the center. During the emergency phase, the telecommunications companies proved to be ready and resilient, now the challenge is to work on services and generate wealth ”, comments Laura Di Raimondo, general manager of Asstel, a trade association in the telecommunications supply chain. In general, for Ericsson the long time to install antennas (up to 18 months) and the fragmentation of regulations are a problem throughout the Old Continent.

Problem number two: fake news

On the other hand, the Belpaese has to deal with more stringent rules than the European average in terms of ideological debate "), a television switch-off plan that releases some frequencies only from 2022 and the judicial aftermath of the 5G municipalities season.

Chapter closed after last summer's Simplification decree, but still atteches. In Europe, despite the Commission's anti-fake news campaign and the attempt by social networks to clean up posts that cause disinformation, in Bulgaria and France there is resistance to the new networks. A campaign whose covert direction has been traced back to governments interested in undermining Europe's already slow path to 5G.

Problem number three: cybersecurity

At the center of tensions there is the security of new networks. China and its telephony champions have been in the sights for months, technology suppliers with European companies are building the networks. The Union has moved in no particular order, with local bans. The Commission has indeed established a general approach and asked each State for its strategy (two are still missing), but in fact the application is underway and an initial report, says a spokesperson, "on the progress of the implementation is expected to the end of April 2022 ". Moreover, as calculated by an international study in which the Cefriel, center for digital innovation of the Politecnico di Milano participated, the development of 5G risks presenting unexpected accounts for 16 billion euros from 2024.

The telecommunications industry is now looking at the Open Ran (Radio access network) model: making network systems interoperable so that an operator can turn to multiple suppliers, without depending on just one. For phone companies it could be a way to stem those considered at risk of cybersecurity in the development of 5G. The Commission, however, fears that falling in love could cost delays, as it would imply a rethinking of the foundations of the current networks.

"This is a medium and long-term option and should not delay development times" , explains the spokesperson: "The Commission is working with States on a common approach towards supplier diversity", with the aim of having "a greater understanding of Open Ran and other software-based network solutions, from a IT security point of view ". So much so that research support is on the way from the Horizon and Digital Europe programs. For Bansal, "Network architecture will continue to evolve and Open Ran will mature like any other technology when standards are harmonized around the world. Open Ran today is a forum where there is also Ericsson and our hope is that it will evolve into a single standard that favors the implementation of a global solutions portfolio. But we start with a cloud architecture, where today you disaggregate hardware from software and start implementing 5G today ".

Problem number four: 6G

While dealing with delays on 5G, Europe must not lose sight of the next goal: 6G. In early June, China confirmed the commercial launch of the sixth generation of mobile networks in 2030. The Commission has developed its proposed rules. And research programs are being funded. Like those led by the 6G center of excellence at the University of Oulu, Finland, or the Hexa-X project, which lasted two and a half years: Nokia leads it and 25 partners support it, including Tim.

The Italian company is working on a project dedicated to reconfigurable reflective surfaces, to be used to bounce the signal from one point, for example a self-driving car, to another even in blind spots, where one would risk to lose contact (with all the consequences of the case, if we think of a road). On 6G the pawns are moving to create alliances. Ericsson, for example, has announced an agreement with the Massachusetts institute of technology. According to Counterpoint research analysts, 6G will mark the era of the Tera economy, in which the concept of gigabit will be replaced by that of terabit (one tera is equal to 1,000 gigabits). The sixth generation will reach a maximum speed of terabits per second, 0.1 milliseconds of latency and an energy efficiency ten times higher than 5G.

"The future will be the internet of senses: manipulating objects at a distance with augmented and virtual reality, adding spatial audio, scents and flavors to the digital experience ”, vaticina Magnus Frodigh, head of Ericsson's research. Tests that can already be conducted with 5G, but which will only become reality with 6G. More and more to connect will be machines that will communicate with other machines, each equipped with artificial intelligence systems that will generate huge amounts of data.

Fodrigh explains that until 2025 much will remain in the field of theoretical experimentation. But, Fodrigh warns, "Europe must take a step forward, it is fundamental for its future". Also because the others are not standing still: the United States and China are in turn investing in research on 6G to be prepared.

However, to make 6G it is necessary to have closed the previous link. “Completing the transition to 5G and fiber is the prerequisite for future leadership in 6G. Furthermore, it is essential to sit at the table of European research projects, to influence both the long-term vision and global standards ", observes Alessandro Gropelli, strategy and communication director of the association of European telecommunications operators (Etno). From this point of view, he adds, "Italy and Europe are at the forefront of industrial applications for connectivity. On this we can build a 6G ecosystem that is globally competitive ". However, says Gropelli, “politics and regulation must help telecom operators to accelerate investments in 5G and fiber. Technologies such as 6G and artificial intelligence present Europe with a choice: either we allow more legislative flexibility to create a European ecosystem, or we will only have the option to buy the innovation of others and then regulate it ". A crossroads before which Europe can no longer hesitate.

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