The future of connectivity, powered by 5G and fibre networks, could completely transform how European citizens and businesses interact with technology and digital services.
By 2030, the European Union (EU) wants every populated area to be covered by 5G, and every household to have access to gigabit-speed connectivity. Meeting these ambitions requires significant investment – we need to expand and upgrade Europe’s connectivity infrastructure. Telecom operators including Vodafone have invested around €500 billion so far, but more must be done to stop Europe falling even further behind its global competitors. 5G network availability in Europe – meaning the average time a 5G user spends with an active 5G connection – is already far lower than in the US or South Korea.
Sitting at the heart of this challenge, says the European Round Table for Industry (ERT) in a recent report, is Europe’s reliance on outdated – and still largely national – telecoms policy and regulation. Achieving true change, and meeting Europe’s ambitious connectivity targets, will require a modernised approach – one that creates a true Single Market for telecoms, encouraging more investment and healthy competition.
How 5G can support industry innovation
Faster, more reliable networks with lower latency allow for huge amounts of data to be shared without delay. 5G also has the power to connect large numbers of smart devices at the same time. These characteristics could help boost productivity and innovation for businesses across sectors. Vodafone is already working with partners on a variety of 5G applications to support productivity and efficiency – we recently shared stories of how 5G is making shipping ports smarter, energy plants more efficient, and powering projects to improve road safety in Europe.
The ERT report also highlights the role high-capacity connectivity will play in Industry 4.0 – the rapid integration of technologies like cloud computing, AI and IoT within the production system. 5G could enable smarter factories, with sensors collecting data, AI analysing it and making recommendations, and cloud-controlled machines making self-adjustments autonomously – all in a matter of seconds.
While some businesses will be able to take advantage of 5G’s benefits more quicky, through the implementation of mobile private networks, others will need to rely on network slicing and the roll-out of national infrastructure. This is one of the reasons why the rapid expansion of high-capacity networks is so important. Without it, small and medium enterprises – described by the EU as the backbone of Europe’s economy, representing 99% of all businesses in the region – could miss out on opportunities to digitalise.
A new approach
The ERT makes several recommendations for how Europe can future-proof its policies to help drive investment in gigabit connectivity infrastructure and accelerate the roll-out of 5G and fibre networks.
It calls for a more harmonised framework for spectrum auctions and deployment, where longer-term licenses are provided with clear rules for renewal. It also emphasises the need for additional spectrum to be allocated to support the growth of 5G. EU decision makers recently met at the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23) in Dubai to discuss the application of the upper 6Ghz spectrum band, which we believe could help support 5G services of the future.
Importantly, the ERT argues for competition policy that is fit for the digital age, and supports in-market consolidation for operators to achieve scale and strengthen the sector against financial challenges.
Vodafone supports these calls for action. We believe citizens and businesses deserve a new rulebook for telecoms – a new approach that ensures operators can play our part in delivering the future of connectivity and digital services for Europe.
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