4 December 2023
The evolution of 5G and 6G technologies in the EU connectivity sector have been the subjects of extensive discussion by policymakers and the industry.
As Europe grapples with the evolution of 5G and anticipates the emergence of 6G technologies, discussions on the continent’s digital transformation and connectivity have intensified. In the face of the challenges and the ever-evolving digital landscape, how can Europe leverage its collective strengths to not only bridge the connectivity gap but also lead the way in shaping the future of telecommunications on the global stage?
The evolution of 5G and the onset of 6G technologies in the European telecommunications sector have been the subjects of extensive discussion by EU policymakers and the industry. The EU’s challenges in connectivity are multifaceted – from bridging the gap in 5G coverage, addressing market fragmentation, and moving towards a more unified spectrum policy.
One of the most prominent areas of concern is Europe’s current 5G coverage, particularly in comparison to regions like the U.S. and China. We also notice that while in some areas of Europe, there is a duplication of infrastructure, in others, no private operator wants to enter the market. The industry aims for widespread 5G and fibre access by 2030 but faces challenges like investment needs, market fragmentation, and the necessity for more software-defined platforms and customer-oriented services.
In order to tackle the coverage issue, there is a need for robust digital connectivity infrastructure in Europe. Key strategies in this mission can include network regionalisation, collaboration enhancement, and mergers to improve efficiency and competition. Moreover, market consolidation will allow the formation of national champions capable of competing at a European level and adopting a harmonised approach to spectrum policy. In addition, the overarching strategy for the connectivity sector should avoid reliance on single technologies.
Industry experts have identified challenges in stimulating investment in this rapidly evolving field. The transition from 4G to 5G has not revolutionised user experiences, with 5G’s primary intention being industrial applications, such as smart factories and agriculture. However, the potential of 5G for the industry remains underutilised.
There’s also an acknowledgement of the shift to more virtualised networks like 6G, which could disrupt current economic models. Undoubtedly, as exciting as the journey towards 6G is for the EU, the priority at the moment should be perfecting 5G capabilities and learning lessons from this experience.
The strategic importance of the telecom sector as a vital facilitator of competitiveness has a focal point that calls for immediate action and collaboration among EU member states. Additionally, as data volume and connectivity increase, there’s a growing need for cybersecurity policies and international cooperation, especially with like-minded partners and digital champions across the Atlantic, to find a framework that prevents cyberattacks.
The telecommunications sector is at a critical intersection. The EU policymakers should adopt a forward-thinking, holistic approach, recognising the telecommunications sector as a keystone of Europe’s competitiveness. This cohesive regulatory framework must consider various connectivity components, from submarine cables to satellites, as part of one big ecosystem and be accompanied by the creation of a single telecom market.
The European Commission has been developing a long-standing regulatory framework for connectivity, but it has always struggled to ensure how to stimulate investment. The flaws in the current regulatory framework demonstrate the need to rely on industry input to expand its expertise.
Finally, strengthening cybersecurity and fostering international partnerships are not mere policy choices. They are essential steps towards ensuring a secure, interconnected Europe ready for the digital age.