Scientific Foresight (STOA) By / May 17, 2017

Opportunities and challenges of 5G in the EU

Written by Mihalis Kritikos. ‘The European Union will manage to gain a competitive advantage if it takes a leading role…

© Natalia Merzlyakova / Fotolia

Written by Mihalis Kritikos.

‘The European Union will manage to gain a competitive advantage if it takes a leading role in the definition and standardisation of 5G technologies’ is how Eva Kaili, (S&D, Greece), Chair of Parliament’s Scientific and Technology Options Assessment (STOA), opened the workshop on ‘Opportunities and challenges of 5G in the EU’, which STOA organised on 25 April 2017 in Brussels.

5G has been described as the most critical building block of our ‘digital society’, as it promises a new wave of technology services – from driverless cars to smart home appliances – and mobile broadband download rates up to 60 times faster than those available from current 4G providers. 5G will pave the way for an industrial transformation, connecting millions of devices simultaneously and supporting completely new types of application, linking devices and objects.

The technical, socio-economic and regulatory challenges associated with the deployment of 5G technologies has recently been debated at EU level. Both the recently piloted EU action plan on 5G and the latest interinstitutional agreement on coordination of the use of the 700 MHz band for mobile services in Europe illustrate the high political and legal importance of this new wave of technologies for the European economy and society.

How do we know what type of opportunities and technical and socio-economic challenges will arise, and how can we prepare a harmonised and standardised spectrum policy that will deliver a meaningful response to them? Is 5G going to become a disrupter and a game changer? Are there security threats that need to be taken care of, and what might 5G actually mean for users, industries, operators and other stakeholders? These were some of the questions addressed at the workshop.

Setting the scene

Opening the workshop, the Chair, Eva Kaili referred to the importance of the ongoing standardisation and policy-making initiatives, as well as to the need to provide space for debate on the risks and benefits of the deployment of this dynamic technological trajectory. The workshop was moderated by Rebecca Penty of Bloomberg News. Bernard Barani, of DG CONNECT at the European Commission, analysed the Commission’s action plan to boost EU efforts for the deployment of 5G infrastructures and services across the Digital Single Market by 2020, including the roadmap for public and private investment in 5G infrastructure in the EU.

Applications of 5G and the 5G trials roadmap strategy

Following this introductory keynote, the first panel discussed the applications of 5G and the 5G pan-European trials roadmap strategy. Yves Bellégo, from the Orange Group, focused on the strategy and described its main objectives and building blocks. Bellégo stated that from 2018 onwards, trials will aim to demonstrate wider interoperability and support for vertical use-cases. At the same time, Bellégo highlighted that experimentation and trial objectives will be driven by the user requirements and will need to be measured during the trial, so that an assessment can be made.

Dimitra Simeonidou, Professor at the University of Bristol, presented her experience on the challenges and opportunities for 5G deployment in urban environments. Simeonidou discussed infrastructure deployment and integration issues and the support for verticals, including transport, health, creative media and entertainment.

Explaining the work of BMW in the field of the 5G Automotive Association, Joachim Göthel, of the BMW Group, detailed the requirements and advantages of 5G with respect to DSRC/wifi technology and the efforts required for a transition from 4G to 5G.

Finally, Panagiotis Demestichas, Professor at the University of Pireaus, introduced the drivers for the definition, development and standardisation of 5G systems. Demestichas presented the status of key technology developments, such as the new radio interface below 6 GHz, the joint management of a spectrum ecosystem that also encompasses bands of the millimetre wave range, and the realisation of essential upgrades in 5G intelligence. Demestichas also drew attention to the technical challenges that need to be addressed, including the advent and exploitation of ‘software networks’, the optimal deployment of 5G functionality in a fog/edge/cloud context, and the necessary hardware developments and the stronger engagement of artificial intelligence in the management of 5G systems.

Regulatory and policy challenges: deployment and the future 5G standards and spectrum

The second panel was opened by Giovanni Romano, from TIM. Romano’s focus was on the 3GPP roadmap to 5G and on the work plan for the completion of the first release of 5G technical specifications. Romano then referred to a 3GPP study on the feasibility of 5G solutions and the various phases of the relevant technical specifications. Following this, Laszlo Toth, from Global System Mobile Association GSMA, took the floor, explaining the need for industry to roll out the networks and services that will bring 5G alive. Toth stated that the draft communications code is a step in the right direction, and its positive contribution to harmonising spectrum policy and prioritising connectivity should be defended fiercely during the co-legislative process. Toth referred to the need to free up more harmonised spectrum to meet the 5G challenge and to get auction processes and license conditions consistently right, so that investors can channel maximum resources to rolling out networks.

Vice President and Head of the Ericsson European Affairs Office in Brussels, Peter Olson, stressed that 5G is the foundation for realising the full potential of the networked society, which will enable industry and society to innovate, move into new markets and build new revenue streams with radically new business models and use cases, including Internet of Things (IoT) applications. He further explained that the new capabilities of 5G span several dimensions, including tremendous flexibility, lower energy requirements, greater capacity, bandwidth, security, reliability and data rates, as well as lower latency and device costs. Olson focused on the need for spectrum allocation, proactive and supportive regulation, getting the right conditions for the investments needed and mobilising all sectors of society, and for the development of the right skill sets as requirements for Europe to benefit fully from 5G.

Philip Marnick, Group Director of Spectrum at Ofcom, emphasised that 5G services have the potential to revolutionise communications for citizens and consumers, and spectrum is a key enabler. As spectrum regulators, it is vital that they ensure their approach to making spectrum available for 5G is flexible enough to respond to changing market demands, whilst at the same time balancing the needs of other sectors and spectrum users. The three ‘pioneer’ bands identified by the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) for 5G in Europe (700 MHz, 3.4-3.8 GHz and 26 GHz), provide Europe with the best opportunity to benefit from early 5G roll-out, and the greatest potential to achieve global harmonisation.

Following this, Paul Rübig, (EPP, Austria), First STOA Vice-Chair took the floor, explaining how STOA’s various activities respond to the need for clear communication between stakeholders in the field of telecommunications, as well as for interoperability and clear rules. Rübig highlighted in particular the issue of standardisation of 5G technologies, outlining initiatives that are underway to respond with ambitious plans to develop international norms. Rübig argued that, in order to appreciate and utilise the benefits of 5G, it is imperative to achieve a harmonised approach to the management of the spectrum, so as to address and reduce the regulatory cost.

If you missed the workshop, watch a recording.

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