MWC 2017: EU Urges 5G Progress But Post-Brexit Britain Could Suffer

EU Digital Commissioner Andrus Ansip promises to support 5G in Europe but admits UK may not benefit from digital single market advantages and roaming

The EU’s digital commissioner has urged government and industry cooperation to ensure Europe plays a leading role in 5G, but once again admitted that the UK may not enjoy Digital Single Market benefits such as the abolition of roaming costs once Brexit takes place. 

The Digital Single Market has worked to remove barriers that prevent cross-border applications like connected cars and the Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile operators will be unable to charge additional fees to customers using their phones in another member state from this summer. 

Read More: What is 5G?

MWC 2017 Andrus Ansip EU

Brexit battles 

However it is not certain that Brits will be covered post-Brexit. 

“The UK always is and always has been the strongest supporter of the Digital Single Market in the EU,” Andrus Ansip told Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. “We decided to abolish roaming which will benefit everyone including the UK [and now] we’re looking at getting rid of unfair geo blocking. But after Brexit? It depends on negotiations.” 

The Digital Single Market is seen as vital for Europe in the race to develop and deploy 5G. Ansip said 5G has the capability co change how people live, work and communicate with industries such as healthcare, manufacturing and transportation set to be transformed.  

5G networks are expected to be commercially available by 2020 and have been a hot topic at MWC. The final specifications are yet to be determined but its expected 5G will offer faster speeds, low latency and an impression of infinite capacity. 

Ansip said the EU would do everything it could to ensure incentives and favourable regulations, such as spectrum availability, would be in place. Orange in France has demanded that the 3.4GHz, 3.8GHz and spectrum above 6GHz should be allocated for 5G across multiple markets. It also wants longer licences of at last 25 years. 

“There’s no time to lose for … 5G,” he continued. “If Europe is to remain a credible force in this global race, our industries should move fast to trial and deploy 5G technologies. 

“When 4G came along, Europe was slow to push ahead. We don’t want to make the same mistake with 5G, that is why we have set a clear timetable to keep the EU ahead of the race. We are aiming for 5G trials in 2018 and coordinated commercial deployment of advanced 5G networks in 2020. 

“This is why we developed 5G Action Plan to promote innovation and investment in high capacity networks. The 5G plan is where Europe can make a real difference beyond goal of digitising industry. It is a European response to a European need. What Europe needs is a large home market for 5G services right from the start. 

“The alternative is to risk being left behind in fast connectivity age. Nobody in Europe, whether its countries, industries or people, can afford for this to happen.” 

MWC 2017 (3)

Barriers to 5G 

Ansip acknowledged barriers, such as a lack of standardisation, but despite his insistence that Europe shouldn’t waste any time, he warned industry not to make any hasty decisions. 

“We should avoid short term decisions and early choices that could set 5G standards in stone and hard to change later,” he said. “That kind of commercial-based pressure that the world’s emerging 5G community does not need.” 

However Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries said EU regulators needed to take a more positive stance on consolidation in the mobile market so telecoms operators could make a return on the huge investments necessary for 5G rollout. He said prices were simply too low because of the competitive environment. 

National regulators and the European Commission have blocked mergers in a number of countries, including one in the UK between Three and O2 because of competition concerns. 

“No one can consider the current state of the industry as the ideal one with fragmentation,” said Orange CEO Stephane Richard “It’s easier to make returns on huge investments when you have the critical size. It’s so obvious.” 

However Ansip said consolidation was not a “panacea” that would solve all the mobile industry’s ills. 

“Very often operators complain about tough competition and that hey don’t have funds for investments but we can see where there is competition we can see real innovations taking place,” he retorted. There is no lack of investment.” 

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