Europe and 5G: Address the reality -- not the myths

Europe has played "catch-up" for long enough.

Börje Ekholm presenting
Ericsson President and CEO Börje Ekholm addresses Viva Technology on Europe’s urgent need for 5G. May 16, 2019. Photo credit: Meero / Viva Technology 2019

President & CEO of Ericsson

President & CEO of Ericsson

Category & Hashtags
#5G #5GinEurope

Ericsson has always focused on the things that we can develop, control and impact. This enables us to put our customers and our team center-stage without distraction. Always. The result is a technology-leading team from research to roll-out, with products, solutions and people that are second to none. Right now, this means great engineers who are determined to provide solutions to customers that are early to launch 5G. They are already doing so – spanning three continents – with more to follow soon.  

Myths vs reality

Puzzling then, that there is a myth that we are behind in 5G roll-out and 5G technology. Of course, another definition of a myth is something that is not true. The documented fact is that our technology is commercially live with customers who have launched 5G services.

We’re live with multiple operators in the US and Korea, and in Europe we’re live with Swisscom, the first to launch in the region. Our Swisscom partnership is a nationwide sole-supplier partnership. It targets 90 percent 5G population coverage by the end of the year with the support of our spectrum sharing, which reuses existing 4G bands.

These are quite simply indisputable facts. It’s impossible to be behind in 5G when there is no-one in front of us.

This also busts another myth, which connects delays in 5G roll-out in Europe with the choice of technology vendor.

So, let me be clear. Ericsson absolutely stands ready to meet our current and future customers’ 5G needs and work with them at speed to get 5G networks operational at the earliest opportunity.

The real issue

The real issue on 5G delay in Europe relates primarily to regulatory policies. Actually, Europe is already behind in 4G compared to the US and China.

When 4G was introduced in Europe there was prolonged discussion about use cases. Meanwhile, China and the US raced ahead to build out 4G infrastructure, providing young and new companies with unprecedented infrastructure for innovation on a global scale.

Applications built on mobile technology can go global very quickly. With the digital innovation capabilities of 4G, it’s no surprise that some companies capitalized on this opportunity and became really big, companies like Alibaba, Tencent, Facebook, Netflix etc.

Having lacked that same digital infrastructure, it is equally no surprise that Europe has a much more limited role on the world tech stage. It would be similar to expecting companies in a country without roads to build the best cars.

Therefore, the support for 4G in the U.S. and China clearly paid off.

It is also notable that, despite the focus on use cases at the time, few predicted some of the most successful - such as ride-hailing apps, streaming, or e-commerce - to predominantly move to the mobile.

That same opportunity for innovation exists with 5G. But on an even bigger scale because 5G is a platform for innovation way beyond mobility and into the Internet of Things and the next industrial revolution.

With 5G digital infrastructure in place, the possibility of the big global 5G winners being European increases dramatically.

Actions needed

So, what’s needed to ensure Europe doesn’t miss out on the competitive and innovative potential of 5G?

First of all, 5G and digitalization must be viewed as a critical part of European national infrastructures – every bit as vital as trains and roads. The US and China already do so.

Then there is spectrum availability. 5G spectrum must be made available in a coordinated fashion and at reasonable prices. The current view on spectrum auctions seems to simply be based on generating the highest tax income for the government. Instead, it should be focused on which outcome builds out the infrastructure the fastest to create the most benefits.

We also need to extend the lifetime of spectrum licenses to enhance investment certainty among operators. In the latter years of a license period operators lose incentive to invest in leveraging new technology when there is uncertainty over the future of the license and spectrum use.

Regulation and policies prioritize short-term lowest mobile broadband prices at the expense of mobile operators’ ability to generate capital to invest in new technology. Many European consumers spend more in coffee shops per-week than on mobile broadband per-month. It’s short-term gain, but long-term pain.

It is also interesting to note that Europe has more than 200 operators - limiting the scale of each operator.

Europe, the original leader in mobility, needs to get back in the competitive technology race – and fast. Its innovators, businesses, industries, and citizens deserve nothing less.

Europe has played "catch-up" for long enough.

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