‘The digital economy is simply becoming THE economy’ says EU’s Oettinger

4 Mar 2015

EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy & Society Günther Oettinger on stage at Mobile World Congress yesterday

From cars to cities to service and machines, everything is turning digital, EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy & Society Günther Oettinger told the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. To win, Europe needs to excel at 5G.

He said yesterday that 5G is becoming a global concerted effort in which Europe is playing a leading role.

Addressing his keynote ‘The Road to 5G’ Oettinger said that in terms of future infrastructure fifth generation infrastructure – a standard that combines pretty much all wireless infrastructure seamlessly from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to 3G and 4G with rock solid resilience – will be the infrastructure for the next 20 years.

“Everybody and everything will use 5G. Anywhere, at any time, and on the move, always best connected with almost zero delay and a perceived limitless capacity. Today, we can celebrate that Europe is back in front to continue the journey towards this bright 5G future.”

Oettinger said that the digitisation of the world’s economy is accelerating.

“It is unstoppable. With the Internet of Things, we see a new era of connectivity where billions of devices exchange data and instil intelligence in our everyday life. From watches to shoes. From fridges to heating. From hospitals to factories. Any industry will need to adjust to this new reality. But this requires a new generation of communication networks.”

He said that 5G is expected to be the connectivity infrastructure that will foster this industrial and societal transformation.

“It is not ‘only’ about more of the same: more capacity, more content, more speed. This is needed, but not good enough. It is about a network infrastructure that is as easy and pervasive as the air we breathe, one that can be used for all sorts of different and personalised usages.

“A second key aspect is related to innovation. 5G should become an innovation platform. And with softwarisation and network virtualisation, open networks platforms will lower market entry barriers for service developers, and stimulate a market of third party providers. The same as with cloud computing. Today, we have millions of apps that work on different smart phones platforms. Tomorrow with 5G, the network itself could become a development platform!”

‘We need the right kind of rules for Net Neutrality

Six days ago the Federal Communications Commission in the US voted in favour of Net Neutrality and avoiding the creation of internet fast lanes and slow lanes.

While Europe’s official stance on Net Neutrality appears to be benign, comments made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel before Christmas indicating the need for fast and slow internet lanes shows a potential schism that could hurt innovation and the digital economy from flourishing in Europe.

Oettinger, however, says the situation isn’t exactly black and white and that there needs to be some kind of specialisation required to prevent certain kinds of infrastructure, such as health and security, from acting inefficiently.

“5G represents an opportunity for the telecom sector to reinvent itself. With 5G, telecom operators should be able to provide specialised network services to a series of new industry partners: from the automotive, to rail, health or energy sectors.

“To guarantee that connected cars will be able to react in less than 1 millisecond and avoid collisions. Or that tele-medicine will save lives and not be stuck in traffic. This is why we need the right kind of rules for Net Neutrality. To guarantee an open Internet. But also to allow such specialised services to flourish.

“In a nutshell, the advanced 5G infrastructure is expected to become the nervous system of the Digital Society and Digital Economy.

“The EU industry has a major role to play in the context of global 5G. It has a strong influence on the competitiveness and innovation of other sectors. Beyond economic matters, it is also about security and technological sovereignty for Europe.”

Europe is putting its money where its mouth is on 5G

Last year the EU formed a 5G Public Private Partnership and Oettinger says the progress has been formidable.

“With €700 million earmarked under the Horizon 2020 Research and innovation programme to get 5G up and running, while industry partners have committed to leverage the EU funding by up to five times. In one year of existence, this partnership has delivered very convincing results.

“First, research is under way. The EU is pioneering 5G research with a set of projects already reaching completion. You can see some dedicated demonstrations here today, at the EC booth and on the corporate stands of key industrial players who participate in these research projects. I invite you to visit projects like METIS, or 5G NOW, to quote but a few.

“More is under way, as we will soon award the research grants for 125 million euro to 20 projects to deliver the key building blocks for 5G. They cover novel network architectures, new radio technologies, new service platforms, and innovative utilisation of spectrum. They will place European actors in very good position to contribute towards the future standardisation and spectrum milestones ahead of 5G.”

Oettinger said that on the international front the European Commission and the Republic of Korea signed a joint declaration on 5G

“It is our intention to sign similar agreements with other key regions of the world, notably Japan, China, and the US. We target a single global 5G standard and global spectrum harmonisation. This will maximise global interoperability, and economies of scale.”

Key objectives include identifying new 5G spectrum brands which he said will contribute to Europe becoming a global hub for 5G development and investment.

He also said that development of 5G standardisation is expected to start in 2016 and he said that from a public perspective we need to make sure European citizens’ interests are safeguarded.

‘Being a 5G lead adopter requires Europe to be a 4G leader’

5G will not supersede 4G but build on it. Being a 5G lead adopter requires Europe to be a 4G leader. But Europe is still lagging behind on 4G deployments. There are however encouraging signs, and planned industrial investments on 4G are ramping up. Even more encouraging, Western Europe is leading deployment on latest LTE generation, LTE Advanced, with about 50% of networks deployed in Europe. But Europe must do more.”

Oettinger said that the Juncker package of €315 billion is a huge opportunity in that respect.

“Investment in digital infrastructures is clearly part of this Commission priorities. We are taking steps towards adoption of the Commission proposal on European Fund for Strategic Investments as swiftly as possible so that new investments can start flowing later this year. We have also worked with Member States to define a pipeline of possible projects.

“Member States have already identified almost five hundred proposals for ICT and broadband projects representing a total investment sum of €151.7 billion in the next three years. The interest is there, and I encourage the sector actors to support the relevant Member States proposals.”

Oettinger concluded by recommending Europe to reinvent its industrial landscape.

“5G is much more complex than earlier generations, and it requires committed partnerships not only with the traditional telecom actors but more generally with the vertical usage sectors. It also requires new ecosystems of software developers. 5G is also a bold opportunity to spearhead the digital industrial transformation of Europe, and to support the Digital Single Market.

“We are now at the cross road of exciting developments. I expect that the EU industry at large will set the path towards an ambitious 5G technology development and deployment roadmap.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years