ANALYSIS: European governments compete to gain head start on 5G

19 May 2014 |

Governments across Europe could plunge billions into R&D solutions for 5G over the next five years, in a bid take a global lead on developing the technology.

It is thought that policymakers across the continent are reluctant to be left behind in the development of next-generation mobile networks for a second time. The majority of European markets were among the last developed nations to launch 4G, and the delays resulted in significant losses for governments due to low auction prices.

In the UK, for example, 4G spectrum returns fell over £1 billion below target – raising approximately £2.4 billion for the treasury. European commissioner Neelie Kroes is urging European countries not to make the same mistake and to commit to developing 5G research early.

European carriers have also faced network coverage problems with both 3G and 4G, in addition to a lack of economic growth from the sector. UK prime minister David Cameron has so far led the way in Europe, and announced plans last month for the country to partner with Germany to pool R&D resources for 5G. Cameron is targeting spectrum to generate up to £100 billion for the government by 2025.

However, market watchers have warned regulators and governments about making such projections, given the status of the technology at the moment.

“5G is something that hasn’t even been defined yet,” said Matthew Howett, practice leader, regulation and policy at Ovum. “UK and Germany in Europe are investing funds to research possible technological developments that might lead to being defined as 5G.”

However, talk of 5G across the industry continues to gain traction, with vendors also announcing 5G strategies and budgets. Ericsson has already launched a 5G transport laboratory in Sweden to enable 5G transport networks to provide ubiquitous technology and enable service innovation. The facility is designed to ensure future 5G networks are well placed to deliver the connectivity required for user services and cloud, while also developing research for innovation.

Cameron and Kroes’ plans for Europe are admirable, but Asia, which led the world with 4G, could yet steal a march on its European rivals. South Korea’s science ministry announced plans to spend up to €1.5 billion with local firms such as Samsung on 5G research, while Chinese vendor Huawei has already claimed it is in a prime position to launch 5G first in the market.

The company has already made a commitment to invest up to €600 million by 2018 to fund 5G research and claims its service will be commercially available by 2020.

“5G is still very much a new technology. However, we expect this to progress quickly,” Huawei UK CTO Stefano Cantarelli told Capacity. “The industry should change focus to that of a standardisation process by 2016, and we’re fully committed to advancing this technology to build a better-connected society.”

Huawei claims 5G has the potential to run 100 times faster than today’s 4G networks, requiring 1,000 times more capacity and running at up to 10Gbps.

The race towards 5G has begun, and as Howett states, “it is important to start early, but it’s far too soon to pick a winning country or region”.