Ahead of Connected Europe 2017, we caught up with Davor Tomaškovic, CEO of Hrvatski Telekom to find out more about Croatia’s progress towards achieving the Gigabit Society vision and to hear about how the European Commission’s connectivity targets are driving Hrvatski Telekom’s strategy.

Can you outline how Hrvatski Telekom is working towards the European Commission’s vision for the Gigabit Society?

HT strategy 2020 is in line with the European Commission’s vision regarding the Digital Agenda 2020 that aims towards a Gigabit Society.  To achieve the Gigabit Society vision and its main goals, in our strategic plan we have significantly accelerated necessary investments in broadband infrastructure and the implementation of the best technology. Our efforts in this direction will enable HT to meet 70 percent of the goals set by the Digital Agenda for Croatia by 2020. 
We are continuously increasing the optical network footprint and LTE network coverage, and introducing the latest technology (such as LTE Advanced Pro). Despite the steady growth in network traffic due to customers’ increasing demand for content, we are still continually raising average speeds across the country. In this way, we ensure that we are always one step ahead of customers’ requirements, particularly when it comes to the expected mass arrival of connected devices (Internet of Things). 
We are optimizing investment plans, especially in the fixed part of the network, by using a mix of smart technology based on upgrading the existing copper with the new technologies (FTTC/B with vectoring or as well as investing in FTTH as a long term strategic target. 
As early as 2015, HT met the basic prerequisite for the Gigabit Society. This was an All-IP transformation within which we have modernized the IP backbone and migrated complete fixed voice customer base to IP. Thus, we have ensured the convergence of fixed and mobile backhaul. Our next step is implementation of the innovative Terastream concept in the transport network, enabling network simplification and efficiency. The project pilot was successfully finalized and live implementation is ongoing.
How has the Electronic Communications Code changed Hrvatski Telekom’s strategic priorities?
HT’s 5G initiative is established with an aim to coordinate all activities towards upcoming 5G implementation. We are focusing on technology, spectrum & regulatory, market requirements, and target costing.
HT’s ambition is an early 5G rollout in 2020, meeting the Electronic Communication Code’s interim target. In addition, new specific market use cases are being investigated and are to be included in the initial implementation. 5G will require further investment in fiber optic networks as 5G small cells implementation could require a dense optical network.
HT has recognized the Internet of Things (IoT) as yet another strategic priority. Our ambitious plan is to implement infrastructure to advance IoT technologies in the short term. The role of telecoms in the world of connected devices is crucial for secure and reliable connectivity as well as offering the best IoT solutions. The development of a stable and flexible IoT environment will fully unlock the potential of Big Data.
Collaborating with other members of the DT Group, we have presented integrated Smart City solutions with narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) technology. HT is also looking forward to the upcoming 5G technology as an enabler for massive IoT.
HT encourages local communities, universities and start-ups to deliver innovations which, backed by best telecom technologies, will develop different industry verticals – Virtual & Artificial Reality (VR&AR), robotics, connected device applications etc.
What are the biggest challenges Hrvatski Telekom faces in achieving the Commission’s connectivity targets?
Not only regulators, operators and vendors, but also governments and local communities must recognize the need for a Gigabit Society.
In our market, a consistent and predictable spectrum policy is a prerequisite for 5G action plan success, as mobile spectrum licenses are a very large investment. Following that, and in order to enable efficient mobile networks and services introduction and rollout, spectrum usage has to be based on reasonable prices and license conditions. This means that spectrum assignment designs will not be focused on the maximization of state revenues through one time fees or recurring annual fees.
At the same time, network coverage obligations have to be realistic and enabled by the relevant infrastructure planning and building regulatory framework. Other key elements in creating supportive spectrum licensing policy are extended license terms (at least 30 years or indefinite), enabled technology neutrality, and no sharing obligations imposed on mobile networks. Better regulation alignment within the EU market is needed to ensure harmonization of EU Member State regulation regarding specific use cases like some IoT/M2M cases or 5G use cases which are driven by 5G latency.
There are more challenges along the way which will need to be solved on a European level. 5G net neutrality regulation has to be overcome by taking into account network slicing as the foundation of future 5G system architecture. Then, the 5G system architecture should be ready for deployment by 2020. At the moment, there are different views on implementation requirements from vendors. Standardization activities must be focused on easy and efficient implementation. A segmented approach is required; efficient 5G New Radio implementation must be possible without big investments in another part of the network during the early rollout phase.
There are a lot of sceptical views on return on investment from 5G. HT is positive that 5G potential and Gigabit Society goals can be achieved with engagement and contribution from all involved parties.  
What are the opportunities for Hrvatski Telekom from building high-capacity networks?
We see an opportunity in FMC 5G system architecture for a much more efficient use of installed capacity in the network to ensure a unique user experience.
Also, 5G technologies with throughput and latency improvements will ensure the best customer experience and should open up a potential for new innovative services in different industry verticals (such as media, transport, health, automation etc.)
In addition, a new 5G network architecture with additional network functionalities (like Multi-Access Edge Computing concept) could ensure a digital platform for start-ups and innovators closer to network and service providers.
What do you think will be the big telecoms trends in the next 2-3 years?
Consolidation of the EU market will continue – there are over 200 operators in Europe and only four in the USA. For this reason, Europe lags behind in technological development – optical penetration in the US and Asia is up to 20 times higher than in Europe, and LTE penetration is over 35 times higher. Consolidation will enable greater competitiveness through the faster introduction of new technologies, new products and efficiency gains. 
One of the big challenges will be the growth of bandwidth requirements, and the number of connected devices will surge. This implies the need for flexible data centers and simplified networks that are able to sustain extremely high throughput.
Push IoT market, implementation of new IoT innovative industry technologies (like NB-IoT and LTEm) and network preparation to support massive IoT/M2M communications is needed to ensure a secure and reliable environment.
Implementation of service improvements (like 4K TV, VoLTE…), and of new Artificial Intelligence/Virtual Reality based innovative services, Machine Learning and Big Data is expected as well.
In HT, we are deep in the development of services from the digitalization segment, which will certainly be something that telecoms will heavily invest in during the coming period. HT is one of the leaders in the DT Group with its Smart City solutions, Smart City Dubrovnik is just one such success. There are other smart city projects in progress with unique specific solutions (case in point, the city of Rijeka).
Telecoms will be looking for more and more STEM experts. We have recognized the need for these professions in time, and we are working hard to popularize STEM jobs and support educational and scientific projects from that segment.
Davor will be exploring the role of mobile networks in unlocking the potential of the Digital Single Market at Connected Europe 2017, taking place in Lisbon on 11th and 12th October. We are offering free of charge guest passes for the public sector and a limited number of free passes for European based fixed or mobile operators – visit the website to find out more.