A study commissioned by the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) suggests that there is still much work to do to accelerate 5G in Europe

The 5G rollout has been accelerating at an impressive speed throughout Europe – but is it going fast enough? 
A new study commissioned by ETNO suggests that greater investment in the continent’s digital transformation will be required by 2025 if Europe is to reap the full benefits of the latest technology and help lift itself out of the economic recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the report, Europe requires a further investment of €300 billion over the next four years, which will be used to both expand 5G rollout and upgrade fibre infrastructure throughout the 27 member states. 
"€150 billion is still needed to achieve a full-5G scenario in Europe, while an additional €150 billion is required to finish upgrading fixed infrastructure to gigabit speeds," explained the report.
The benefits of investing at such a scale are impressive, with the study finding that 5G alone can generate an annual increase in European GDP of €113 billion, as well as generating 2.4 million new jobs over the next four years. The wider benefits are not just economic but environmental, with digital solutions related to smart cities and transport potentially resulting in an overall decrease of carbon emissions by 15%.
Over the past year, 5G has frequently been touted as a catalyst for post-Covid economic recovery and this report certainly supports that assumption.
Currently, however, operators are not investing heavily enough in 5G, due primarily to pandemic-driven economic uncertainty, tough competition, and the enormous deployment costs.
As a result, investment alone will not be enough to reap the full benefits from 5G and further digital transformation, with government and regulatory policies needing to change to further encourage investment and digital engagement.
Part of the solution could be to encourage network sharing and cooperation between operators, thereby reducing overbuild, accelerating rollout speed, and reducing deployment costs, as well as delivering environmental benefits.
“One such step is pursuing new ownership models involving voluntary infrastructure sharing, which can allow faster roll-out, reduced overall environmental impact, and increased knowledge transfer among partners,” said the study.
But the roadblocks to digitalisation are not all in the hands of the operators. When it comes to demand for digital services, a major focus of the report was examining the lack of digitalisation of small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), the majority of which are still not embracing the latest digital technologies. The report notes that 83% of EU SMEs are not using advanced cloud, a number which must be greatly improved through coordinated effort if Europe is to achieve a significant economic boost through increased connectivity. 
The report suggests that digitalising these SMEs would cost around €26 billion per year.
Similarly, a lack of digital education remains a major issue, with around 60% of European children aged nine being educated in schools that are not digitally equipped. The authors of ETNO’s study, consulting firm BCG, estimate that upgrading the digital infrastructure in all European schools would cost around €14 billion per year.
Europe’s digital economy has the potential to be grow enormously over the next four years, but many challenges remain. For ETNO, European policymakers need to take note of this huge opportunity and help facilitate the telecoms industry in this post-Covid environment. 
“This Report shows that Europe’s gigabit opportunity is extremely relevant to today’s top challenges, including recovery and the green transition. We call on European leaders to support the telecoms sector and help us deliver a stronger digital economy for all citizens,” said Lise Fuhr, ETNO’s Director General.

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