European telcos: We’re ready to “lift the continent out of this recession”
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the connectivity provided by the telecoms industry has proven vital to international social and economic cohesion. Now, with some countries beginning to gradually ease their COVID-19 lockdown measures, the industry is also being posited as a major driver for economic recovery.
Now, the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) has released a joint statement imploring institutions and national governments to help them to “lift workers and businesses out of the current crisis through sustainable and lasting economic growth”.
The further rollout of 5G and fibre networks will be a huge driver for economic recovery, as well as helping to close the digital divide and promote territorial inclusion. However, the ETNO argues that a harmonised, efficient approach to making the best use of network investment and scaling up is sorely lacking.
A new approach is required:
• Spectrum auctions are timely and conditions for spectrum assignment support network deployment. This includes taking a long-term view to spectrum prices, rather than imposing punitive fees that hamper 5G investment. Also, access and coverage obligations should not diminish the speed and scale of investment in network roll-out.
• Sharing agreements for RAN are supported and incentivised, so that they contribute to a speedy 5G deployment.
• All fibre investment models are adequately incentivised at the national level, including co-investment and other forms of partnerships.
• Innovative infrastructure solutions, such as cloud, edge, and quantum computing, are given the appropriate support.
• Future EU initiatives dramatically reduce roll-out costs for both mobile and fixed networks. This should tackle, for example, unreasonable costs for using public ground as well as complex authorisation procedures for both fixed and mobile networks;
• Open and interoperable interfaces in the RAN are supported. Initiatives such as Open RAN have the potential to support Europe’s multi-vendor approach, while reducing deployment costs, further strengthening the security of the equipment and unleash more network innovation.
The statement also called for these institutions to stimulate the uptake of new technology, both by citizens and industry; to help fight misinformation, particularly the conspiracy theories surrounding 5G; and to boost digital skills and education.
Most of these requests are to be expected – it comes as no surprise that all operators will be interested in further government incentives for their fibre rollouts. However, the prominence of new infrastructure solutions, like the cloud, the edge, and quantum computing, as well as support for Open RAN initiatives represent fledgling technologies that could radically change the status quo.
With 5G allowing for a host of new technologies to come into their own, such as AI and automation, the new mobile technology is set to have a huge impact on industries far beyond the telecoms sector. A recent study by Vodafone suggested that the technology could be worth £150 billion for the UK economy over the next 10 years, provided rollouts are accelerated rapidly.
This estimate seems exceptionally high – to achieve this scale, the value of these new emerging markets would presumably have to be in the trillions – with other studies suggesting the figure is more like £15.7 billion by 2025. Nevertheless, 5G is certainly have a major impact on the UK’s economic recovery. Coupled with fibre and emerging technology and there is great economic opportunity here, not just for the UK but for the whole of Europe.
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