On 21 April, EIF organised a virtual debate on “Investing in Europe’s 5G infrastructure as a path to growth”, exploring the opportunities offered by 5G to upgrade our critical communications infrastructure as well as rebuild and strengthen our economies and societies in the direction of a sustainable digital future.
The debate, hosted by MEP and EIF Programming Committee Co-Chair Ivan Štefanec and moderated by EIF Director General Maria Rosa Gibellini, featured the following speakers:
- Janette Stewart, Senior spectrum expert, Analysys Mason
- Stefan Schnorr, Director-General for Digital and Innovation Policy, Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (Germany)
- Rita Wezenbeek, Director Connectivity, DG CONNECT, European Commission
- Jakob Bluestone, Head of Telecoms Equity Research, Credit Suisse
- Daniel Pataki, Vice President for Policy and Regulation & Head of Europe, Russia and CIS, GSMA
Ivan Štefanec MEP reiterated the importance of investing in 5G infrastructure, key for the whole European economy recovery. Building secure and sustainable digital infrastructure, together with digital transformation of businesses and the improvement of digital skills, is a key element to tackle while building the European Digital Single Market.
The MEP thinks that today more than ever, Europe must stay connected: the pandemic crisis has confirmed the vital role of advanced communication networks. Moreover, this crucial infrastructure also provides the foundation for a strong recovery: 5G has a multiplier effect in terms of job creation.
Janette Stewart presented to the audience the highlights of a research that Analysys Mason has been doing recently into costs and benefits of deploying full capability 5G infrastructure in Europe.
The results of the first study show that the full deployment in Europe of 5G as a total ‘open innovation platform’, can deliver over €200bn in benefit (with an additional investment of €50bn). The second study investigated how the additional €50bn cost for full 5G deployment compares with a total 5G investment cost (including eMBB rollout); this commercial investment being made by mobile network operators in Europe will total €150bn by 2025 across 30 European countries.
Stefan Schnorr reiterated the great opportunities and potential that come with 5G in Europe. This is why the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs in Germany is focusing on promoting 5G technologies in private networks as well as starting a national development program and a cooperation project with France.
In Mr. Schnorr’s opinion, security around 5G is an important aspect. 5G is also key to Europe’s continued competitiveness and sovereignty: it will enable new business models and future economic growth, to build up the industrial base in Europe for its own hardware, as well as for software.
Rita Wezenbeek seconded the opinion that the Covid crisis has revealed the digital divide and exposed the dependency of Europe to the various technologies. The rollout of 5G in all populated areas is a key element of the European Commission’s Digital Decade Communication: full 5G deployment will offer opportunities on data, cloud, robotics, autonomous vehicles, IoT and will allow thousands of local communities to develop sustainable and resilient economic models.
The European Commission, assured Ms. Wezenbeek, is working to support infrastructure investments especially in rural and remote areas; connectivity is at the centre of digital transformation. The deployment of fiber and 5G infrastructure will provide powerful network capacity to implement smart applications, enabling innovation in many sectors.
Jakob Bluestone discussed the issue from a financial perspective, focusing on the importance of having decent returns for the telecoms industry. According to Mr. Bluestone, 5G and the digitisation of the economy constitute a huge financial opportunity: nevertheless, since the European telecoms industry has very low returns, the risk is to make Europe lag behind on deployment on the mobile side.
This is not a question of availability of capital, said Mr. Bluestone, but of getting the money to the right places to drive investments and build new infrastructure. Returns mobilise private capital and create an ecosystem where there is a good balance of returns for infrastructure owners and service providers.
Daniel Pataki agrees with the need of reforms, not only to enhance growth but also because, together with investments in 5G, new opportunities will arise in job offers, competitiveness, security, sovereignty and in helping overcome inequalities.
Mr. Pataki focused on the main aspects which, in his opinion, will characterise the European debate for some time: the spectrum cost and location, the regulation and fragmentation in Europe to promote balance in the ecosystem, and the market structure.