5G ambitions lead to pragmatic pact between South Korea and Europe

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan June 22, 2014
As my cell-phone struggles to hang on to a 3G signal for any length of time, the irony is not lost on me that the European Union has just set its sights on becoming a leader in 5G technologies via a pact with South Korea.

As I’m sitting writing this in a part of the world where we’re still struggling to hang on to a 3G signal for any length of time, the irony is not lost on me that the European Union has just set its sights on becoming a leader in 5G technologies.

A pact was signed last week between the European Commission and South Korea to work together on the development of 5G technologies, including the establishment of an agreed definition for 5G services and further research. Research trials will begin in 2016, with a call for research projects from industry to help develop the sorts of areas that need testing.

Specifically the alliance seeks:

  • To strive to reach a global consensus, by the end of 2015, on the broad definition, the key functionalities, and target time table for 5G.
  • To work together to explore further possibilities in cooperating and implementing joint research actions in the field of 5G, to be launched in 2016.
  • To work together towards global standards for 5G, in support of ongoing standardization in relevant fora, such as 3GPP and ITU.
  • To cooperate to facilitate the identification of globally harmonised radio frequency band to meet the additional spectrum requirements for 5G, and to reinforce cooperation in the context of ITU and WRC.

All of this is going to cost. The Commission has pledged €3 billion to underpin the initiative, which is hoped will provide a much needed boost to the European telecoms market where 4G rollout has been slower than in the US .

The deal - the Joint Declaration on Strategic Cooperation in Information Communications Technology (ICT) and 5G - was signed in Seoul by Neelie Kroes, vice president of the EC for the Digital Agenda, and Choi Mun-Kee, South Korea's minister of Science, ICT and Future Planning. Kroes said:

5G will become the new lifeblood of the digital economy and digital society once it is This is the first time ever that public authorities have joined together in this way, with the support of private industry, to push forward the process of standardisation. Today’s declaration signals our commitment to being global digital leaders.

How serious is Europe?

Europe is serious about its 5G ambitions with this development only the latest in a series of partnerships. Last November, Kroes signed a development deal with the ‘5G Infrastructure Partnership’, an industry association comprising public-private partners which includes the likes of Nokia Solutions and Networks and Alcatel Lucent’s Bell Labs.

The Commission has also set aside up to €700 million in public funding to develop the next generation of ubiquitous 5G communication systems during its seven-year Horizon 2020 programme.

The €3 billion set aside by the European Commission is a significant investment. According to telecoms analyst firm SNS Research, 5G R&D spending is expected to reach $3 billion by 2020, up from $500 Million this year.

Oh Sang-jin, director of broadcasting and communications technology at the ICT Ministry in South Korea, commented of the EU pact:

The two sides agreed that the network system is significant as the core highway of the whole information distribution system, so we would like to accelerate development of the field through mutual cooperation. The European Union was quite passionate when coming up with the declaration and planning future cooperation plans.

Interestingly. the UK and Germany have gone their own way with Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor Angela Merkel signing a co-operation pact at this year’s CeBIT trade fair to advance 5G delivery.

But while Europe is determined not to repeat its lackluster rollout of 4G, it’s unlikely to beat Asia in getting its 5G act together. Last month Swedish provider Ericsson warned that Europe could fall behind other regions in the development of 5G networks.

Trials of 5G tech have begun in Japan where Fujitsu and NTT Docomo are the main driving forces. But mobile provider EE reckons that 5G won’t hit Europe until 2022 at the earliest.

My take

A pragmatic move by the European Commission to ride the coat tails of South Korea’s 5G work to date.

I would be more comfortable however if someone could define 5G for me. At present, other than ‘X times faster’ and references to the inevitable Internet of Things, there are a lot of mixed messages out there.

Mind you, as my cell-phone currently literally cycles through E to GPRS to 3G and back to E, I suspect I’ve got plenty of time to work it out.


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