As a part of our blog series this year, we have looked at Sri Lanka, Taiwan and South Africa to study how suited they are for launching 5G.

Our next market in focus, the Czech Republic, exudes such readiness given its sound 4G adoption (see chart, below, click to enlarge). What makes the country particularly interesting, though is an existing need of 5G in in support of Industry 4.0 aspirations.

With three established players (T-Mobile, O2 and Vodafone), in Q2 the Czech Republic had around 14.8 million mobile connections, mobile penetration of 138 per cent, mobile broadband penetration of 80 per cent and 4G network coverage of 99.6 per cent.

Needless to say, the country exhibits impressive statistics, serving as a solid foundation for 5G. To that end, a steady shift towards 5G is predicted, with connections penetration forecast to reach 22 per cent by the end of 2025, which is quite impressive relative to other European Union (EU) countries.

Beyond any 5G foundations, the latest developments from the country’s operators and regulator show how momentum is accelerating to help bring 5G into the mainstream.

Operators’ strategies
O2 Czech Republic became the first operator in the market to launch commercial 5G services in July, during the pandemic, by refarming existing LTE frequencies in the 800MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz and 2600MHz spectrum bands.

Vodafone, in turn, announced it would disconnect its 3G network by Q1 2021: it expects to use the frequencies more efficiently allowing additional available bandwidth for 5G as it stands ready to launch a network in October.

Industry 4.0 focus
Along with these on-going developments, the Czech Republic is joining only a select few EU countries in reserving spectrum for enterprise use.

The regulator is promoting Industry 4.0 by reserving a spectrum block in the 3400MHz to 3600MHz band specifically for its deployment by enterprises. The holders of these blocks will be obliged to allow the industry an independent use of the radio frequencies.

Now, the key questions are why does Industry 4.0 matter so much for the Czech Republic and what role will 5G play?

The answers lie in the importance of the manufacturing sector, which contributed 32 per cent to the nation’s GDP in 2019. The booming industrial sector now leads all other sectors in terms of employment and gross value added. However, two key challenges threaten this success: an increasingly acute labour shortage; and low productivity, which is pushing the nation into a middle-income trap.

Technology and automation can possibly address the above challenges, delivering digitised production lines and robotic systems in support of smart factories. The development of such applications and platforms, of course, will largely depend on the existence of fast, reliable and high capacity networks. Offering low latency, high speed and throughput 5G, then, promises to be the technology which will enable Industry 4.0.

But what do operators need to be conscious of in the push for Industry 4.0?

Simply launching 5G won’t be enough to make Industry 4.0 a reality. Operators need to be proactive on the following areas to get a leading advantage.
• Partnership and collaborations: It is critical to develop strong collaborations with vendors, other ecosystem players like software and platform companies, and also with manufacturers to establish more 5G use-cases for industry and for the application of smart factories
• Early trials and developments in manufacturing: As important as the right partnerships are, equally important is leveraging those partnerships to run trials of applications and solutions in Industry 4.0, such as automation, data analytics, AI, Robotics, Drones and so on. This provides an opportunity for the Czech Republic to lead other countries in Industry 4.0 developments and specific use cases within its domain. Likewise, early efforts will help to work through inevitable technology teething pains
• Don’t let auction delays stop you: If auctions experience a snag, service providers have good prospects to replicate what operators in other countries did by not waiting and launching 5G without dedicated spectrum, using existing frequencies to get moving on the path. This will offer operators a window to continue planning networks planning and use cases well in advance of long term spectrum rights.

The Czech Republic’s telecom landscape is robust and appears ripe for 5G launches. Moreover, the existing requirements of Industry 4.0 and the ability of 5G networks to deliver on those promises clear synergies. The manufacturing sector gains by automation and reduced labour dependency. Operators, meanwhile, benefit from a new customer segment (manufacturing) and can better support consumer demands at the same time.

The nation presents an opportunity to offer some of the interesting developments in Industry 4.0. What is required, at this juncture, is for operators to act quickly and work towards partnerships, and expedite 5G launches as the technology can serve as a much-needed boost to the sector coupled with lift to the economy.

– Bhawna Jain – senior research analyst and Akanksha Hira – research analyst, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.