Fixing Europe’s laborious spectrum policy is fundamental to 5G’s chances of success, according to a speech by Gunther Oettinger, EU Commissioner for the digital economy and society.

“We have to find ways to streamline the technical harmonisation process, which is currently extremely resource- and time-consuming. We have to render it more efficient and objective,” said Oettinger.

“This is paramount, if Europe (again) wants to be the starting point of a wireless revolution that will shape the future,” he added.

Oettinger’s analysis assumes 5G is central to the future of the European economy. “5G will bring an exponential change to what we are used to today. It will be an innovation platform beyond the traditional telecom industry.”

And it will transform other industries including health, energy and transport.

The process for allocating 5G frequencies will start soon. Means of coordinating spectrum across Europe are needed to ensure services are rolled out efficiently. Even services provided at national level, such as 4G, must move fast to keep up with user demand.

“So we need the quick, coordinated assignment of 4G – and soon 5G – spectrum bands. Operators need certainty for their investments also with regard to timing and conditions under which their existing licences come up for renewal,” said Oettinger, who was speaking at a conference in Brussels organised by operator organisation Etno and Financial Times.

What did the framework teach us?
Next, Oettinger looked at how Europe had been served by EU Telecoms Regulatory Framework. Unsurprisingly, he pronounced it largely successful. However, he admitted, the transition to next-generation networks “has not been so positive”.

The rest of the economy depends on a significant amount of investment flowing into high-speed networks. The commission must strike a balance between providing certainty that encourages investment while still allowing the disruption that comes from new competitors.

In some remote or rural areas, relying on competition to deliver investment is not going to happen. “The revised telecoms rulebook should therefore help private and public operators to reach those in less privileged locations and overcome this digital divide,” said Oettinger.

There are a number of options to encourage operators to invest in such areas, including co-investment models, or support for demand aggregation. The commission is currently running a public consultation on such measures, which closes on 7 December.