LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE 360 EUROPE, BRUSSELS: Markus Borchert, SVP market Europe at Nokia (pictured), didn’t pull any punches on Europe’s potential to lose out on 5G, as he bemoaned the continent’s lack of digital progress and stated the region risks being “a consumer, not a creator” of new technologies.

In a keynote entitled The Digital Single Market – Finish line in sight? Borchert said Europe cannot afford “to be as lame as we have been with 4G, with 5G”, as he urged immediate “bold decisions to accelerate investment, reform regulation and promote digitisation”.

“If you look at other developed markets, it took South Korea, North America, China and Japan about 8 to 12 quarters to reach 100 per cent population coverage with 4G. In Europe, we have reached 30 quarters and still counting.”

Indeed, Nokia suggested over the past six months Europe could struggle to keep up with the US and Asia in the race towards 5G.

Borchert was forthright, stating it was time to “future proof Europe now”.

“If we don’t succeed, Europe will move down the value chain. If we don’t drive the regulator environment, we run the risk of being just the consumer, and not the creator of digital innovation. The result will be that other regions will reap the benefits of growth, employment and prosperity.”

Verticals at risk
Emphasising his point, Borchert said Europe must implement the right conditions to ensure the plethora of leading vertical companies in the region stay put.

“We need our vertical businesses to take full advantage of new digital opportunities, many enabled by 5G,” he said: “However, if the right conditions are not in place in Europe, these companies will either lose their global competitiveness or move to other regions to create innovation and jobs elsewhere.”

To implement “best in-class digital infrastructure”, a regulatory environment must be put in place where network operators and web companies “are incentivised to accelerate and increase investment in digital infrastructure”.

“We need regulation that does not impair revenues, cost structures, and the choice of business models of the players that we expect to build these digital infrastructures,” he said.

Finally, he urged progress on Europe’s Digital Single Market vision.

The proposal, which first came to the fore in 2010, was relaunched in 2015 and is now under review. Borchert said the continent cannot wait until 2024, for example, to see the benefits.

“We need to make tough decisions to ensure that there is investment in our digital infrastructure and ecosystem. We must lay foundation of 4th industrial revolutions, powered by a digital single market. Europe has the ambition to be leaders, not laggers.”