In 2016, the Commission put forward new strategic connectivity objectives for 2025 as part of its digital single market strategy. These should prepare Europe for the roll-out of the next generation of broadband infrastructure with gigabit speeds, including both fixed and mobile internet access (5G). Once available, from 2020 onward, 5G is expected to enable an array of new innovative services that will transform sectors such as manufacturing, energy, vehicle manufacturing and health, bringing them into the era of the internet of things.
Given its importance for EU competitiveness, the Commission is speeding up 5G by co-financing research and development. The 5G-PPP public-private partnership is the largest initiative of its kind in the world, with €700 million in EU funding, to be topped up with private funding to reach a total budget of €3.5 billion by 2025.
There is some concern that not all consumers and businesses in Europe will benefit from the gigabit society, given the current and future digital divide between urban and rural areas and across EU countries. For example if gigabit speeds and 5G are available only to areas with high demand, users are likely to be highly reluctant to pay for it as many new services will need continuity across borders and geographic areas.
The European Commission has set three specific connectivity targets for 2025:
- All socioeconomic drivers, such as schools, transport hubs and main providers of public services, as well as digitally intensive enterprises, should have access to internet download/upload speeds of 1 gigabit of data per second (Gbps).
- All European households, rural or urban, should have access to connectivity offering a download speed of at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps), which can be upgraded to gigabit speed.
- All urban areas as well as major roads and railways should have uninterrupted 5G coverage. As an interim target, 5G should be commercially available in at least one major city in each EU Member State by 2020.
These new ambitious connectivity targets for a gigabit society are non-binding legally and
complement the three existing broadband connectivity targets already set by the
Commission in the Digital Agenda for Europe strategy in 2010, namely, to secure:
- 1. ‘basic broadband’ access for all Europeans by 2013;
- 2. access to ‘fast broadband’ speeds of over 30 Mbps for all Europeans by 2020;
- 3. access to ‘ultra-fast broadband’ speed connections of over 100 Mbps for at least
50 % of European households by 2020.
Progress in building the European gigabit society is expected once an updated EU telecoms framework is in place. This will enable high levels of investment in network infrastructure and increased policy coordination across Member States, for instance increasing spectrum harmonization for 5G and co-investment of deployments. Both the proposed European Electronic Communications Code and the 5G action plan are of high importance for the Council and Parliament, and essential if the EU is to take the lead in the global 5G race. According to industry estimates, 5G will offer capacity 40 times that offered by current 4G technology.
Emphasizing the positive impact that 5G would have on European society in terms of education, health, culture, cohesion and employment, the “Internet connectivity for growth, competitiveness and cohesion: European gigabit society and 5G” resolution calls for the development and improvement of digital skills, and asks the Commission to produce an annual 5G action plan review to report on progress made and make recommendations.