European mobile giants urge pro-5G investment policies

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A group of leading European telecoms executives have called on regulators to adopt policy frameworks that eliminate red tape and encourage investment so that the continent does not fall behind in fast-developing areas like 5G and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

In a joint-statement prepared for the annual FT-ETNO Summit in Brussels, the industry said that operators were increasing capital expenditure by a rate of 5 per cent a year and that total telecoms investment was now €47 billion.

However challenging regulatory environments and strong competition meant that this was unsustainable given the rate of diminishing returns.

Europe 5G

Any fall in investment, the statement claims, would affect citizens, businesses and the wider economy, while ensuring Asia and the US assume leadership in key areas of the digital future.

It called for a “massive cost-reduction” initiative that makes it easier and cheaper to build and maintain network infrastructure as well as an “investment-and-innovation-readiness test” for all proposed regulation.

This, the signatories argued, would include a commitment not to impose new barriers to innovation and investment.

One specific proposal would ensure the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) priorities massive network investment and a “pro-5G approach” to spectrum, including licence conditions that fully recognise long-term objectives.

“Fiber and 5G are of strategic importance for Europe. We are prepared to deliver, but the network business needs to be self-sustaining,” said Tim Hoettges, Deutsche Telekom CEO. “A joint effort by industry, policymakers and regulators would facilitate a faster roll-out.”

Executive calls

“The telecom sector is at the epicentre of the current technology revolution,” added Telefonica Chief Executive José María Álvarez Pallete. “Yet European operators risk losing global relevance. To preserve European competitiveness in a global digital world, European policymakers must radically change the regulatory paradigm to encourage investment and innovation.”

“We have a strategic role to play in supporting Europe’s digital transformation to overcome technological and ethical challenges on such critical topics as 5G, IoT or AI,” said Stephane Richard, Orange CEO. “A new industrial policy, favouring a regulatory shift on network deployment and a level playing field on digital services, is key to keep Europe in the race with the USA and China.”

The first 5G network has already gone live in the US, offering Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) broadband in major cities. More will come online later this year and in 2019, with the first compatible smartphones arriving soon after.

In the UK, EE plans to launch in 2019, while Deutsche Telekom has announced plans to invest in €20 billion in its rollout in order to reach 99 per cent of the population by 2025.

Other signatories of the letter included Telia, Altice, TIM and Proximus.