In a special report published today, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) calls for new impetus to boost the roll-out of 5G, the new global wireless standard for mobile networks, in the EU. Member States have experienced considerable delays in implementing their 5G networks, which is jeopardising the achievement of the EU’s objectives in terms of access and coverage. In parallel, further efforts are needed to address security issues in 5G deployment in a consistent and concerted manner, the auditors say.
5G services are essential for a wide range of applications that benefit many sectors of the EU economy and citizens’ daily lives. It is estimated that 5G could add up to €1 trillion to EU GDP between 2021 and 2025, with the potential to create or transform up to 20 million jobs. While 5G provides many opportunities for growth, it comes with certain risks: the limited number of vendors able to build and operate 5G networks increases dependency and the risks associated with interference by “hostile state actors”.
In its 2016 Action Plan, the European Commission set a deadline of 2025 for 5G to be rolled out across all urban areas and all major transport routes. In March last year, it set a further target of achieving EU-wide 5G coverage by 2030. However, the auditors observe that only half of the Member States have included those objectives in their national 5G strategies. The Commission has supported Member States in reaching these goals through different initiatives, guidance and funding. But it has never clearly defined the expected quality of 5G services. This could lead to inequalities in access to and the quality of 5G services across the EU, further widening the “digital divide”, the auditors underline.
“Across the EU, up to €400 billion will be spent by 2025 on developing 5G networks to support the future economic growth and competitiveness. But with many Member States lagging behind, the EU is still far from reaping the benefits 5G offers”, said Annemie Turtelboom, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “Moreover, Member States’ approaches towards 5G security, and in particular the need for concerted action, remains an issue of strategic importance for the EU’s technological sovereignty and the single market.”