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European cities warming up for 5G kick-off in 2020

Friday 24 November 2017 | 10:15 CET | Background

The European Commission and EU member states are working to implement the 5G Action Plan. This includes cooperation with industry through the 5G-PPP. One of its key goals is for each EU state to have at least one '5G-ready' city, to act as a pioneer in 5G development and launch the first commercial networks in 2020. The Commission expects EU member states to announce their cities by the end of 2018.

Naming one city in each country is seen as a way to ensure that the 5G launch reaches the entire EU from the start. The EC wants the EU to take the lead on 5G and for member states to work together on a coordinated launch. This didn't happen with 4G, and the roll-out of LTE services took a different pace in each country. The faster countries ended up years ahead of slower adopters. 

The European Commission wants things to go more quickly this time around. Widespread availability is seen as a condition for the success of 5G and a driver for the ecosystem. Not only do networks need to be ready, but devices for end-users must also be in the market - including smartphones as well as sensors for machines and the industrial IoT. This means the business sector also will play a big role. 

The European Commission is working with member states on a list of 5G cities and is hoping to develop a type of 5G community that can share best practices and ideas. The expectation is that some countries will have several 5G cities at launch. The exact timetable will depend on the member states, who control the spectrum licences and other rules, as well the industry's plans for investments in networks and completing the 5G technology standards. 

5G cooperation

The 5G-PPP is a public-private partnership for 5G. The public side is coordinated by the European Commission, and the private side is the 5G-IA (Infrastructure Association), which unites mobile operators and equipment manufacturers.

The 5G-IA has released a preliminary list of 5G cities, where research projects are already underway to develop 5G and where the first networks may be launched. In many of these, major equipment manufacturers are based, such as Stockholm, Espoo, Oulu and Munich, or are capital cities, such as Berlin, Madrid, London and Tallinn. It's clearly a preliminary list, as not all EU states have a city on it yet. 

Italy is one of the countries planning several 5G cities. In March, it decided to make spectrum in the 3.4-3.8 GHz band available in five cities for 5G testing. Vodafone Italia will conduct tests in Milan; TIM, Fastweb and Huawei are in Bari and Matera; and Wind Tre and Open Fiber will test 5G in Prato and L’Aquila. The projects are run in cooperation with the Italian economic affairs ministry. 

TIM is also conducting tests in Turin and has agreed with the government of San Marino to roll out a 5G network covering the entire city-state (61 km2). Other small countries are also expected to release nationwide test permits. Slovenia already designated the C band in December 2016. 

The mobile operators and their suppliers are already conducting their own private tests, following the roadmap of industry forum 3GPP. The first real 5G standards, including 5G New Radio, are expected in 3GPP Release 15 in September 2018. This is the 'freeze' date, after which no more amendments are possible, and the official standards will be published a year later. Until then, the sector will work with preliminary versions of Release 15 and pre-standards equipment modeled to follow the final specifications as closely as possible. 

5G kick-off at sporting events

Ahead of the finalisation of 5G standards and equipment, a number of major sporting events will be used to test and showcase the new technology in the pre-commercialisation phase. This includes the Winter Olympics in Korea and the World Cup in Russia in 2018, as well as the Summer Olympics in Japan in 2020. The events offer a period of high demand, especially for video, giving 5G an open goal to test out new functions and show off the possibilities of the technology. 

The Asian markets, led by South Korea and Japan, are hoping to take the lead in 5G, as previously with 3G and 4G. For the EU, the focus is on the year 2020 for launch. The Euro football tournament that summer, which will be played in 13 cities in 13 different countries, is seen as a key moment to kick off 5G services. New services such as AR/VR applications in fan zones, self-driving shuttle buses to the stadiums and surveillance networks for police are some of the possibilities for testing 5G networks during Euro 2020.



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