ITU Regional Forum addresses opportunities and challenges of 5G implementation in Europe

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The FINANCIAL — According to Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau at the ITU, Just as 4G deployment was carried out across Europe with a strong focus on leaving no one behind, it is now our duty to ensure that an enabling regulatory environment sustains the deployment of 5G in a way that connectivity is leveraged by all and for all. She welcomed participants of the ITU Regional Forum for Europe on 5G strategies, policies, and implementation held last October.

The event was one of several milestones of the ITU Regional Initiative for Europe on broadband infrastructure, broadcasting and spectrum management.

Organized with the support of the Chancellery of The Prime Minister (KPRM) of the Republic of Poland, the Forum was opened by H.E. Mr. Marek Zagórski, Poland’s Secretary of State Government Plenipotentiary for Cybersecurity, who called for “connecting the unconnected” and “bridge the digital divide” as priorities in the context of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10 on reducing inequality. Mr. Zagórski went on to highlight Poland’s achievements in the provision of high-quality connectivity towards an Internet Society by 2025, and called for the urgent need to address misinformation around 5G in Europe and beyond.

The Forum gathered 260 delegates from over 70 countries and featured high-level representatives of ITU Europe Regional administrations, including delegates from the KPRM and from the German government, which currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.  The virtual meeting also hosted representatives of international and regional organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the Nordic Council of Ministers, Eastern Partnership Electronic Communications Regulators Network (EaPeReg), the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) and a number of National Regulatory Authorities and ICT Ministries from both EU and non-EU countries as well as important industry associations such as the European Telecommunication Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), the EMEA Satellite Operators Association (ESOA), the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA), DIGITALEUROPE, and GSMA.

5G strategies and implementation dynamics

More than 50 speakers provided participants with a comprehensive overview of the status of 5G rollout, focusing on regional and national strategies and policies as well as other ongoing implementation challenges relevant to stakeholders in the Europe region.

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The first day of proceedings saw context-setting interventions from the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) and the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau (BR), both of whom recognized excellent ITU cross-sectoral collaboration. Regional organizations and industry associations followed by discussing key priorities for the region, including the importance of international cooperation, industry collaboration, and regulation creating the necessary incentives for 5G deployment to deliver social and economic impact as well as the challenge of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF).

Sessions 2 and 3 offered a detailed picture of the status of 5G implementation both in EU and non-EU countries. Administrations and National Regulatory Authorities recognized the importance of the transition to 5G converging towards the notion of “connecting everyone and everything” and reiterated how international cooperation must ensure a consistent deployment of 5G across the region, especially in context of the post-COVID economic recovery.

In his second day keynote, 2020 BEREC Vice-chair Jeremy Godfrey highlighted the importance of sustainability and resilience in the post-COVID-19 world.

Regulation will mean finding new ways to unlock investment and innovation towards 5G, he said.
From the 5G commercialization and market development perspective, industry representatives from satellite, mobile and equipment providers noted in Session 4 that efforts and expectations should be placed in the business-to-business (B2B) rather than in the business-to-customer (B2C) segment, and should focus on innovation-driven public-private partnerships as well as on the industrial IoT environment enabling emergence of 5G applications and ecosystems.

During the Forum’s final session on the challenge of increasing public concern about RF-EMF, it was widely agreed that the focus should shift from the scientific evidence, which is already there, to elaborating new strategies for 5G and EMF risk communication, as some countries have already undertaken.

New publications, upcoming priorities and next steps

In the context of the Forum, and to prioritize topics for future consideration at the regional level, the ITU Office for Europe announced the publication of two background papers.

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One includes a series of country profiles on 5G implementation dynamics in 18 non-EU countries in the Region, featuring the implementation of 5G strategies, frequency allocation, EMF regulation as well as private sector trials and commercialization at the country level. The country profiles are designed to act as a reference for decision-makers and as a platform to monitor progress in reducing intra-regional gaps.

The other background paper on 5G and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) responds to concerns of administrations observed across Europe by referencing scientific evidence and recommendations as well as outlining key challenges and open questions, including misinformation and the social and economic cost for societies resulting from holding back 5G. The paper aims to support administrations in their efforts to elaborate communications on 5G at the national level.

All in all, the event showcased ITU cross-sectoral collaboration in the service of safeguarding digital inclusion, sustainable economic development and advancing the ITU Regional Initiative for Europe on broadband Infrastructure, broadcasting and spectrum management.
The outcomes of this Forum will also serve as reference points for Study Groups across ITU, from Development to Standardization to Radiocommunication.

Building on the outcomes of this Regional Forum, the “5G Techritory” Baltic Sea Ecosystem Forum, co-organized by the ITU Office for Europe, has provided an additional platform for over 1000 stakeholders to strengthen the Baltic ecosystem for 5G implementation.

A series of high-level debates were supplemented by practical case studies by policymakers, heads of major industry organizations, business leaders, and other stakeholders highlighting the latest progress in 5G global commercialization, its related innovative business models, and potential 5G cross-border projects. Areas of focus included smart mobility, smart cities, smart media and entertainment, and industry 4.0.

All stakeholders are invited to join ITU’s workstreams dedicated to 5G and to learn more about its implementation in the Europe region. One way to start is by reading the draft Outcome Report of the ITU Forum on 5G Strategies, Policies and Implementation, where you will discover more details about the topics covered.

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