5G provides virtually universal, ultra-high bandwidth, and low latency "connectivity" not only to individual users but also to connected objects. It is expected to serve a wide range of applications and sectors including professional uses. For example, connected automated mobility, eHealth, energy management, possibly safety applications, and more.
5G will also be a key enabler of artificial intelligence systems, as it will provide real-time data collection and analysis. At the same time, it will bring the cloud to a new dimension by enabling the distribution of computing and storage, such as edge cloud, and mobile edge computing, throughout the infrastructure,
Europe shaping the 5G vision
The European Commission identified 5G opportunities early, establishing a public-private partnership on 5G (5G-PPP) in 2013 to accelerate research and innovation in 5G technology. The European Commission has committed public funding of more than €700 million through the Horizon 2020 Programme to support this activity.
These activities are accompanied by an international plan to ensure global consensus building on 5G. EU investment in 5G research and standards is necessary to support the traffic volume expected by 2025. EU investment will also boost networks and Internet architectures in emerging areas such as machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and the Internet of Things (IoT).
The Commission adopted a 5G action plan for Europe in 2016 to ensure the early deployment of 5G infrastructure across Europe. The objective of the action plan was to start launching 5G services in all EU Member States by end 2020 at the latest. Following this, it suggests a rapid build-up to ensure uninterrupted 5G coverage in urban areas and along main transport paths by 2025.
The Digital Compass: The European way for the digital decade adopted in 2021 sets the additional target to cover all populated areas with 5G by 2030.
To monitor the progress of the 5G Action Plan and the Digital Decade strategy, the Commission is supporting the European 5G Observatory. The Observatory is a monitoring tool covering major market developments in Europe in a global context. It also reports on preparatory actions taken by Member States such as spectrum auctions and national 5G strategies.
The deployment of 5G networks depends closely upon access to radio spectrum, the basis of wireless technologies. As the rate of connected devices and their use increases, spectrum resources and their uses have to be harmonised across Europe to allow for interoperability of infrastructure across borders. This is the basis for a broad range of services delivered with 5G for consumers, such as new smartphone apps, and professional services for various industrial sectors.
Beyond 5G, towards 6G
5G technology and standards will evolve over the next few years as deployment advances. Research and Innovation (R&I) initiatives on 6G technologies are now starting around the world, with the first products and infrastructures expected for the end of this decade.
6G systems will move us from Gigabit to Terabit capacities and sub-millisecond response times. This will enable new applications such as real-time automation or extended reality sensing (“Internet of Senses”), collecting data for a digital twin of the physical world.
In Europe, a first set of 6G projects worth €60 million was launched under the 5G-PPP. The Hexa-X flagship is developing a first 6G system concept complemented by 8 projects investigating specific technologies for 6G.
The European Commission adopted its legislative proposal for a strategic European partnership on Smart Network and Services as a Joint Undertaking in February 2021, which entered into force on 30 November 2021. The Regulation includes a public R&I investment of €900 million over the period 2021-2027.
In December, the newly created Joint Undertaking on Smart Networks and Services towards 6G adopted its first Work Programme 2021-2022 with an earmarked public funding of about € 240 million. The SNS JU organised its launch event “On the Road to 6G” at the Mobile World Congress 2022, in Barcelona on 1 March 2022.
The Joint Undertaking is coordinating research activities on 6G technology under Horizon Europe as well as 5G deployment initiatives under the Connecting Europe Facility Digital and other programmes.