Home Business Insights & Advice 5G: Europe’s major digital challenge of the 2020s

5G: Europe’s major digital challenge of the 2020s

by John Saunders
29th Aug 22 5:11 pm
5G deployment across Europe is one of the major challenges of Europe’s Digital Decade. The development, installation and maintenance of a vast 5G network will necessitate the input and expertise of actors across different sectors, from major operators and standalone suppliers to deployment and field management experts. The move towards the connected economy is picking up pace, and 5G is at the heart of it.The European Union has set itself a multitude of far-reaching digital targets to reach by the year 2030. The so-called ‘Digital Decade’ aims to turn Europe into a connected economy by developing and installing a complex network of digital infrastructure that will reach every corner of the continent, making sure no individual or company is left without high-speed connection. This interconnectivity will rely on state-of-the-art technologies, from fibre optic (FTHT) to 5G. The latter is described as “the critical new generation network technology that will enable innovation and support the digital transformation.” 5G rollout will open up new economic opportunities in a dynamic, attractive market.

The role of the major operators

According to a study by the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association (ETNO), “the percentage of population covered by 5G in Europe has almost doubled between 2020 and 2021, reaching 62% last year compared to 30% the previous year…However, all global peers have much higher shares of the population covered, with the US reaching 93.1% and South Korea reaching 93.9% coverage in 2021.” Moreover, according to GSMA Intelligence data, 84 operators deployed 5G services in 31 countries as of January 2022.

The swift progress made in 5G network deployment in Europe over the last few years is in a large part thanks to major network operators across the continent who have been collaborating on 5G projects. One prime example is Vodafone Germany, whose 5G Standalone (SA) network already reaches over 10 millions people, with the company also stating that its 5G network reaches over 45 million people across the country. The firm has linked up with Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm and OPPO for this latest rollout project, which brings together different technologies for the installation of 5G antennas which will rely on frequencies in the 3.6 GHz, 1.8 GHz and 700 MHz bands in large urban areas, residential areas and suburbs, and rural areas across Germany.

“We are now launching 5G+ (5G SA) for millions of customers and with more and more popular smartphones, with a technology mix of different 5G frequencies. By 2025, we will bring the most modern 5G to almost everyone in Germany,” said Vodafone Germany CEO Hannes Ametsreiter.

Orange is another major operator looking to develop 5G SA in Europe. In its home country France, for example, Orange won the broadest range of frequencies at France’s 5G auction in October 2021. Stéphane Richard, former Orange CEO, said: “With these auctions, we have just taken an essential step forward in making the networks of the future a reality. We are very satisfied with the way this auction process went; the result is well balanced and encourages operators to invest. With 90 MHz of 5G spectrum, Orange will be able to consolidate its leadership in mobile networks and will develop an efficient 5G network, a guarantee of attractiveness and competitiveness in France.” By 2030, Orange estimates that “the creation of new categories of connectivity, along with the upgrade and enhancement of existing 4G services based on smartphones and other devices, will lead to total 5G-enabled sales of €407bn ($488bn) in 2030 across the five countries (France, Spain, Poland, Belgium, and Romania).”

Suppliers

Firms like Orange and Vodafone rely on hardware and software suppliers to realise their far-reaching digital infrastructure projects. The complexity of 5G network rollout means that different players with specific expertise must come together to realise extensive digital infrastructure projects. Suppliers like Ericsson, with its expertise in 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), edge computing and cloud network infrastructure, or Nokia, which has developed some state-of-the-art 5G RAN equipment.

For its 5G standalone projects, Orange opted for Ericsson’s core network in France, Belgium, Poland, Spain and Luxembourg, and Nokia in France and Slovakia. Orange has a long-standing relationship with Ericsson, the latter providing Orange with Business Support Systems (BSS) for real-time online charging system to modernize and standardize charging systems for prepaid and hybrid users since 2019. The latest agreement will see the Swedish firm providing Orange with its 5G converged charging solution which aims to deliver “operational improvement, advanced product agility and flexibility.”

Franck Bouetard, head of Ericsson France, extolled the virtues of this new agreement: “Orange France wants to drive its evolution to a full converged charging system for their 5G network. The Ericsson Charging solution enables them to realize, create, and capitalize on new digital opportunities”.

Orange has said that it is aiming to launch its 5G SA services to businesses in 2022 and to private users in 2023, initially offered though frequencies in the 3.5 GHz band and may be supplemented by the use of 2.1 GHz frequencies. These services will be relying on Nokia’s core networking solutions for stronger, more reliable network performance in the EU countries where Orange currently operates.

Fran Heeran, SVP & Head of Core Networks, Cloud and Network Services at Nokia, said: “Nokia continues to set the industry pace with our advanced 5G Core technology, and we are pleased to be strengthening our relationship with Orange. This partnership will enhance the performance and reliability of Orange’s networks and help enable the monetization of its 5G investments.”

Deployment and field management

Another field in which it is in the interest of the actors to cooperate is that of the installation and maintenance of the equipment that delivers the service on the ground: think 5G antenna installation, or fibre optic wires and connection boxes, infrastructure maintenance and repair services in the home (FTTH). The parties join forces to optimise the use of their resources in their core business and create value by working together, thereby triggering the consolidation of a highly heterogeneous market. The fulfilment of specific requirements, with the technical expertise that it requires, is indeed favouring the growth of deployment companies that have proven their ability to adapt their know-how to the specifications of 5G.

Highlighting this trend, European field management and telecommunications deployment leader Solutions 30 recently expanded into Poland, acquiring the firm Sirtel, in order to increase its support of 5G development in the country. Sirtel specializes in managing mobile network deployment programs and works with major telecom equipment manufacturers and players including Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei or Cellnex.

Leveraging its successes, particularly in the field of FTTH, Solutions 30 has grown its portfolio around Europe and is at the forefront of the 5G revolution. In this regard, the firm’s initial foothold in Spain is a direct result of the economic potential of the 5G sector being driven by Digital Decade market enthusiasm, and this accelerating trend has already moved into the UK and Italian markets. According to Solutions 30 CEO, Gianbeppi Fortis: “There are knock-on effects: the development of fibre is driving the development of IoT, which in turn is driving the 5G market… The potential market in Europe is therefore huge. The final customers of 5G are homes, with the development of home automation applications for example. But they are above all companies with the development of factory 4.0, or local authorities, with the development of smart cities, from the management of urban lighting to security and waste treatment.”

In Norway, this trend is examplified by Telenor signing an agreement with the field service provider and maintenance group Eltel worth €12-16 million to upgrade its telecommunications network with 5G technology. Telenor itself has been expanded its field management network for the maintenance of 5G infrastructure, teaming up with Binto, Oppland Elektro and Site Service for nationwide expansion and monitoring of critical telecoms infrastructure in the country.

Telenor’s CEO, Christina Endresen said “We have now signed an important agreement with solid players who have the same commitment to infrastructure, resilience and security as we have in Telenor Infra. It is also important for us to take part in the development of a robust construction market in Norway, both centrally and in the districts. We look forward to starting the journey and to ensuring a sustainable modernization of Telenor’s masts, towers and buildings with our new partners.”

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