Europe Lags Behind U.S., Asia in 5G buildout

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Europe has fallen behind the U.S. and Asia in the race to build 5G networks. That’s despite increased investment by the region’s largest players, reports the Financial Times

Twenty-four percent of Europeans were able to connect to a 5G network at the end of September. That compares to 13 percent at the end of 2019, according to new research.  

By the end of 2019, 76 percent of Americans were “able to connect to 5G”; the rate was even higher in parts of Asia, (93 percent in South Korea), according to a report by telecom trade body European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) and research company Analysys Mason. 

Europe’s slow network upgrades will add to concerns about the economic impact compared to other regions. 5G networks are deemed to be critical national infrastructure by most governments and key in modernizing factory floors, transport systems and healthcare, according to the account. 

The European Commission has said repeatedly over the past decade the continent will play a leading role in the 5G era, going as far as to launch multiple “action plans” aimed at stimulating investment. But progress has stalled, reports the Financial Times.

Groups including Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, BT, Telefónica and Telecom Italia have launched 5G and upgraded more fixed networks to fiber optic cables to support the rollout. The ETNO report shows the sector’s investment pace is growing, with almost roughly $62 billion spent in 2019 compared to approximately $58 billion the previous year.

However, the average investment per capita in new networks remains lower than in other regions at $113 billion compared to about $175.8 billion in the U.S. and $278 billion in Japan.

“European [telecoms] invest more than in the past, but this does not suffice to bridge the gap. We need strong policy action for massive network rollout and uptake,” said ETNO Director-General Lise Fuhr.

Freeing up spectrum is key to that process. Only one country — Finland — has auctioned all of the necessary spectrum bands for 5G. A dozen countries, including Belgium, Poland and Portugal, have not completed any auctions, according to the account.

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