How the EC’s 5G Plan differs from the operators’ 5G Manifesto

The EC's 5G Plan does not match up to operator recommendations, and it neglects to mention some issues altogether.

The European Commission has produced its 5G Action Plan as part of an expansive overall package of telco reforms. The Plan is intended to give some targets for 5G deployment, and explain how the EU’s bodies and member states can foster a regulatory and investment environment to drive 5G leadership.

The Plan comes two months after a group of European operators, with the endorsement of several major vendors, submitted an open 5G Manifesto to the Commission, hoping to influence the content of the Plan.

You can read what the Manifesto called for here.  At the time the Commission said that it would consider the industry analysis and recommendations, alongside other inputs, when drawing up its Action Plan. So how successful has the operators’ lobbying been?

Below we break down the main action points of the EC’s 5G action plan, and compare that to the relevant commitments/demands/suggestions in the Manifesto.

We also highlight areas where the Manifesto and the Plan diverge.

The plan calls for preliminary trials to take place from 2017 onwards, and pre-commercial trials with a clear EU cross-border dimension from 2018 and for detailed roadmaps by March 2017 for the implementation of advanced pre-commercial trials at EU level. Trials in key sectors must be launched by 2018.

The Manifesto committed to a phase of trials before 2018 that will be independent of standardisation and demonstrate specific use cases. Then, around 2018, operators would “agree on trial specifications for a series of pan-European trials”. The Manifesto asked for the EU to provide some co-ordination of trials, especially the later trials, to provide greater momentum.

So there is rough accord that things need to get going in 2017, and get more serious in 2018. The Manifesto did call for the EU to provide co-ordination of the trials whilst the Plan doesn’t mention that.

The Manifesto said there would be  a launch of 5G in at least one City in the 28 European Member States by 2020. Again the Plan is in rough agreement, calling for Member States to develop, by the end 2017, national 5G deployment roadmaps as part of their national broadband plans and for every Member State to identify at least one major city to be “5Genabled” by the end of 2020.

Going beyond the manifesto, however, it said that and that all urban areas and major terrestrial transport paths should have uninterrupted 5G coverage by 2025.

The operators wanted to see harmonised licensing of sub 6GHz, 3.5GHz and higher bands (24GHz and up) by 2020. The Plan says that  by the end of 2017 there should be a firm list of spectrum to be harmonised but it does not commit to a date for actual harmonisation – or much else. A lot rides on WRC-19.

The manifesto called for action to enable dense small cell deployments, with simplified and harmonised rules and regulations, supportive rent charges from municipalities and rights of way for installation of passive elements. The Plan merely calls for objectives to be set, and for the identification of helpful and consistent approaches to approvals. Would it not have been better to call out some of the elements that the EC would like to see come together in the Plan ?

Again, where the Manifesto called for the EU to co-fund standards activities, incentivise private sector investment in R&D contributions to standards and harmonise standards by encouraging international co-ordination, the Plan puts the onus back on the industry. The EC calls for industry to get on with standardisation, and asks for Member States to press for progress. There is not much about how the EU itself can help.

The 17 operator co-signatories called for a fund of between half a billion to a billion Euros for large scale trials, to incentivise vertical industries, PLUS a venture fund of over a billion Euros to act as a catalyst for “digital innovation”, underpinned by 5G, at a European scale. The Plan is much less concrete, stating instead that, “The Commission will work with the industry and the EIB Group to identify the objectives, possible configuration, and modalities for a venture financing facility, possibly linked with other digital start-up actions.” That could mean imminent action, and it could also mean the tall grass is beckoning this idea towards its drooping fronds.

The Manifesto quite explicitly called for Net Neutrality rules to take note of the fact that 5G’s very different operational environment will create the opportunity, via network slicing, for a wide range of differentiated services – often with dedicated network resource parameters defined per service. The operators said that “Net neutrality regulation must not impede service-specific aspect of network slicing in 5G.”

They added, “The telecom Industry warns that the current Net Neutrality guidelines, as put forward by BEREC, create significant uncertainties around 5G return on investment. ” There was plenty more in this vein.

Whether you think this is a valid point or just special pleading from the operators, the fact is they have (rightly or wrongly) identified regulation as a specific threat to 5G investment. The 5G Plan, which outlines how Europe thinks it can best encourage and foster 5G deployments, makes no mention of it. So although you might have expected some mention of this aspect of encouraging 5G investment in the Plan, there is no mention whatsoever of net neutrality in the Plan, not even in passing. It’s hard not to see this as a “slap down” of the operators’ intent to harness 5G and Net Neutrality together as issues.