Crystallising the potential of 5G

Written by Patrizia Toia on 5 December 2019 in Opinion

About the author
Patrizia Toia (IT, S&D) is vice chair of the Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee.

The coming of 5G seems to offer huge potential but realising this safely and effectively will require detailed investigation and careful planning.

The diffusion of mobile telephony first and the subsequent introduction of smartphones have created a “revolution in the revolution”. This is because they have brought all the disruptive power of digital technology into the pockets of all citizens, opening the door to a range of applications that are fundamentally changing our society and our economy.

However, all these innovations have hit a limit created by the capacity of mobile devices to connect to the internet with sufficient bandwidth, reliability and minimal latency.

The introduction of the fifth generation of mobile connection, 5G, now promises to overcome the current limitations of existing mobile devices. More importantly, 5G could enable a new wave of technologies and applications, based on its novel infrastructure for smart cities, advanced manufacturing, healthcare systems and connected cars.

This is why every country in the world is investing in accelerating this change. The USA, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and Taiwan are competing with EU to be the first to develop a fully-functioning 5G network and reap the potential benefits for the economy.

The European Union’s connectivity goals for 2025 – including 5G coverage in all urban areas – is set out in its Communication on Connectivity for a Competitive Digital Single Market – Towards a European Gigabit Society. It foresees a budget estimated at €500 billion.

However, the introduction of 5G is a more complicated issue than a simple international race of investments and deployment. There are doubts over the safety of the new wireless connections, which are slowing down the deployment of the new 5G infrastructure.

This is why work on 5G infrastructure in the city of Brussels has stopped. Moreover, public and private actors are reluctant to invest large sums in a technology where the business model that will transform those investments into profits remains nebulous.

These are urgent issues that have to be addressed at European level. This is why I recently forwarded a written question to the European Commission on the assessment of the impact of 5G in real world conditions.

A study recently presented to the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy noted that the impact of 5G technology and radiation in real world conditions is still to be properly assessed; indeed, it is not yet possible to do this accurately.

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