When Estonia held the council of the EU presidency in 2017, it released a year-by-year 5G roadmap for all Member States. In its own roadmap, Estonia envisions full coverage by 2020, with connections of at least 30 Mbps, and ultra-fast subscriptions of at least 100 Mbps for at least 60% of internet subscriptions. To achieve this, a middle-mile network of fibre-optic cables has been deployed.
After completion, 98% of all residential buildings, companies, and public authorities will be located within 1.5 km of at least one fibre-optic network access point. Estonia’s goal is 5G connectivity in all major cities by 2023, and along transport corridors by 2025. However, the first 5G phone call was already carried out in June 2018 between the Estonian Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure, and her Finnish counterpart. Nevertheless, there still had been no commercial rollout by autumn 2020.
In March 2019, the 5G spectrum roadmap was issued. It planned to auction the 700 MHz spectrum in early 2020, but was delayed multiple times due to the Covid-19 pandemic and legal action by Levikom, the 4th largest communications operator in Estonia. Levikom sued the government for auctioning off only three 5G licenses, and as a result, the government decided to offer a fourth license. The auction is expected to take place in 2021.
Additionally, the three other largest operators – Elisa Eesti, Tele2 Eesti and Telia Eesti – claim that the reduced frequency bands are too small to support a stable 5G network. Nevertheless, according to the “Europe 5G Readiness Index” (Incite), Estonia is the most ready Eastern European country. It has been able to nurture the right environment for 5G businesses to thrive, with a comparably high competition of network services. Furthermore, Estonia is currently leading the way with a draft regulation that will provide a basis for assigning a security score to manufacturers and assessing whether their 5G equipment is acceptable for various security-sensitive uses.
In October 2019, then US Vice President, Mike Pence and Estonian Prime Minister, Jüri Ratas signed a joint declaration on 5G network security to start evaluating the providers. Although the declaration doesn’t mention Chinese vendors by name, the company Huawei is effectively banned because suppliers “should not be subject to control by a foreign government without independent judicial review” . The declaration also requires transparent financing and structures, best practices, intellectual property rights, and a clean track record regarding respect for the rule of law, among others. The 2021 US administration withdrew official documents about this and an update is expected to be released.
As a consequence, Estonian operators Telia and Tele2 are considering using Finnish Nokia or Swedish Ericsson for 5G technology. In May 2020, Estonia passed the so-called “Huawei law”, which amended the existing Electronics Communications Act. This act ensures security reviews of new telecom gear by national authorities. The law grants Estonia’s Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority the right to impose an obligation on operators to provide information on the hardware and software used in the network. Alongside this, the government can require operators to apply for authorisation for the use of communications network hardware and software.
Estonia currently serves as a testbed for 5G automotive use cases. On 1 September 2020, the project 5GRoutes started, which is a cross-border trial lasting 36 months. It aims to demonstrate whether the latest 5G features and 3GPP specifications of Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) are realistic. 5GRoutes conducts advanced large-scale field trials of the most representative CAM applications to demonstrate seamless functionality across prominent 5G cross-border corridors (via the North-Sea Baltic Corridor) – traversing Latvia, Estonia and Finland. The project focuses on uninterrupted infotainment passenger services and multimodal services, in the context of complete connectivity-enabled ecosystems around passengers and cargo by vehicular, rail and maritime transport. Several scenarios will be considered for each use case covering cross-border, cross-operator, cross-vendor, cross-terrestrial-satellite-integration, and cross-transport-mode settings.