The EU planned to start launching 5G services in all member states by the end of 2020, with the goal of achieving 'uninterrupted 5G coverage' in urban areas and along main transport routes by 2025. To ensure the technology is available by then, the EU Commission launched a public-private partnership, the 5G-PPP – a joint initiative between the Commission and the European IT industry – backed by €700 million of public funding.
The EU's overall strategy is described in the 5G Action Plan (2016). It considers the need to keep Europe ahead in the 5G race, and to avoid incompatible 5G standards emerging among member states.
The EU took into account that a lack of coordination between the member states could lead to fragmentation in terms of spectrum availability or service continuity across borders, which would delay the creation of a critical mass for 5G-based innovations. To prevent this, national roadmaps have needed to be aligned for the network introduction in all member states by 2018, and large-scale commercial introduction by 2020.
The Action Plan concerns all stakeholders – both public and private – in all member states of the European Union. Besides laying out the roadmap for infrastructure investments, other key elements concern the creation of spectrum bands above 6 GHz, the promotion of pan-European 5G trials as catalysts for technological innovation, and the implementation of an industry-led venture fund.
Nevertheless, the main challenge – and therefore the main goal – is to unite leading actors with different standardisation cultures to ensure competitiveness and interoperability. EU institutions are shaping the overall 5G policy, which then will guide member states at the national level. Some examples include:
In 2018, the European Parliament (legislative branch) and the European Council agreed on a telecoms reform that aimed to boost investments needed to make 5G connectivity available by 2020.
In 2016, the European Parliament voted on assigning the use of 700 MHz bandwidth for 5G technology. The European Council adopted this decision in 2017 and over the course of 2020 (though at times delayed by Covid-19) member states started auctioning the band.
- In 2019, the European Parliament passed a resolution regarding security threats "connected with the rising Chinese technological presence in the EU and possible action on the EU level to reduce them". Specifically, the Parliament urged other EU institutions and member states to tackle this security threat through reinforcing cybersecurity regulations and protection – without issuing a ban on Huawei’s 5G technology. EU countries were recommended to acquire equipment from different vendors, but as the resolution is not binding, the European Commission also provided the EU Toolbox of risk mitigation measures to ensure that 5G networks meet the highest security standards.