The "digitisation" of our economy and society is at the heart of the political agenda of the European Union. With the digitial revolution in full swing, the successful digitisationIt is the fundamental precondition and source of competitiveness for our industry for the decades to come.
By digitisation, I mean the adoption of a series of technologies like cloud computing, the Internet of Things, big data, High Power Computing, robotics and others. to transform the way we conduct business and we innovate.
But there is one thing that underpins all these technologies: the communication networks, which are the "foundation" of the digital world of the future. 5G is being developed in Europe in good part thanks to the joint effort of the public and private sectors, in our 5G public-private-partnership. Our vision is that 5G will power the Internet of Things and facilitate the digitisation of key industrial sectors, which we sometimes call the vertical industries.
For the first time in the development of communication networks, we have the ambition to develop an infrastructre that also meets the need of specific industrial markets beyond the telecom sector. Because in the future we will not only connect people, we will connect everything, from the car to the watch, from the electricity grid to the traffic lights.
5G is a fantastic opportunity for creating an entirely new breed of digital ecosystems where networks can be used as platforms to provide new specialised services. Automotive, health, smart factories, smart cities, energy, media… In all these sectors, we have world class players on this continent. Giving these sectors (and others as well) the benefits of a 5G network is a huge opportunity for reinforcing the competitiveness of industrial sectors.
Yesterday, I hosted a Round Table on Connected Cars. And it was impressive to see how fast our automobile industry is projecting itself into the digital age. In today's high-end models of cars, there are already far more high-tech components than mechanical parts.
But it is a huge challenge to achieve this transformation on a mass market scale! This time around, we are not talking about a mere replacement of an infrastructure by a better one. We are talking about providing a global "platform" to enable several industries and the public sector to invent new services, and in some cases to "re-invent" themselves entirely. This means that 5G will build on on-going investments in LTE, in WiFi, in low-power networks, in fibre networks and satellite. It will consolidate all these technologies in one ubiquitous and programmable network. And it will add to that some new features in terms of ultra-high reliability, security, speed and capacity, while aiming at reducing energy consumption.
I am not talking about fiction here. EU research is already delivering on this ambitious plan. Researchers in telecommunications and in other sectors of the industry are collaborating to identify the technical requirements. EU teams are developing software to virtualise networks, to decrease the complexity of infrastructure management, to combine wired and wireless connectivity, to embed security as part of the design of architectures, etc.
But we need to complement this research effort that is already bearing fruit also with a clear investment strategy. Because it is not just about leadership in research and development. Europe needs 5G networks on the ground in Europe too! We were the first to develop 4G technology, but we are late in deploying it. So, we need to learn from our failure with 4G. We need an EU-wide deployment strategy for 5G, where we agree on a time frame and agree on priorities to tackle possible obstacles for investment. And, of course, this cooperation must go far beyond the telecom sector and include all the industries that will be using 5G in the future. We can create such a virtuous circle if we start to discuss our investment needs in advance, well before the technology becomes available in 2020.
And we need to work across the whole European Union. Because 5G should not be the name of another digital divide between European countries. I want it deployed on the whole continent. Therefore I first call upon Member States to support us in that exercise, which will require massive common efforts across sectors and across Member States.
Earlier in January, I addressed leading EU telecommunications companies to discuss specifically what Europe can do to improve the prospect for an early 5G deployment. I am pleased to tell you today that the suggestion for a coordinated effort to accelerate 5G deployment in Europe was unanimously welcomed.
This is why I am making this first public announcement today: the Commission will work together with industry to prepare a coordinated 5G Action Plan for Europe. This Action Plan should be adopted by the end of this year. Although I started the reflection with the telecommunications sector, the Action Plan must equally reflect the interests of the automotive, health, smart factories, energy, media industries and other main users such as the public sector. This is why I call on all concerned European parties to join efforts to make up their minds and contribute to the formulation of the Action Plan between now and the summer, so that the Plan can be built upon the concrete needs of businesses and citizens.
The Action Plan should be focussed, and target not more than five or six areas where we can jointly make a difference on the basis of large scale cooperation.
At this stage, this is an open process and the Commission has no pre-conceived priorities. This being said, I would expect that the Action Plan would consider most of the following aspects:
> A commonly agreed calendar for commercial deployment and for planning the intermediate steps, as well as for showcasing new applications in Europe.
> A deliberate strategy to involve the vertical industries together with the telecommunications sector, for example to increase business synergies between sectors, to open up the standardisation process to new stakeholders, to enable joint investments in infrastructure across sectors.
> Incentives to bring investment in fibre infrastructure to the next level, since there will be no 5G without ubiquitous fibre access. In this area, we must also bring a more pan-European dynamics to investments as borders are becoming less and less relevant. This will bear significantly also on initiatives at the level of Member States.
> Concrete proposals to adapt spectrum management to fit the 21st century needs. Spectrum access should never be the show stopper.
> Measures to ensure that the next EU telecom framework will be fit for 5G. I am thinking of issues such as the virtualisation of networks, the promotion of more flexible standards, the evolving competition landscape, etc.
As you can see, I am ready to do whatever is in my power to ensure that Europe will deliver on a timely 5G deployment. We cannot afford being left behind in what is the most important transformation of society since the industrial revolution. I look forward to working with you on what I consider the most important goal of my mandate as Commissioner.