The "fifth generation" of telecommunications systems, or 5G, will be the most critical building block of our digital society in the next decade. Europe has taken significant steps to lead global developments towards this strategic technology.

The next generation of communication systems, as pursued in 5G, will be the first instance of a truly converged network environment where wired and wireless communications will use the same infrastructure, driving the future networked society. It will provide virtually ubiquitous, ultra-high bandwidth, "connectivity" not only to individual users but also to connected objects. Therefore, it is expected that the future 5G infrastructure will serve a wide range of applications and sectors including professional uses (e.g. assisted driving, eHealth, energy management, possibly safety applications, etc).

What is 5G? the infographic describes the development of 5G overtime

EU in the lead of the 5G Vision

There is an average 10-year time cycle between two generations of communications infrastructures historically. However, this period tends to shrink as the pace of technological developments accelerates. Therefore, it is now time to kick-start 5G developments and plan future investments.

The European Commission signed a landmark agreement with the ‘5G Infrastructure Association’ on 17 December 2013, representing major industry players, to establish a Public Private Partnership on 5G (5G PPP). This is the EU flagship initiative to accelerate research developments in 5G technology. The European Commission has earmarked a public funding of €700 million through the Horizon 2020 Programme to support this activity. EU industry is set to match this investment by up to 5 times, to more than €3 billion euros.

EU investment in 5G research and standards is also an essential factor in reinforcing EU know-how and leadership in the field of ultrafast broadband. It is not only necessary to support the traffic volume expected by 2020 but also to boost networks and Internet architectures in emerging areas such as Machine-to-Machine(M2M) communication and the Internet of Things (IoT).

At the Mobile World Congress 2015, the European Commission and Europe's tech industry presented the EU's vision of 5G technologies and infrastructure. One year later, at the Mobile World Congress 2016, the European Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, Mr Günther H. Oettinger, announced that Europe has started working on an action plan to deploy 5G technology in the EU by 2020.

The European Commission identifies the 5G standards as one of the five priority areas under the recently launched Digitising European Industry initiative.

The EU has also embarked on an ambitious international plan to accelerate global consensus building on 5G.