While the adoption of 5G is accelerating in Europe, 4G remains remains "the dominant technology across the region, accounting for just over half of total connections by 2025," the report explains However, "4G adoption in Europe will peak in 2022 and then decline." Moreover, "The pace of 5G coverage expansion across Europe will be a key factor in the transition from 4G to 5G. Although 5G network coverage in Europe will rise to 70% in 2025 (from 47% in 2021), nearly a third of the population will remain without 5G coverage. This compares to 2% or less in South Korea and the US."
As for the mobile industry's contribution to Europe's economy and social well-being, the GSMA notes that "In 2021, mobile technologies and services generated 4.5% of GDP in Europe – a contribution that amounted to approximately €760 billion of economic value added." Furthermore, "The mobile ecosystem also supported approximately 2.6 million jobs (directly and indirectly) and made a substantial contribution to the funding of the public sector, with €109 billion raised through taxation. Over the period to 2030, 5G technologies will drive further contributions to the region’s economy, impacting key industries such as manufacturing and public administration."
"As the first industry to have fully committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)," the report notes that "the mobile industry continues to have substantial positive effects on lives and livelihoods. In 2021, the mobile industry increased its impact on all SDGs, with the average year-on-year increase accelerating compared to 2020. The average SDG impact score across the 17 SDGs reached 53, up from 49 in 2020 and 32 in 2015, meaning the mobile industry is achieving 53% of what it could potentially contribute to the SDGs."
With respect to how European policymakers can help realize the digital agenda, the GSMA points out that "As economies and societies around the world digitalize, the acceleration of 5G in Europe is necessary to ensure that traditional industrial and manufacturing strengths are not dragged down by weaknesses in the ICT sector. With the limitations of existing networks becoming more apparent amid an increasingly distributed workforce, there is also a need to ensure fair and even access for all."
To achieve this, the GSMA says "it is vital to create the right conditions for private infrastructure investment, network modernization and digital innovation. A financially sustainable mobile sector is key to the delivery of innovative services and the deployment of new networks. Policymakers should collaborate with the private sector to stimulate investment in next-generation networks that will form the backbone for Europe's economic recovery by enabling employment, entrepreneurship and innovation while helping achieve essential climate-related goals."
Practical steps that authorities in Europe can take include the following:
- Rethink competition policy and enforcement in terms of harmonized conditions for investment and doing business.
- Fairly allocate the costs of network traffic to the largest drivers, to deliver an economic incentive to use network capacity more efficiently.
- Foster supply-chain diversity and competition, to improve network security and resilience through disaggregation and greater interoperability.
- Adjust the regulatory framework to enable the data economy to thrive in Europe, by ensuring a level playing field in digital markets, services and taxation.
- Implement fair spectrum licensing conditions and avoid excessive charges and limited durations of licenses, which can undermine investment.
- Implement cost-reduction measures and simplification for network deployment to achieve Europe’s Digital Decade connectivity targets.
While I appreciate how the economic contribution of mobile industry continues to expand in Europe, it is discouraging that market dynamics are impeding European 5G progress. As GSMA's press release puts it directly: "Europe’s ambitious Digital Decade goals remain threatened by slower 5G rollout compared to competitor markets" and "tough market conditions are leaving Europe trailing its global peers." On a more positive tone, European operators are "at the forefront of cutting-edge, energy-efficient technologies and the use of renewables, with many already reaching 100% renewable electricity use across their footprints, powering their network infrastructure, data centers and other sites."